Fewer demonstration events were reported in the United States over the last week compared to the week prior. The highest number of demonstration events were reported over issues related to the coronavirus, followed by demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Nurses across the country protested for improved safety, whereas other protesters called for a halt on evictions. As negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over a coronavirus pandemic relief package collapsed, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on economic relief. Violent demonstrations associated with the BLM movement were reported in Portland, Oregon, and Louisville, Kentucky, while a demonstration against the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in Zins, Kentucky remained peaceful.
Last week, over 40% of demonstration events reported in the US were over issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. Similar to the week prior, a large number of demonstrations were held against the reopening of schools. Several other protests were staged by nurses and members of National Nurses United (NNU) inside and outside health facilities across the country as part of the “National Day of Action to Save Lives.” The nurses called on the Senate to pass the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, a pending bill that the House of Representatives passed in May to provide $1 trillion in additional aid to states (Forbes, 10 August 2020). They also demanded that hospitals protect them and patients by following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, and provide them with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and a reasonable workload. A recent survey on workplace safety during the coronavirus pandemic conducted by National Nurses United suggests that only 24% of nurses think they are provided with a safe workplace, while 87% indicate that they have had to reuse a single-use PPE at least once. Furthermore, 27% of nurses reported short-staffing (National Nurses United, 27 July 2020).
Several demonstrations were also held to demand a halt to evictions or the cancellation of rents during the coronavirus pandemic, including in New York City, New York; Denver, Colorado; Louisville, Kentucky; and Los Angeles, California. Due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans have fallen behind on rent payments. The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project suggests that “19 to 23 million — or 1 in 5 — people living in renter households are at risk of eviction by October” (CNBC, 24 July 2020). According to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, evictions in the US are most widespread in cities in the southeast region and in places with a large African American population (BBC, 7 August 2020). An eviction crisis has thus far been averted by the federal government’s stimulus measures and eviction moratoriums (New York Times, 12 August 2020). A federal eviction moratorium and the $600-a-week supplement to unemployment benefits lapsed in the last week of July, however, despite about 21 million people still being unemployed (CNBC, 23 July 2020). Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over coronavirus relief have stalled, with the two sides disagreeing on how much they want to spend to combat the pandemic, including on jobless benefits and aid for state and local governments (CNBC, 11 August 2020). On 8 August, President Trump signed a number of executive orders, extending the lapsed supplemental federal unemployment benefits, but reducing it to the $400 per week that Republicans had wanted (New York Times, 10 August 2020). Trump also made the plan contingent on states coming up with 25% of that payment, raising concerns that some states, already stretched thin financially amid the pandemic, may opt out of the program (Forbes, 12 August 2020). Trump’s executive action also does not reinstate the previous moratorium on evictions, but only directs federal agencies to “consider” measures to prevent evictions (CNN, 9 August 2020). The National Low Income Housing Coalition has called Trump’s order an “empty shell of a promise to renters” (CNBC, 11 August 2020).
Meanwhile, demonstrations associated with the BLM movement continued across the country, although at a diminished rate. While violent demonstrations in Portland, Oregon had declined the week prior, violence broke out again last week. A small group of demonstrators lit a fire inside the Portland police union building on 8 August, reigniting “criticism of the relatively few protesters who provoke police with property damage and other tactics” (Oregonian, 9 August 2020). A march associated with the BLM movement in Louisville, Kentucky also turned violent on 8 August after a group of demonstrators surrounded vehicles, allegedly shooting paintballs at car passengers, destroying property, and setting trash cans on fire. Louisville police announced they would no longer allow protest caravans following the events on Saturday (Courier-Journal, 9 August 2020).
Earlier in the day, a peaceful protest was organized by the national social justice group “Until Freedom” demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman who was killed by Louisville police in March 2020. The group has announced that it plans to stay on the ground in Louisville for at least a month (WDRB, 8 August 2020). During the event, the leader of the Justice and Freedom Coalition in Louisville repeated the call on city officials to cancel the 146th Kentucky Derby on 5 September (WDRB, 9 August 2020). The group had previously indicated that “Louisville has no reason to celebrate anything with the Breonna Taylor investigation still in progress,” promising to do whatever it takes to get justice, including holding mass demonstrations during Kentucky Derby weekend (WDRB, 14 July 2020).
Elsewhere, a march was held from Harrison, Arkansas, the headquarters of the KKK, to Zinc, Arkansas, reportedly the home of the group’s national director (Fox24, 2 August 2020). The BLM-associated demonstration was organized days after the publication of a video on social media showing a man in Harrison holding a sign reading “Black Lives Matter” receiving racist slurs from passersby (Daily News, 3 August 2020). The protesters said that they intended to “bring awareness and change” (KSN, 7 August 2020). An armed group of people, who had blocked the road to the KKK compound, came in contact with the protesters, though the protest remained peaceful (Insider, 4 August 2020).
According to the Anti-Defamation League, organized KKK groups are declining in the US, although “the association of Klan members with criminal activity has remained consistent” (Anti-Defamation League). Earlier this week, Harry Rogers, who prosecutors suggest is a KKK leader “based on his social media posts and by his own admission,” was sentenced to six years in jail for driving into a group of BLM demonstrators outside Richmond, Virginia in June (USA Today, 12 August 2020). Although Rogers was convicted on four assault charges, the judge ruled that the hate crime enhancement did not apply in this case, since the three victims were all white (New York Times, 11 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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