The overwhelming majority of demonstrations this summer were peaceful, according to a new report, which also warns that the upcoming election and President Donald Trump’s incendiary rhetoric — which has placed an outsized focus on the relatively few violent protests — could plunge the country into further crisis.
The report, published Thursday, is from the U.S. Crisis Monitor, a collaboration between the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) and Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative, which collects and analyzes real-time data on protest movements, using news reports, social media and other sources.
“These data reveal that the United States is in crisis. It faces a multitude of concurrent, overlapping risks — from police abuse and racial injustice, to pandemic-related unrest and beyond — all exacerbated by increasing polarization,” the researchers wrote, warning that “these intersecting risks are likely to intensify” as the November election draws closer.
The report covers data gathered on protests between May 24, the day before police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, and Aug. 22. During that period, the researchers collected more than 10,600 demonstration events across the country, with more than 7,750 of them related to the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests peaked in late May and early June, and while they have leveled off since, activists in many places across the country continue to hold largely peaceful demonstrations every day.
The overwhelming majority of the protests — more than 10,100 — involved peaceful protesters, the researchers found. In only about 5%, or under 570 of the protests, did participants engage in violence.
“The vast majority of demonstration events associated with the BLM movement are non-violent,” the researchers wrote. “In more than 93% of all demonstrations connected to the movement, demonstrators have not engaged in violence or destructive activity.”
In the protests that became violent, they either involved state-sanctioned violence, such as violent intervention from local, state or federal authorities, or counterprotesters from extremist groups. The police or military “disproportionately used force while intervening in demonstrations associated with the BLM movement, relative to other types of demonstrations,” the researchers found. According to their data, in nearly 10% of BLM protests recorded this summer, police violently intervened by deploying tear gas, rubber bullets and/or pepper spray, as well as assaulting protesters with batons.
During this period, the researchers also found an uptick in “government violence against journalists,” collecting over 100 separate incidents in at least 31 states and the District of Columbia.
As for why public opinion polling suggests that people think a disproportionate number of the protests were violent when in fact they were not, the report attributes those perceptions to respondents’ existing political views, media coverage of violent protests and disinformation campaigns on social media.
The report stresses the gravity of the situation, as the sources of this uprising — from racial inequities, to continued police violence, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic — are continuing. It warns that the upcoming election and Trump’s consistent attempts to sow discord and cast doubt on the election results will exacerbate these forces, citing “multiple steps to inflame these tensions” from Trump and his administration.
Trump has made much of his re-election campaign about “law and order,” with an outsized focus on the relatively few violent protests, racist appeals to white voters and false conspiracy theories about voting by mail.
“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,” the researchers wrote. “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.”
Read the full report here.