Last week in the United States (US), demonstrations were reported in affiliation with the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) and in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, together making up more than 60% of all demonstration events in the country. Following an agreement for the phased withdrawal of federal agents from Portland, Oregon, the situation began to calm down in the city after weeks of clashes. A curfew was announced in Roxboro, North Carolina, in the wake of the fatal police shooting of a Black man, although protests in the city have remained peaceful. Finally, a prison riot broke out near Waycross, Georgia, possibly in connection with heightened tensions amid the coronavirus pandemic. Largely peaceful demonstrations over school reopenings continued across the country.
More than 120 demonstration events associated with the BLM movement took place in the US over the past week, of which only eight turned violent. They include events in Tempe, Arizona; Austin, Texas; and Richmond, Virginia — a nearly 80% decrease compared to the week prior. In Portland, Oregon, where daily demonstrations against police brutality have been held since the death of George Floyd in late May, violent demonstrations were reported only in the first half of the week. The situation eased after Oregon’s governor announced on 29 July that an agreement was reached with federal authorities over a phased withdrawal of federal agents after weeks of violent encounters (USA Today, 29 July 2020). Other than the use of tear gas in the early hours of Thursday morning, protests in Portland remained peaceful for the remainder of the week, without any confrontations, violence, or arrests reported.
Meanwhile, a curfew was enacted in Roxboro, North Carolina for a portion of downtown as well as all city and county buildings between 28 and 30 July. Local officials said that it had come to their attention that “an outside presence may try to disrupt the safety of the citizens of Roxboro” (ABC11, 29 July 2020). The curfew followed a demonstration on 25 July over the fatal shooting of David Brooks, a Black man, by police. According to the police, some demonstrators were armed with incendiary devices and Molotov cocktails and blocked a street. After they failed to disperse, several were arrested on weapons charges and for resisting arrest (CBS17, 26 July 2020).
Among the demonstrators in Roxboro was a group who carried semiautomatic weapons and referred to themselves as members of the New Black Panther Party (ABC11, 25 July 2020), which portrays “itself as a militant, modern-day expression of the black power movement” (Southern Poverty Law Center). On 29 July, members of the New Black Panther Party joined other demonstrators to march to the spot where Brooks was killed. The area was not under curfew, and the event remained peaceful (WRAL, 29 July 2020). According to Brooks’ brother, he was a “cadet” in the New Black Panther Party (Blaze, 31 July 2020). Officers attempted to talk to Brooks on 24 July after responding to a call reporting that a man was walking down the street with a gun. A dashcam video released by the Roxboro Police Department shows Brooks holding what appears to be a gun before being shot (ABC11, 30 July 2020). The police officers involved have been placed on paid administrative leave and the State Bureau of Investigation is still investigating the incident (CBS17, 27 July 2020).
Elsewhere, a riot broke out at Ware State Prison near Waycross, Georgia. Fires were lit by inmates, several windows were broken, and two guards were stabbed. According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, non-lethal ammunition was used to bring the riot under control and three inmates suffered non-life threatening injuries (CBS47, 2 August 2020). Some inmates launched a Facebook Live stream as events unfolded, chanting “Black lives do matter,” and pleading for medical assistance for the injured prisoners (11 Alive, 2 August 2020). Officials have not yet commented about possible causes of the riot. Media reports suggest that tensions have been running high at the prison due to the coronavirus pandemic (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2 August 2020). Georgia Department of Corrections records show that 32 staff and 22 inmates have been infected with the virus, and two inmates have already died (Fox News, 2 August 2020). A spokesperson for the Human and Civil Rights Coalition of Georgia asserted that “what led to this is Ware has an entire building with sick inmates. They have COVID-19 with little to no medical care” (Newsweek, 2 August 2020).
As the number of coronavirus infections in the US nears five million (Associated Press, 4 August 2020), demonstrations over issues related to the pandemic have continued across the country, with more than 120 demonstration events reported last week. Similar to the week prior, dozens of demonstrations were held by teachers, parents, and students who oppose the reopening of schools in the fall — although some people also demonstrated in favor of in-person teaching. Many school districts, including in New York, Los Angeles, and the Washington, DC area, have announced delays in their reopening processes. However, others have move forward with announcing openings, “making the country a patchwork of open and closed [schools]” (Washington Post, 5 August 2020).
President Donald Trump is continuing his push for schools to reopen in the fall, claiming in a recent interview that the coronavirus is “going away” and that children are “almost immune” from the virus (The Hill, 5 August 2020). However, according to health experts, children can indeed contract the virus, though are less likely to develop severe symptoms or to die (Wall Street Journal, 27 April 2020). There have already been outbreaks of the virus among students and their caregivers. Eleven children and 14 counselors contracted the virus at a Bible camp in Oregon in July (CNN, 5 August 2020), 260 campers tested positive for COVID-19 at a Georgia YMCA camp according to a report last week (PBS, 31 July 2020), and 260 employees in Gwinnett county, Georgia (Georgia’s largest school district) have already tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the coronavirus after meeting for in-person planning last week, in anticipation of schools reopening (USA Today, 3 August 2020).
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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