Last week in the United States (US), more than 370 demonstration events were reported in 45 states and Washington, DC. Demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement continued across the country while a number of rallies were also held in support of law enforcement. There were likewise protests calling for justice for the murder of a female soldier, as well as demonstrations related to the coronavirus pandemic. States of emergency were declared in Salt Lake City, Utah, and in Georgia following violent incidents.
Sparked by the death of George Floyd — a Black man who died from injuries sustained during an arrest in Minnesota after a police officer knelt on his neck for a prolonged period of time — thousands of people have taken to the streets to demonstrate against police brutality since late May. Last week, demonstrations associated with BLM continued for the seventh consecutive week, with more than 150 demonstration events reported in 37 states and Washington, DC. Participants demanded police reform and justice for victims of police violence, including for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Elijah McClain, among others. The total number of demonstration events associated with the BLM movement decreased by over 40% last week compared to the week prior. The majority of events remained peaceful, with only two dozen violent incidents or cases of police intervention reported over the week.
There were at least four incidents of drivers plowing vehicles into crowds, causing several injuries. Dozens of car ramming incidents have been reported since the start of the current wave of BLM demonstrations. According to law enforcement and experts, “some of the vehicle incidents appear to be targeted and politically motivated; others appear to be situations in which the driver became frightened or enraged by protesters surrounding their vehicle” (USA TODAY, 9 July 2020). (For more on ACLED’s US methodology, such as coding decisions around car rammings, see the US Crisis Monitor FAQs.)
Furthermore, BLM supporters held more than a dozen counter-protests against pro-police rallies, though no violent confrontations between the opposing sides were reported. In total, 34 pro-police protest events were recorded across the country last week, with Vice President Mike Pence attending a “Back the Blue” rally in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pence denounced calls from the “radical left” to defund the police (Fox29, 9 July 2020). Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group, gathered during Pence’s speech, shouting “all lives matter” at a group of BLM counter-protesters (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10 July 2020).
In another development, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the district attorney’s office in Salt Lake City, Utah on 9 June, after it was ruled that officers involved in the shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal acted within the law and will not face criminal charges (Washington Post, 10 July 2020). Palacios-Carbajal, a Latino man, died on 23 May after police officers shot him at least 20 times as he ran away, holding a gun, following reports of an aggravated robbery (Deseret News, 27 June 2020). Demonstrators sprayed red paint on the district attorney’s office as well as the grounds around the building, broke windows, and threw bottles at the police. One police officer was reportedly injured and at least four rioters were arrested. The governor of Utah declared a state of emergency in Salt Lake City, which lasted until 13 July, and included the closing of the Utah State Capitol and grounds. The emergency declaration was reportedly a precautionary measure in case the governor would “have to call on any and all state agencies to help” (Daily Herald, 10 July 2020). Demonstrations in Salt Lake City have remained largely peaceful since then.
Meanwhile, the governor of Georgia signed a state of emergency order on 6 July, activating as many as 1,000 National Guard members after a violent Fourth of July weekend in Atlanta. On 4 July, an 8-year-old girl was shot dead by two unidentified men while riding in a car with her mother as they tried to enter a parking lot obstructed by a “makeshift roadblock that was manned by numerous armed individuals,” according to the police (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 13 July 2020). The shooting happened near the scene where an Atlanta police officer fatally shot a Black man, Rayshard Brooks, on 12 June. Brooks had tried to run away with a stolen taser following a scuffle with the officers when he was shot and killed. A group of demonstrators had camped at the scene of the shooting outside a now burned down Wendy’s restaurant following Brooks’ death (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6 July 2020).
On 5 July, a group of 60 to 100 demonstrators used bricks, fireworks, and Molotov cocktails to vandalize the headquarters of the Georgia State Patrol, which also houses several other state agencies (WSB-TV, 5 July 2020). BLM protest organizers condemned the violence, insisting that “the subgroup who split off and caused the damage were not with Black Lives Matter” (WSB-TV, 6 July 2020). In issuing the state of emergency, the governor suggested that “peaceful protests were hijacked by criminals with a dangerous, destructive agenda”, announcing that the National Guard will “provide support” at state buildings, allowing state police to increase patrols (CNN, 7 July 2020).
Meanwhile, in at least 10 states, more than 25 protest events were held over the disappearance and murder of 20-year-old Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen. Guillen was killed last April inside a Texas military base by another soldier, who later committed suicide. Guillen’s family and friends have indicated that she was sexually harassed at the base, but that she never formally reported the incidents out of fear of retaliation (PBS, 13 July 2020). Demonstrators have expressed their outrage over sexual violence in the US military and called for reforms, including the creation of an independent agency for soldiers to report sexual harassment and violence. According to a survey released by the Department of Defense in 2019, there were 20,500 instances of “unwanted sexual contact” in the US military in 2018, a 38% increase compared to 2016 (Department of Defense, 2019).
Finally, the US also registered more than 35 protest events over issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. Demonstrators called for a number of economic measures, such as banning residential evictions and the provision of economic relief packages. There were also calls to enforce the use of personal protective equipment to protect workers from the virus, while other demonstrators expressed their opposition to mandatory mask-wearing in public. Demonstration events were also held both for and against the reopening of schools amid concerns over the safety of students and teachers. Cases of COVID-19 have surpassed 3.4 million in the US, with more than 136,000 deaths reported since the start of the pandemic (CNN, 14 July 2020). The number of coronavirus cases has risen at a rate faster than in the spring in at least half of American states (USA TODAY, 14 July 2020). The looming possibility of renewed lockdowns has dampened hopes for a timely rebound from the economic recession.
Data on political violence and demonstrations in America are made available through the US Crisis Monitor, a special project launched by ACLED and the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University. For more information about the project, click here.
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