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Kiela Crabtree

I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Emory University with a focus on the politics of race, identity, violence, and conflict in the United States. 

How does racial violence influence

American political behavior?

My work focuses on the impact of violence -- specifically racially-targeted violence -- on political participation and public opinion. My research also considers the political legacies of conflict in the United States, emphasizing dynamics of social identity and hierarchy. With interests in both contemporary and historical conflict, I have conducted intensive archival work on the legacies of Civil Rights Era violence and terrorism in the American south, and I continue to examine the implications of such violence for present-day political behavior.

I earned my PhD. in Political Science from the University of Michigan in 2022. Prior to attending the University of Michigan, I earned my B.A. in Politics at Sewanee: the University of the South. From 2022-2023, I was a post-doctoral fellow at Emory University's James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference.

I am an American Political Science Association (APSA) Minority Fellow, and my research has been supported by the Hanes Walton Award for the Study of Race and Ethnic Politics, in addition to the Converse-Miller Fellowship in American Political Behavior and Gerald R. Ford Fellowship. My dissertation proposal was recognized by APSA's Urban and Local Politics Section with the Byran Jackson Dissertation Research Award. Most recently, my dissertation research was supported by APSA's Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (DDRIG). I have also been a Visiting Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). 


Projects and Working Papers


Contemporary  Violence

Fear and Participation in Las Vegas:

Race, Violence, and Implications for Electoral Behavior

Focusing on the localized effects of violence on political participation and questioning whether such events leave the political fabric of a community untouched in their wake, I look to an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada to consider if violence with no clear target – an act of indiscriminate violence – has measurable effects on voter turnout. Even with no explicitly racial target, electoral participation is almost 10 percentage points higher among Hispanic people who registered to vote in the time immediately following the shooting. I suggest that the shift can be explained by community organizations that were spurred to action in the aftermath, highlighting the crucial roles that social capital and community organizations play in political mobilization. These findings reveal the unseen ways that violence can impact political participation, and I contend that this seemingly random event, while not clearly related to racial animus, had non-negligible consequences that fell along racial lines in Las Vegas.

Violence in  Color: An Experimental Study of Racially-Targeted Violence

(Dissertation Chapter)

A growing body of literature has drawn attention to the prevalence of fatal police shootings in the United States, documenting the many ways police violence impacts political behavior and perceptions of policing, particularly among Black and brown people. Less is known, however, about how incidents of mass violence directed at minority racial groups influence how members of those groups view their relationship with the political system. In this experimental study, I theorize an association between racially-targeted violence and shared-race with the targeted group, while also contending that responses to such violence are not simply a function of shared identity and racial attachment. I find that Black, Hispanic, and White respondents react in distinct ways to news about racially-targeted violence. Black respondents express significantly higher levels of anger when reading about violence targeting other Black people; they are significantly more empathetic, though, when reading about violence targeting Hispanic people. These findings offer new insights into the relationship between people of color and the lasting implications of violence over time.

         May 24, 2021, Monkey Cage Blog -- Washington Post.

Breeding Contempt: Reactions to Police Violence

(Forthcoming at Political Behavior) with Nicole Yadon

Growing media coverage and conversation around police shootings has occurred in the United
States in recent years, but little research in political science has explored individual reactions
to the news of police shootings or the implications for feelings towards police organizations.
Consequently, this project explores how Americans react to stories about police-involved shootings and their subsequent opinions towards police. Using a survey experiment, we expose participants to a news story which describes a police officer shooting and killing either a Black man, a white man, or a dog, followed by measures of feelings towards police. We find evidence that the victim presented influences the perceptions white people hold of police brutality, police racism, and their attitudes toward policing more broadly. Moreover, and perhaps of greatest concern, is the lack of reaction white respondents express after reading about the murder of a Black victim. We contend that this finding has important implications for the politics of policing and police oversight.

Framing Hate and Terror:

Violence Classification in the United States 

(Revise and Resubmit) with Corina Simonelli

A multi-methods project using survey experiments and content analysis to understand how Americans and the American media conceptualize and differentiate terrorist attacks, hate crimes and mass violence. We argue that the labels ascribed to violent events in the United States have powerful implications for how the general public perceives violence and responds politically. 

         August 13, 2019, PRIO Blog.

         June 22, 2020, Center for Political Studies Blog


Violence, Mobilization, and the Risk of Reprisal

Building on existing collective action and conflict studies literature, I contend that work regarding the American Civil Rights Movement (CRM) has undervalued a critical component of resource mobilization and local movement organization -- violence. In this paper, I propose a theory of collective mobilization or repression in the aftermath of racially-targeted violence. Focusing on a case-study of Birmingham, Alabama, I argue that CRM outcomes in the city of Birmingham cannot be fully understood without due consideration of the violence that preceded the nation's focus on the city in 1963. That is, violence which occurred long before Dr. King’s arrival in Birmingham is critical to understanding why the city was successfully desegregated. This paper expands on established theories of mobilization, and it provides insight into the enduring political implications of racially-targeted violence, the consequences of which we have yet to fully grapple with in the present-day.

        June 12, 2020. PRIO Blog.

How the South was Cleansed

with Christian Davenport

Outside of the Great Migration, hundreds of counties in the American South saw decreases in black population, and at times the complete disappearance of black communities in the span of several years. In this project, we examine the role of racial violence, specifically lynchings, as well as other political and economic factors, on such occurrences of black out-migration. We look not only at disappearances of black communities, but also the lasting effects of racial violence in areas where black populations do not return.

Historical Violence



Forged in the Fire:

Racially-Targeted Violence and Implications for Political Behavior in the U.S.

Under what conditions is racially-targeted violence a means of political repression? When is it a counterproductive force, instead activating political participation? Further, what mechanisms facilitate these disparate outcomes? 


“Racially-targeted violence” is a concept that I construct to include violent acts committed by non-state actors that are intentionally directed at victims on account of race. These actions include lynchings, bombings, and mass shootings, among other tactics. Whereas research on similar violence in political science and sociology has focused on predicting when and where these events occur, my work takes a new direction. Instead, I concentrate on the aftermath of RTV, asking what happens politically in a place after it has occurred.               

My dissertation provides new insight into the political effects of racially-targeted violence in the United States, and specifically how these events influence local-level political participation. Traditional theories of political participation consider resource models and institutional barriers to engagement,  but not the role of threat or fear in influencing engagement. I build from a literature that views racially-targeted violence as a form of social control, intended to police racial and social borders when their perpetrators sense threat and a need to restore societal order. From this, I develop a theoretical framework of political engagement in the aftermath of racially-targeted violence, which posits a coordination problem that prevents individuals within a community from mobilizing.

My dissertation consists of five chapters, developing the original theoretical framework, and then empirically testing the framework and its hypotheses. The dissertation’s mixed-method research design has been carefully chosen to address an issue inherent in the study of racially-targeted violence – the inability to predict when or where it will occur. Thus, I adapt the approach I take to triangulate different methodologies, data sources, and empirical models. I use an original dataset of racially-targeted violence, local-level observational data, and a series of original survey experiments. Through these approaches, I argue that acts of violence, which are seemingly small or isolated, have striking political repercussions for the targeted communities. Ultimately, I build a case for why greater attention should be paid to the ways in which racially-targeted violence, and violence more generally, influence American politics.


Dissertation Committee: Christian Davenport (Chair), Vincent Hutchings, Robert Mickey

Awarded a 2020 APSA Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (DDRIG) and recognized by APSA's Urban and Local Politics section for outstanding scholarship by a graduate student studying racial and ethnic politics in an urban setting.

Race and Extralegal Violence

Political Science 340

Emory University

Fall and Spring 2023

This course familiarizes students with extralegal and political violence. It is the goal of this course to connect interdisciplinary academic scholarship, literary texts, and real world events in order to develop a better understanding of how violence -- in Georgia and throughout the United States -- has been and continues to be used as a political weapon for coercion and repression.


The structure of the course moves through a cycle of conflict, starting with theories pertaining to the onset of extralegal violence, moving to explicate its various forms, and outlining the challenges of measurement and empirical analysis on the topic. The course then shifts to focus on the consequences of extralegal violence, while also considering it as a form of political resistance.

See students' multi-media projects that show the legacies of racial violence in Georgia.

Introduction to American Politics

University of Michigan

Graduate Student Instructor

Course introducing students to the study of American politics, including fundamental concerns of collective action, the structure and function of American political institutions, patterns in political behavior, and the roles of parties, social movements, and the media in the United States’ political system.

"Too Busy to Hate"

Atlanta Politics and Political Life

Political Science 190

Emory University

Fall 2023

This freshman seminar introduces students to the political history, geography, economy, and institutions of the city of Atlanta. With a particular emphasis on race, political violence, and protest politics, students consider the political events, politicians, and activists who have shaped the Atlanta’s present-day contours and its place on a national political stage. The course takes students beyond Emory’s campus, familiarizing them with the city, as well as with central themes and concepts from the discipline of political science.


Introduction to Political Theory

University of Michigan

Graduate Student Instructor

Moving from discussions of power, political problems, proposed solutions, and movements of resistance, this course introduces students to classic and contemporary perspectives on issues that arise in the course of governance while challenging them to think critically about resolutions.


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