President Trump would have you believe that the past several months of social justice protests against police violence and racial inequality represent a fundamentally violent threat that only he — aspiring strongman that he is — can crush with overwhelming force. But according to a new report from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, working in conjunction with Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative, the latest wave of nationwide demonstrations have been "overwhelmingly peaceful," despite politically motivated narratives to the contrary.
The study, officially titled "Demonstrations & Political Violence in America: New Data for Summer 2020" tracked "more than 10,600 demonstration events across the country" between late May and the end of August. It found that "over 10,100 of these — or nearly 95% — involve peaceful protesters. Fewer than 570 — or approximately 5% — involve demonstrators engaging in violence."
What's more, the report concluded that "in many urban areas like Portland, Oregon, for example, which has seen sustained unrest since [George] Floyd’s killing, violent demonstrations are largely confined to specific blocks, rather than dispersed throughout the city."
So if the wave of BLM protests has been, as the study's authors found, "overwhelmingly peaceful," what's to explain the prevailing sense that the BLM movement is focused on violence and property destruction? (One poll cited in the report put the number of respondents who believe BLM activists are "trying to incite violence or destroy property" at 42%.) In part, the chasm between narrative and reality can be traced back to two unsurprising sources: "political orientation and biased media framing," that disproportionately dwells on the minority of violent protests, while ignoring the largely peaceful movement as a whole.
"This waning support [for the BLM movement and protests] also comes as the Trump administration recently shifted its 'law and order' messaging to target local Democratic Party politicians from urban areas, particularly on the campaign trail," the study's authors conclude. And indeed, at the same time the study was being published, the Trump administration was busy readying an effort to punish (largely Democrat-controlled) communities as "anarchist jurisdictions," from which the president is threatening to withhold federal funds.
While the study's findings may seem comforting at first, the report contains an ominous forecast for the weeks and months ahead leading up to the the 2020 presidential election; the confluence of protests, the government's heavy-handed response, and the ongoing coronavirus-spurred economic and social upheaval have created a perfect storm in which "without significant mitigation efforts, these risks will continue to intensify in the lead-up to the vote, threatening to boil over in November if election results are delayed, inconclusive, or rejected as fraudulent."
In other words, it's going to be a long few months before Election Day.