Miriam Riss (2004): Tolerance for Violence: Comparing People’s Responses to Two Recent Acts of Aggression

This study presents the findings of research into how ordinary people process their awareness of two acts of violence: the shooting of Amadou Diallo and the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Two groups of respondents were interviewed with regard to their perception of what happened and what went wrong. Demographic and psychological variables were correlated with tolerance for violence. The psychological variables include narrative structure of the response, level of narrative complexity, and whether the respondent assigns fault as opposed to giving cause when explaining what happened. I found that people are able to accept violence as legitimate when they can find excusing justifications for the violence. If they cannot accept the fairness of the violence, they can justify retaliatory violence. I found that the level of perceived personal threat and identification with the victim of violence determined the differential pattern of tolerance for violence. Those who identify with the victim are most likely to be intolerant of the violence, to blame the perpetrator, and to desire retribution. In the case of the World Trade Center attack, this profile described most of the respondents. In the Diallo case, those most tolerant and most intolerant of the violence were defined by sociological, rather than psychological, affinities.