Last week in the United States, demonstrations increased overall compared to the week prior. However, demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement decreased nationwide. In California and New York, demonstrations were reported almost every day of the week. Demonstrations continued in California over the death of Dijon Kizzee, a Black man, who was shot in the back by sheriff’s deputies as they attempted to stop him for a traffic violation on 31 August (Washington Post, 4 September). In New York, demonstrations continued following the release of body-camera footage on 2 September showing the detention of Daniel Prude, a Black man, by officers of the Rochester Police Department last March, which resulted in his death. Confrontations between pro-Trump and BLM supporters continued in several states, including in Idaho and Oregon. Meanwhile, pro-Trump rallies increased last week compared to the week prior, as did coronavirus-related demonstrations.
In recent weeks, nearly half of all demonstrations have been associated with the BLM movement, relative to last week, when only one-quarter were. In California, demonstrations demanding justice over the death of Dijon Kizzee continued. Kizzee was shot and killed by Sheriff’s deputies who were attempting to stop him for a vehicle code violation late last month. According to an eyewitness account and security video, Kizzee was shot in the back as he appeared to turn away from the deputies. The deputies allegedly continued shooting once he was on the ground (Vice News, 2 September 2020). Kizzee’s family’s attorney claims that Kizzee was shot 15 times in the back (Washington Post, 4 September). While Kizzee’s relatives have called for the release of autopsy results, the sheriff’s department has requested a security hold on the results, citing ongoing investigation (Spectrum News, 12 September 2020). Demonstrators gathered in Los Angeles, hurling rocks, pipes, and bottles at officers. Security forces used pepper balls and flash bangs to disperse the demonstrators. A member of the press was hit with rubber bullets while at least two dozen demonstrators were arrested. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva credited the violence to “disruptive groups” from outside the area, citing that only one person arrested during the nightly demonstrations was a resident of the general area (ABC 7, 11 September 2020).
In New York, demonstrations continued throughout last week following the release of body-camera footage from March 2020. The footage depicted Rochester police officers putting a “spit-hood” over Daniel Prude and restraining him to take him into protective custody, following a call by Prude’s brother over concerns about his mental health (Washington Post, 4 September 2020). Earlier that night, Prude had expressed suicidal thoughts during a medical evaluation at a hospital (Washington Post, 4 September 2020). Following the incident with the officers, Prude stopped breathing and was unresponsive when taken to a hospital. He died a week later; the medical examiner concluded Prude’s death was caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint” (Democrat and Chronicle, 2 September 2020). On 12 September, demonstrations in Rochester turned violent after demonstrators hurled bottles, eggs, and rocks at police. Police fired pepper balls, and used a sound cannon and pepper-spray against demonstrators.
While demonstrations associated with the BLM movement in other parts of the country remained largely peaceful last week, violent demonstrations were recorded in Oregon and Colorado. In Portland, Oregon, demonstrators lit a fire in the street and 15 demonstrators were arrested by police. Similarly, in Denver, Colorado, demonstrators set several fires during a demonstration.
In Atlanta, Georgia, a Sheriff’s deputy was fired for “excessive use of force” following the release of a video showing him repeatedly punching Roderick Walker, a Black man, while another officer restrained Walker with his body (Washington Post, 14 September 2020). The incident occurred on 11 September during a traffic stop when one of the officers pulled over a vehicle, allegedly for a broken taillight. Walker and his family were riding as passengers (Washington Post, 14 September 2020). According to Walker’s attorney, moments after the officer asked Walker to exit the vehicle, Walker was pinned down by an officer while another officer repeatedly punched him (Washington Post, 14 September 2020). Walker was asked to exit the vehicle for questioning why the officers asked for his identification despite being a passenger. Walker lost consciousness twice during the incident (Washington Post, 14 September 2020). The officer who punched Walker was fired two days later.
The incident involving Walker in Atlanta has intensified calls for action against police brutality and racial injustice. Some suggest that nationwide protests after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have spurred changes in the willingness of state and local officials to condemn police violence (Washington Post, 17 June 2020). Last week, the city of Louisville, Kentucky agreed to institute sweeping police reforms and agreed to pay 12 million dollars to the family of Breonna Taylor (CNN, 15 September 2020). Taylor, a Black woman, was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police officers in her home earlier this year during the execution of a late-night “no-knock” warrant (CNN, 15 September 2020). However, others argue that not enough has changed. The settlement with Taylor’s family, for example, comes more than six months after her killing, and only after numerous demonstrations in Louisville and across the US demanding justice for her killing; many further argue that “taxpayers are footing the bill for police misconduct” in this case, as they do in other cases in which civil suits have been brought against police (WUSA9, 16 September 2020). The officers involved in Taylor’s killing have yet to be charged with a crime.
Meanwhile, over the past week, more than five million acres of land have been engulfed by wildfires in Washington, Oregon, and California (New York Times, 15 September 2020). As people try to evacuate in Oregon, military-style roadblocks and checkpoints manned by armed residents have appeared in Multnomah and Clackamas county. These follow unsubstantiated reports about Antifa being intentionally responsible for the wildfires. A Clackamas County Sheriff’s deputy was placed on a mandatory leave of absence after being captured on video telling a civilian that Antifa is responsible for starting wildfires in the area (KOIN6, 12 September 2020). The Multnomah County Sheriff also claimed that a small fire was started “intentionally” near Corbett, causing rumors to spread that anti-fascist activists started the fires — rumors that have since been dispelled by the FBI. The FBI released a statement on 11 September stating that there is no evidence for such claims (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 11 September 2020).
Confrontations between pro-Trump supporters and supporters of the BLM movement were reported in several states last week. In Oregon and Idaho, the confrontations turned violent. Supporters of President Donald Trump, along with armed members of the right-wing Proud Boys, clashed with demonstrators associated with the BLM movement during a pro-Trump rally in Salem, Oregon. Videos shared on social media show the two groups firing paintballs at each other, and members of the Proud Boys tackling and assaulting BLM supporters (Oregonian, 7 September 2020). In Boise, Idaho, pro-Trump supporters and demonstrators associated with the BLM movement engaged in fights using pepper spray. Pro-Trump supporters were gathered to oppose measures introduced by the county to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, including the mandated use of face-coverings. Recently, Boise has been at the center of anti-lockdown demonstrations led by anti-government activist Ammon Bundy (HuffPost, 5 May 2020). In the last week of August, Bundy led armed demonstrators to disrupt a special session of the Idaho legislature that was convened to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Bundy was arrested twice within a 24-hour period on charges of trespassing (Idaho Statesman, 26 August 2020).
Pro-Trump demonstrations and rallies continued to increase for the second week in a row. On Labor Day weekend, numerous boat parades were held in support of Trump and his re-election campaign. As part of this, over 3,000 people participated in a boat parade on Lake Lanier in Gainesville, Georgia, and around 11,000 were estimated to have joined the flotilla off the coast of Cape Coral in Florida (News-Press, 7 September 2020). Similar events were held in several states, including Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, Nevada, Illinois, Maryland, and Alabama. In Austin, Texas, the week prior, five boats participating in one of these rallies sank on Lake Travis. The wake generated by a large number of boats participating in the parade caused massive waves, resulting in a number of boats taking in water and sinking (CNN, 7 September 2020).These high-visibility spectacles on water have replaced traditional rallies during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and have garnered media attention. The president and his campaign have amplified a narrative that the parades are an indication of an enthusiasm gap between Trump supporters and those of Biden (Los Angeles Times, 15 August 2020).
Finally, demonstrations over issues related to the coronavirus pandemic have continued across the country, with more than 90 demonstration events reported last week. Similar to the week prior, dozens of demonstrations were held by parents and students demanding in-person education and the resumption of high-school athletics. Some teachers, campus staff, and parents, meanwhile, demonstrated against in-person teaching amid the pandemic. President Trump has consistently pushed for schools to reopen despite claims from health experts that children can indeed contract the virus (Wall Street Journal, 27 April 2020). Former Trump campaign officials, who are now serving as communication aides of the health department, reportedly attempted to change the language of scientific reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to downplay the impact of the coronavirus (Politico, 12 September 2020). They also attempted to stop Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, from speaking about the virus’ impact on children, so as to not undermine Trump’s push for school reopening (Politico, 9 September 2020; Politico, 12 September 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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