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Black Lives Matter protest, London
photography Imran Suleiman

Over 93% of BLM protests in the US have been peaceful, says a new report

But non-state actors including militia groups and individual attackers are becoming more aggressive in their response

Despite the negative portrayal of Black Lives Matter protesters by the US government and right-wing media outlets, a new report shows that the vast majority of their demonstrations this year have been peaceful, even among a growing number of forceful or violent interventions.

The report from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (ACLED), an organisation that tracks worldwide political violence and unrest, analyses data gathered since May 26, the day after George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, triggering a wave of protests against police brutality and systemic racism that quickly spread across the US.

Over 7,750 demonstrations linked with the Black Lives Matter movement have been recorded since Floyd’s death, according to ACLED, spanning all 50 states but particularly prevalent in California (819 events), New York (430), Florida (380), and Illinois (331). This would support previous data, which has suggested that BLM is the biggest movement in US history.

93 per cent of these protests, the ACLED report adds, have involved peaceful protesters, with no serious harm to people or damage to property. As for the response, around 9 per cent of the demonstrations have been met with intervention by US authorities, with 54 per cent of such interventions involving the use of force (from firing rubber bullets or tear gas to beating demonstrators with batons).

More worryingly, non-state actors such a militia groups and violent individuals are increasingly engaging with protesters, and in more aggressive ways. This has happened in over 100 cases since May, ACLED states, pointing to the dozens of car ramming attacks that have sometimes proved fatal. A July 9 report by USA Today additionally claims 66 drivers – some linked to white supremacist hate groups such as the KKK – hit protesters with vehicles since May 27.

This comes alongside a rise in the presence of armed individuals at demonstrations, often justified by claims of wanting to “keep the peace” or guard property. 

This was the case with the 17-year-old shooter of three protesters in Kenosha last month, during a Black Lives Matter demonstration sparked by the point-blank shooting of an unarmed African American man, Jacob Blake, by a police officer. Members of the extremist Boogaloo movement, who advocate visible gun ownership, have also been arrested for inciting violence during recent anti-racism protests.

Overall, the new report appears to contradict the narrative about the protests that many have been pushing, particularly on social media, where more extreme clips and anecdotes tend to rise to the top. A study reported in June also raised doubts about right-wing claims that the protests would lead to an overall rise in coronavirus cases, stating that demonstrations had “no measurable impact”.

Revisit Dazed’s guide for tips on how to spot misinformation amid the protests.