One can ask how a person can impact others into committing an act that can cause peaceful cities to suddenly erupt in widespread protests that are becoming violent. But how does psychology explain these behaviors that turn into violence?
Over the past week, thousands of people joined the protest, denouncing institutional racism and police violence after George Floyd's shocking death when a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
However, the protests that include breaking and entering properties and looting make some people hesitant to show their full support behind these protesters, according to The Atlantic.
Generally, police agree that only a small number of the protesters engage in looting, but it is undeniably widespread. Every time large groups of people gather, damage on properties is expected. Race scholars argue that what happened to Floyd is an example of unprovoked police violence, and no amount of stolen goods will ever equal the loss of life.
Sociologists Russell Dynes and E.L. Quarantelli explain that "looting that takes place in this situation is usually interpreted as evidence of human depravity." They wrote this in their 1968 study, another year in which protests resulted in widespread damage on properties and deaths.
Three Classical Explanations of the Riotous Behavior
In the recent film Joker, it shows a mentally ill loner who inspires a riotous popular movement against Gotham City, which is depicted as "... a powder keg of lawlessness, inequality, corruption, cuts, and all-round despair."
His actions in killing the three bankers and one TV host inspired thousands of rioters in a clown mask to go to the streets to riot, loot, and kill. This represents a simple and popular real-world crowd violence, but does this really depicts the true psychology behind this "riotous behavior?"
IFL Science reported that there are three classical theories that attempt to explain this type of behavior.
First, the "mad mob theory" suggests that people lose their sense of self, reason, and rationality when they are in a group and therefore do things they are unlikely to commit when they are alone.
Second, "bad" persons are enacting their violent predispositions together in the same place, resulting in collective violence.
Lastly, is the combination of the two theories with the bad leading the mad crowd. The "evil and unscrupulous people - often outsiders or enemies - take advantage of the gullibility of the crowd in order to use them as a tool for destruction," as quoted from the book English riots Mad Mobs and Englishmen.
Psychology Explains What Actually Happens
Although these explanations are most likely advertised in mainstream media, they do not really explain what goes behind the riots.
Research and modern crowd theory suggest what goes on and what influences these behaviors to relate in important ways of social identification. The sense of shared identity placed important constraints on the things that happened during the riot and where it happened.
Meanwhile, looters see their actions as a way to reclaim their dignity after decades of abuse from police and authorities.
These riots and looting resulted from a failed peaceful protest that did not create any change and an attempt to make their voices heard.
Furthermore, journalists have also contributed to looting as they tend to focus more on the looters than the peaceful protests, which reinforces their violent behaviors to get the media's attention.
Unfortunately, some protesters are not affiliated with the protesters' true cause, but using the moment to cause chaos and destruction undermines the efforts of those in peaceful protests.