A report from the US Crisis Monitor found that 93% of protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have been peaceful, despite a highly polarized political climate and reports on the news emphasizing instances of destruction, looting and overall lawlessness.
The report analyzed recent protests spurred by the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and it also analyzed differences between the data and public opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement.
What Is the US Crisis Monitor & What Did Researchers Find?
The US Crisis Monitor is a collaboration between two entities. One of those entities is The Armed Conflict Location Event Data Project (ACLED), which is a global nonprofit that collects voluminous data on political violence. The other entity is Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative (BDI), which is part of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton’s School for Public and International Affairs; this initiative tracks political activity, demonstrations and violence around the world, according to the website.
The collaborators found that there were 7,750 demonstrations affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement around the U.S. between the day after George Floy’d death, May 26 and August 22. According to their research, there were roughly 10,600 demonstrations between May 24 and August 22, 80% of which were either related to Black Lives Matter or the COVID-19 pandemic.
They also found that, of the 10,600, 95% involve peaceful protesters and “fewer than 570 — or approximately 5% — involve(d) demonstrators engaging in violence.” The research went on to state:
The vast majority of demonstration events associated with the BLM movement are non-violent (see map below). In more than 93% of all demonstrations connected to the movement, demonstrators have not engaged in violence or destructive activity.
Violent demonstrations, meanwhile, have been limited to fewer than 220 locations — under 10% of the areas that experienced peaceful protests. In many urban areas like Portland, Oregon, for example, which has seen sustained unrest since Floyd’s killing, violent demonstrations are largely confined to specific blocks, rather than dispersed throughout the city.
Several Polls Show Declining Support for Protests & Black Lives Matter
Researchers have pointed to a number of studies, including some of the following, that indicate Americans’ positive view of protests, Black protesters and the Black Lives Matter, has been declining:
A Morning Consult poll found that among all U.S. adults, support for the statement “When Black Americans speak up and protest injustice in the United States, it always makes the country better” was always lower than support for the statement, When Americans speak up and protest injustice in the United States, it always makes the country better.”
Another Morning Consult poll found that only 54% of U.S. adults (49% of white Americans and 77% of Black Americans) supported the protests taking place after Floyd’s death. In that same poll, researchers found that 42% of Americans believe that “most of the current protesters are trying to incite violence or destroy property, even though some are peaceful and want to bring about meaningful social reform.”
A Civiqs opinion poll of registered voters on Black Lives Matter found that support for the movement – which had been rising steadily and peaked to 24% in June — precipitously dropped to 12% after July.
Researchers Say Media Framing & Disinformation May Be Driving the Public Perception That BLM & BLM Protests Are Violent
Researchers noted that some news channels have manipulated coverage to make violence appear more ongoing or widespread. Business Insider reported on a Fox News segment that recycled old footage of fire in Minneapolis to “imply that violent unrest is still unfolding, with the present tense overshadowing the smaller time signature visuals.”
Researchers also said that the declining support may be attributed to disinformation, such as that Black Lives Matter protesters were urging violence against white people. The Anti-Defamation League noted that these fliers, some of which included the messages “White men women and children You are the enemy!” and “Hate is OK if directed at WHITE FAMILIES” were disinformation pieces intended to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement. Snopes identified the fliers as originating from the right-wing conspiracy theory group QAnon and not Black Lives Matter. However, the fliers continued to be circulated, even reaching conservative pundit Tomi Lahren.
The report also addressed that in some media reports, instances of violence are generally attributed to Black Lives Matter, with a failure to acknowledge the presence of saboteurs of the movement and insufficient follow-up to correct that narrative, such as in the case of “umbrella man”:
Despite the media focus on looting and vandalism, however, there is little evidence to suggest that demonstrators have engaged in widespread violence. In some cases where demonstrations did turn violent, there are reports of agents provocateurs — or infiltrators — instigating the violence. During a demonstration on 27 May in Minneapolis, for example, a man with an umbrella — dubbed the ‘umbrella man’ by the media and later identified as a member of the Hells Angels linked to the Aryan Cowboys, a white supremacist prison and street gang — was seen smashing store windows (Forbes, 30 May 2020; KSTP, 28 July 2020). It was one of the first reports of destructive activity that day, and it “created an atmosphere of hostility and tension” that helped spark an outbreak of looting following initially peaceful protests, according to police investigators, who believe the man “wanted to sow discord and racial unrest” (New York Times, 28 July 2020).
The report also noted that escalating responses from law enforcement have contributed to the narrative of protests being violent. You can read the entire report here.