(September 9, 2020) A study of the US’s spring and summer of unrest has revealed a police response more violent than protesters.
“While the US has long been home to a vibrant protest environment, demonstrations surged to new levels in 2020,” according to The US Crisis Monitor — a joint project between ACLED and the Bridging Divides Initiative (BDI) at Princeton University — that collects real-time data on these trends in order to provide timely analysis and resources to support civil society efforts to track, prevent, and mitigate the risk of political violence in America.
The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) is the “highest quality and most widely used real-time data and analysis source on political violence and protest around the world.”
“Between 24 May and 22 August, ACLED records more than 10,600 demonstration events across the country. Over 10,100 of these—or nearly 95%–involve peaceful protesters. Fewer than 570—or approximately 5%–involve demonstrators engaging in violence,” their report states.
More than 80% of the protests were connected to the Black Lives Matter movement. The demonstrations are ongoing.
The study also tracks the government response to the protest.
“The initial government response to the demonstrations was not uniform,” it reports.
“Many early protests were held peacefully and without incident. In certain cities, like Los Angeles, California and Camden, New Jersey, authorities even expressed support by joining marches, taking a knee, or attending community meetings on reform.”
But, soon, the report indicates authorities began to take a more a more heavy-handed approach.
“In demonstrations where authorities are present, they use force more often than not. “Data show that they have disproportionately used force while intervening in demonstrations associated with the BLM movement, relative to other types of demonstrations.”
Weapons like tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray or beating demonstrators with batons have been used by authorities in more than 54% of the demonstrations in which they have engaged. Compared to a year ago where there were just three documented demonstrations, forced was used against demonstrators in at least 65 events.
“One of the things that’s interesting about that study is they really helped put the US case in a global context, where the kinds of things we’re seeing here are actually really common around the world,” Omar Wasow, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University, told Chris Hayes host of MSNBC’s All in with Chris Hayes, “…and also the non- trivial amounts of state repression.”
Wasow says the protest and the violent police response “speak to some of the challenges that America faces as a polarized society with high degrees of inequality.”
The report also documents how the police response in escalating use of force against demonstrators comes amid a wider push to militarize the government’s response to domestic unrest perceived to be linked to Antifa, which the administration says it views as a “terrorist” organization.
Also worrisome is the involvement of what the report calls “non-state actor involvement in BLM demonstrations” and violence towards the press by authorities.
“Non-state groups include organizations and militias from both the left and right side of the political spectrum, such as Antifa, the Not Fucking Around Coalition, the New Mexico Civil Guard, the Patriot Front, the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois, and the Ku Klux Klan, among others.”
The report quotes Reporters without Borders as saying, “Reporters have also been targeted as part of the government response. As journalists have worked to cover the unprecedented wave of protests, they have simultaneously faced … “an unprecedented outbreak of violence” around the country.
In conclusion the report states, “In this hyper-polarized environment, state forces are taking a more heavy-handed approach to dissent, non-state actors are becoming more active and assertive, and counter-demonstrators are looking to resolve their political disputes in the street. Without significant mitigation efforts, these risks will continue to intensify in the lead-up to the vote, threatening to boil over in November if election results are delayed, inconclusive, or rejected as fraudulent.”
To keep track of these risk factors in real time, check the US Crisis Monitor.