Last week in the United States, fewer demonstration events were reported compared to the week prior. Demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement continued, but slightly decreased in number. Multiple days of demonstrations were recorded in Waukegan, Illinois, following the death of Marcellis Stinnette, a Black man, after a police officer fired shots into a vehicle driven by his girlfriend. Rallies and demonstrations supporting the two presidential candidates, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, continued nationwide. While 99% of all demonstration events were peaceful, violent demonstrations were reported in Providence, Rhode Island, following critical injuries to a 24-year-old man in a moped crash involving the Providence police. Meanwhile, demonstrations over issues related to the coronavirus pandemic continued around the country, including an event in Utah that involved members of the Proud Boys.
Last week, nearly 15% of all demonstration events reported in the US were associated with the BLM movement. Multiple days of demonstrations were recorded in Waukegan, Illinois after a police officer shot at a vehicle, hitting 19-year-old Marcellis Stinnette and his girlfriend, Tafarra Willams. Both Stinnette and Williams were taken to the hospital with life threatening injuries. Stinnette later died. According to Waukegan police, before the shooting, the couple allegedly fled a traffic stop while an officer was approaching to investigate the vehicle, which he believed was “suspicious” (USA Today, 22 October 2020). Moments later, the same vehicle was spotted by another officer. As that officer got out of his car to approach the vehicle, it allegedly reversed towards him. The officer then fired into the vehicle, hitting the occupants (USA Today, 22 October 2020). The officer has since been fired for committing “multiple policy and procedure violations” and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating the shooting (WGAL, 24 October 2020).
In several states, backers of the two presidential candidates continued to hold caravan rallies in support of their candidate and counter-demonstrations against the opposing candidate. In some pro-Trump rallies, incidents of violence targeting demonstrators were recorded. In Palm Springs, California, two teenage boys were arrested for assaulting pro-Trump supporters during a rally in support of President Trump’s re-election (NBC Los Angeles, 21 October). In Erie, Pennsylvania, police believe that air gun pellets were shot at a vehicle participating in a rally in support of President Trump (YourErie, 20 October). Similarly, in Arden, North Carolina, the windshield of one of the vehicles participating in a “Republican Ride” rally was smashed after a water jug was allegedly hurled at it by people in a car traveling in the opposite direction (WLOS, 20 October). On Wednesday, in Manhattan, New York, pro-Trump protesters marched to Wall Street in support of the president and police. A group of counter-protesters also gathered and were tackled by police for allegedly disrupting the pro-Trump rally. Police subsequently made arrests on both sides. Outside of demonstrations linked to the presidential candidates, tense moments were recorded during other political demonstrations amid heightened polarization around the upcoming election. On Saturday, in Portland, Oregon, a protest in support of the BLM movement and immigration reform outside of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building was threatened by an individual in a car who pointed a gun at the protesters and shouted “all lives matter” before driving off.
Demonstrations and rallies encouraging voter participation and promoting voting rights, specifically for disenfranchised populations, were also reported last week. In Orlando, Florida, hundreds of people gathered for a rally, organized by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, to encourage those with past felony convictions to vote. This year will mark the first general election in which ‘returning citizens’ are able to vote (WKMG, 24 October). In several states, including in Georgia, Florida, Oregon, New Jersey, and Mississippi, marches were held to ballot drop box sites to call for increased voter participation and to provide an opportunity for locals to deliver ballots safely and securely. The marches come as incidents of voter intimidation and electoral violence were reported across the country. On 18 October, in Baldwin Hills, a predominantly Black neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, a ballot box was set on fire when a lit newspaper was dropped inside the box (Washington Post, 20 October; Sacramento Bee, 21 October). Up to 230 ballots were destroyed in the fire, and FBI investigators are now attempting to identify the affected voters (Washington Post, 20 October; Sacramento Bee, 21 October). The suspected arson incident follows other acts of voter intimidation that occurred the week prior. For example, on 17 October, a pro-Trump parade attempted to “obstruct and intimidate” voters in two predominantly Latinx neighborhoods in Albuquerque, New Mexico (Associated Press, 21 October). Officials estimated that dozens of “potential voters” were deterred due to the incident (Associated Press, 21 October).
Demonstrations related to pandemic-related restrictions and the economic fallout continued throughout the country. Last week, 16% of all demonstration events reported in the US were linked to the pandemic. In Connecticut, Oregon, and Illinois, healthcare workers held protests demanding long-term safety measures and economic aid from the government. In Alabama, more than 20 grocery delivery workers protested reduced wages and the continued lack of health insurance coverage and paid sick leave. In Louisiana, unemployed hospitality workers called for local relief amid the stalemate in federal relief discussions. In Florida, cruise industry employees and supporters protested at Port Canaveral, Port Everglades, and Port Miami calling for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lift its no-sail order. The order bans cruise ships from operating out of US ports. It has been in place since March and is set to expire at the end of October (Florida Today, 21 October).
Students, teachers, and parents held demonstrations both for and against returning to in-person learning. Of the demonstrations related to reopening schools last week, 80% supported the reopening of in-person schools and allowing sports activity for students. In Salt Lake City, Utah, several groups, including the Proud Boys, a right-wing street-fighting group, held a demonstration against the state’s mask mandate (for more on right-wing militias and armed groups in the US, including the Proud Boys, see this recent joint report by ACLED and MilitiaWatch).
Despite continued demonstrations in opposition to President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court, on 22 October, the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee voted to forward her nomination to a full Senate vote (Bloomberg, 22 October 2020). Subsequently, on 26 October, her nomination was confirmed by the Senate in a 52-48 vote with all Republican senators, barring one, voting in favor (NBC News, 26 October 2020). While Barrett pledged to be of “independent mind” during her confirmation hearing, her appointment to the Supreme Court has raised concerns that the court will become more ideologically conservative, leading to a potential reversal of decisions on key progressive issues, including the reproductive rights of women and marriage equality (New York Times, 26 October 2020; NBC News, 26 October 2020; Bloomberg, 22 October 2020).
Meanwhile, across the country, training and recruitment events by right-wing militia groups continued, notably by the American Contingency. The American Contingency group held training events in South Carolina, Colorado, Tennessee, Arkansas, Utah, California, and Washington last week. In addition to the demonstration involving the Proud Boys in Utah, militias were also present at other demonstrations. On 18 October, Boogaloo Bois and unidentified armed groups gathered in Lansing, Michigan for an armed ‘unity rally’ against government gun control. Elsewhere in Michigan, in Allendale, right-wing protesters, including the Michigan Liberty Militia and Michigan Home Guard, gathered on Saturday for what was billed as a nationwide ‘Freedom March’ event organized by the American Patriot Council (a recent joint report by ACLED and MilitiaWatch assessed Michigan as one of five states with the highest risk of increased militia activity around the upcoming election). The American Patriot Council, a Michigan-based conservative social movement, has sought to organize such events across the country. One gathering, planned in Montgomery, New York, was originally intended to be held adjacent to an early voting location. Following public outcry, the rally was relocated elsewhere in the town.
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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