Monday Morning Thoughts: Violent Protests Rare but the Overall Situation Concerning

By David M. Greenwald

We keep hearing about violent protests and, to be sure, there have been some.  But the non-profits, US Crisis Monitor and Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), fathered data on all the protests that have swept the US and found that 93 percent of those protests remained peaceful and nondestructive.

However, they did warn, “The United States is at heightened risk of political violence and instability going into the 2020 general election.”

The threat, though, is a good deal broader than some have let on, noting that mass shootings hit a record high in 2019, violent hate crimes are on the rise, and killings by police continue—with the rate being 2.5 times greater for Black men as for white men.

Meanwhile, COVID has killed over 180,000 people and disrupted the economy.

“These data reveal that the United States is in crisis. It faces a multitude of concurrent, overlapping risks — from police abuse and racial injustice, to pandemic-related unrest and beyond — all exacerbated by increasing polarization,” they found.

The report identifies about 7750 protests from May 26 through August 22 that were linked to the BLM movement, taking place in 2400 locations across all 50 states plus DC.

Of those, in only 220 locations did the protests become violent—defined in the report as either a clash with police or counter-protesters, or causing property damage.

Moreover, in most cases, those with violence or property damage were “largely confined to specific blocks, rather than dispersed throughout the city,” the report states.

“In this hyper-polarized environment, state forces are taking a more heavy-handed approach to dissent, non-state actors are becoming more active and assertive, and counter-demonstrators are looking to resolve their political disputes in the street,” the authors wrote. “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.”

The report found that police or other government agencies intervened in about 10 percent of the protests nationwide.

In a little more than half of those cases, authorities used force, “such as firing less-lethal weapons like tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray or beating demonstrators with batons,” the report found.

“The heavy-handed police response appears to have inflamed tensions and increased the risk of violent escalation,” the report states. “The escalating use of force against demonstrators comes amid a wider push to militarize the government’s response to domestic unrest, and particularly demonstrations perceived to be linked to left-wing groups like antifa, which the administration views as a ‘terrorist’ organization.”

Portland is a good example.  The report found that the arrival of federal troops there actually inflamed the situation.

The report notes that, throughout June, while there were demonstrations, a federal judge had limited “the use of tear gas over concerns that its officers were employing excessive force against demonstrators and violating their Fourth Amendment rights.

“By the end of the month, the order was expanded to restrict the use of other less-lethal weaponry like rubber bullets, and Oregon state legislators passed a new law that mandated police warn protesters before firing tear gas. Demonstrations continued, but tensions cooled.”

This would change in July as PACT (Protection American Communities Task Force) agents along with federal personnel took a more active role in the response.

They report, “Against the wishes of local officials federal authorities began aggressively policing the demonstrations, using excessive force and arbitrarily detaining suspected protesters in unmarked vehicles.

“Prior to the deployment of PACT at the start of July, approximately 8% of demonstrations in Oregon were met with government intervention,” they report.  “Since July, this figure has risen to 40% of all demonstrations.”

The number of violent demonstrations also rose, where it increased from 17 percent prior to federal intervention to 42 percent after.

“Although federal authorities were purportedly deployed to keep the peace, the move appears to have re-escalated tensions,” the report states.  They add: “Prior to the deployment, over 83% of demonstrations in Oregon were non-violent.”

The other alarming trend is that, increasingly, “protesters on both sides of the country’s political divide are meeting face-to-face at demonstrations.”

In July, they reported 160 counter-demonstrations, with 18 turning violent.  In July 2019, by contrast, the entire nation saw just 17 counter-demonstrations, with just one turning violent.

Another concern is “there is also a growing presence of armed individuals at demonstrations, with many claiming they are standing by to ‘keep the peace’ if not to openly intimidate perceived ‘enemies.’ At least 50 such incidents have been reported around the country since 24 May.”

They note, “Reports that police not only tolerate the presence of certain armed individuals at demonstrations but in some cases actively encourage their involvement suggest this trend will continue, amplifying the risk of violence.”

In Kenosha,  for example, “during protests against police brutality following the shooting of Jacob Blake, police allegedly told armed members of the Kenosha Guard over a loudspeaker, ‘We appreciate you guys. We really do,’ and shared water with them.”

President Trump believes ultimately this will play to his advantage, with his view that he offers the law and order opportunity.

But polling, at least at the moment, is not bearing that out.

We have seen a number of polls showing similar trends.  One recent poll, a CBS Poll discerned that “though neither candidate gets rave reviews for what they’ve said about the demonstrations, Biden is seen by more as trying to calm the situation, while the president is perceived by slightly more as encouraging fighting, rather than calming things down.”

By a 49 to 39 margin, candidate Biden is seen as attempting to calm the situation down.  While by a 47 to 30 margin, President Trump is seen as attempting to encourage fighting.

What is also interesting is that most voters believe the best way to address the protests is through police reforms and addressing discrimination, not using the police to punish them.

Overall, 60 percent of the voters believe in police reform, to 25 percent favoring punishing protesters, and 15 percent neither.  Among Democrats, that breakdown is 91-3-6.  Among Republicans, 54 percent favor punishing protesters but 22 percent say police reform and 23 percent say neither.

Finally the polling found that voters “see the protests composed of a mix of well-intentioned demonstrators and people out for more destructive aims, but they appear to distinguish between the two: between the peaceful protesters — with whom, people say they can identify — and those destroying property, with whom they can’t.”

In addition, people in the suburbs are not particularly worried about violent protests happening where they live—8 in 10 say so.

Bottom line is that yes, there are violent protests and clashes between protesters and counter-protesters—but those have been the exception, not the rule.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith Olsen

    So, using the numbers provided by this organization would mean that we’ve had 542 violent protests through Aug. 22 and that somehow makes it not so bad?  In what world is a 1 in 14 chance that a protest will turn into a violent destructive riot downplayed?



      1. Ron Glick

        Fear is a strong emotion. That is one reason why violence must be condemned at every opportunity. It is also why violence is so counter productive.

        This article tries to minimize the impact that violence has had on the perception of current affairs. That is unlikely to work, especially if it isn’t coupled with an ongoing message of condemnation of violence, as this article fails to do. The article warns of the possibility of more violence but stops short of demanding non-violence. That only adds to the fear.

  2. Keith Olsen

    Can anyone honestly see the Vanguard posting an article claiming “Violent Protests Rare but the Overall Situation Concerning” if 93% of right leaning open the economy protests were peaceful but 7% were violent destructive riots?

      1. Keith Olsen

        True, but an article like that would never be written by you because we all know if the tables were turned and a right leaning group had been behind 542 violent riots I’d bet you anything you would be screaming from the rooftops and not downplaying it because 93% were peaceful.

        1. Ron Glick

          Peg Bundy (Katie Sagal) loved my brother at least in the ninth grade. Katie wanted to be a singer. Sang solo around L.A. with gigs at clubs like Barney’s Beanery on Melrose and back ups for Bette Midler. I wonder if she still lives in her parents house on Rockingham?

    1. Eric Gelber

      I condemn violence on all sides. But Keith is drawing false equivalencies. In the real world, the majority of right wing protests are not benign “open the economy” protests. As distinguished from left-leaning protests over issues such as police violence and racial injustice, right-leaning protests and counter protests more often involve white, often armed,  demonstrators defending police abuses, promoting white nationalism, and opposing Black people demanding equal justice. The differences do not demand equivalent coverage; they demand accurate coverage.

      1. Keith Olsen

        You’re right, it is a false equivalency, when’s the last time we’ve had 542 right wing violent riots during a summer in America?  Thank you for pointing that out.


        1. Eric Gelber

          How many so-called riots were instigated or stoked by right-wing extremists? How many white supremacist mass murders (e.g., Parkland, El Paso, Pittsburgh) are equivalent to the broken windows, burnt vehicles, and graffiti in Portland and Kenosha? Your simplistic comparison of numbers of incidents does not tell the whole story.

        2. Alan Miller

          EG, Incidents of right-lean extremism/violence have absolutely no bearing to justify, morally or otherwise, the incidents of left-lean extremism/violence.

          “If you listen to fools, the mob rules” — Ronnie James Dio

        3. Bill Marshall

          EG… listen to Alan… the ones you cite were individuals, not groups… the only one I can think of roughly equivalent to the ”group” thingy, was Charlottesville… which actually supports Alan’s point… the looking for violence, then acting/reacting violently is just wrong… left or ‘right’… also in Sacramento, protest/counter-protest… truth be told, many were cruisin’ for a bruisin’, both sides… they wanted to “mix it up”… stoked for confrontation…

  3. Tia Will

    if the tables were turned”

    I think Keith has inadvertently hit on the best response although he consistently fails to apply it to his own thought processes.

    Anyone who has read many of my posts knows I am a pacifist. I reject the use of violence for anything except immediate self-defense, or defense of another. Given this, I try (not always successfully) to ask myself, would my reaction be the same if the tables were turned.

    In this vein, I ask Keith, would your response be the same if a bunch of BLM activists turned up with MR-15s stating that they were there to “protect property” and “help keep the peace”? I don’t believe in vigilantism regardless of the ideology or political position of those involved. Can you, Keith, say the same? Because if you have said that, I must have missed it.

    I would ask all of us to ask, “What would I feel, say, do, if the tables were turned?”.

    1. Alan Miller

      I would ask all of us to ask, “What would I feel, say, do, if the tables were turned?”.

      I mock and condemn the foolishness of extremists, so I’m not sure what tables are being turned, and in what direction.

  4. Alan Miller

    Let’s talk about the photo.

    On the right, maskless guy and maskless woman, on the left, woman with bun and mask around chin, and guy with mask around neck over bun.

    90% of the crowd gets a A for wearing a mask, and likely correctly.  But in crowds it’s not about who’s wearing masks, it’s about those not wearing masks.

    Sure, a lot less chance outisde, BUT

    I’ll give the crowd a D+ for social distancing.  Seems agreement that’s more important than masks even, and now droplets can travel 16′.

    So can Covid-19 spread here?  My guess is yes.  Even more so if someone were to (gasp!) hug an old friend.

        1. Keith Olsen

          I don’t know that people are claiming that congregations don’t spread the virus.  But people are claiming that somehow protesters don’t for the most part.

          1. David Greenwald

            What I wrote was that there was limited evidence of spread at these events because people were largely wearing masks. That was not true at other events. What are you implying is my inconsistency?

            She continued: “Almost everyone at the rally was wearing a mask, and it’s really a testament to how effective masks are in preventing the spread of this disease.”

            This is why contact tracing is so important even if it is intrusive, because it allows us to, as they discovered in Washington, see that a large number of the cases are due to large parties where people weren’t wearing masks.


            So why are social events spreading the disease but not the protests?

            “We’re finding that the social events and gatherings, these parties where people aren’t wearing masks, are our primary source of infection,” Lautenbach says.

            I never said, protests can’t spead disease. I said that there was limited evidence (at that time) that they had and a primary reason was the masks.

        2. Keith Olsen

          From a public health standpoint, which crowd would you rather be in?

          I’ll pick the congregation, better for one’s public health because there’s no chance of  brick throwing, looting, arson and a violent riot.  So how do you like them apples?

          1. Don Shor

            I’ll pick the congregation, better for one’s public health because there’s no chance of brick throwing, looting, arson and a violent riot. So how do you like them apples?

            I think your apples are full of worms. But everyone has a different level of risk assessment.

  5. Ron Oertel

    David: “What I wrote was that there was limited evidence of spread at these events because people were largely wearing masks.”

    Not sure what that refers to (e.g., percentage, when, where, what times of day, etc.).  Not to mention lack of social distancing.

    But, it really doesn’t matter (as to a larger point):

    Seems to me that some commenters (such as me, Keith, and some others, depending upon the topic of the article) “speak up” when they perceive that the Vanguard is presenting a repetitive, one-sided politically-motivated point of view. 

    And sometimes, encounter a great deal of resistance when challenging that view.

  6. Alan Miller

    There are times when I read modern media, or the Davis Vanguard, and I think I’m losing my mind.  I and my family have been supporters of civil rights since before I can remember having memory.  Today, the rhetoric changes as fast as the Covid-19 spreads, and if I don’t declare myself an anti-racist and kneel or raise my hand in the air . . . well, you can judge me, I won’t . . .

    Then I heard the words of Tennessee representative John DeBerry.  And I remembered who I am ‡

    Here is a link to a slightly-edited version of his ten-minute speech on YouTube:

    Here’s a full transcript (House floor August 12th, 2020):

    I don’t want to question the patriotism or the integrity of any of my colleagues who have spoken before me.  That’s not for me to do, just as it is not for them to do.  We find ourselves doing it quite a bit in this body and that’s unfortunate, because folks sent us here not to accuse each other of anything, but to do the job that they sent us to do. 

    I rise not to go against or support this legislation. I rise because I continue to hear references to what I saw in growing up in this country and growing up in the state of Tennessee as I walked with my father and worked with my father here in the state of Tennessee in Memphis, Tennessee and across this state and across this country in the middle of what has been referenced to on several occasions, the civil rights movement.  

    And, you know, people continue to refer to this, but I saw it.  I saw men and women stand with courage and integrity and class and they changed the world.  They changed the world because what the world could see in them was the lie that was being told about them. 

    I am one of those individuals who walked in back doors because the law said I had to.  I’m one of those individuals who rode on the back of the bus on the back seats that were not cushioned, because the law said I had to. I went to the water and drank “colored” water, because the law said I had to.  I went to a school where everybody looked me and the country was divided and segregated, because the law said that I had to. 

    So, all of these things we continue to refer to are the things that me and my generation lived.  We saw it for ourselves without reading it in the history books, but we lived it.” I went with my father when he and our neighbor got one of those “I am a man” signs and went downtown Memphis and watched him stand there proudly with Dr. King and other men and women – Black and White – who had enough courage to stand up against what was wrong.  And the way they did it, they had on their suits, their shirts, their ties, their hats and, if it was cold, their overcoats. 

    They locked arms and they marched peacefully and Dr. King stood for that which was peaceful because the world took a look at what was happening in Memphis and Chicago and Detroit and Washington D.C. and all over this country. We changed the entire world.  We changed it because those men and women had enough guts, integrity, enough citizenship and love of country because my father was a Korean War era soldier as many of those other men and women were. 

    They didn’t beg for anything.  They didn’t beg for citizenship, they demanded it because they were American citizens who paid taxes, who raised children, who paid house notes and rent and did everything that they were supposed to do so that they could demand from this country and its constitution those things they were supposed to have.  How did they do it? They did it by standing like men and women of integrity and class and common sense and values. 

    When the riots started and folks started burning stuff down, that’s when my father took my arm and we left.  We left because that was not what we were there for.  That was not what Dr. King was there for.  That’s not what others who were famous in the civil rights days were there for.  This was not peaceful.  This was not part of our movement and it only hurt everything. 

    That man lay in a pool of blood. I stood there and watched him make a speech.  The building wasn’t really full, it was crowded because there was a terrible storm that night but my daddy was intending and most certainly he wanted to hear that speech and wanted me to be there. I gave my seat to a lady who came in wringing wet and stood over, not because there weren’t any other seats, but because I could stand against the wall and be closer as he spoke. 

    I watched that man shiver.  I watched his voice shake.  I watched him tremble, because he knew, something he knew that he probably wasn’t going to leave Memphis.  I don’t know what providence God had given to make him prepare for this when he said he’d been to the mountaintop.  I don’t know what he was thinking when he said I may not get there with you.  But something told that good man on that terrible stormy night that something bad was getting ready to happen.  

    Whenever we use the opportunity to do wrong.  That policeman that put his foot on that man’s neck was wrong and every one of us in this room decry it.  Every one of us in this room condemn it.  We say it is wrong.  And, in America, we have a system of justice, a system of justice that’s going to bring the full impact of the law down upon him and I think every one of us in this room will support that. 

    And we know, we know that man lay there in a pool of blood.  This man didn’t die surrounded by his children and his wife.  He died in a pool of blood from a coward’s bullet.  He died on that day, and I remember as we went back to Memphis and all of the riots broke loose, everything he stood for, everything he stood for was all of a sudden being torn down, until calmer voices, calmer voices came and said Dr. King was against this.  He was against this.  He was against this. 

    My family raised money and sent my dad to Washington for that march when that man stood there and said that he wanted his children judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.  And all we do in America right now is talk about color.  Every issue, every issue is about race, it’s about color instead of us sitting down at the table like men and women of common sense and common justice and understanding that our enemies are looking with a greedy vigilance upon us as we tear ourselves apart internally. They have been watching us for 50 years, preparing step by step by step by step for us to kill ourselves. 

    And I may not be back here next year and I’m sure everything I say is going to be misconstrued and misquoted and used against me in November.  Fine.  Fine, because I stand for my father’s legacy.  I stand for the men and women who acted like they had some sense and some courage and changed this country by being men and women who stood for something.

    If we don’t start standing for something, don’t you know that the people who are looking at what’s happening in Washington and Detroit and Portland and Seattle, they’re getting emboldened because we act like a bunch of punks, too frightened to stand up and protect our own stuff. You tell me that somebody got the right to tear down property that Tennessee taxpayers paid for, that American taxpayers paid for and somebody has the right to destroy it, deface it and tear it down?  What kind of people have we become that we can’t protect our own stuff and when the heroes are those who violate the law? 

    Our police chief in Memphis, Tennessee when they shut the bridge down between Memphis and Arkansas, our police chief walked up there because it was a peaceful protest, even though they had shut down that bridge.  He walked up there, he talked to the protesters.  He let them know that they had a right to protest and after a while, he walked them all off the bridge.  Because they conducted themselves properly, he conducted himself properly and there was no one harmed on that evening.  

    Peaceful protest ends peacefully.  Anarchy ends in chaos.  And, what we see right now, any of us with any common sense, any common sense whatsoever know that what we see is not peaceful.  So, we can continue to fool ourselves and mix with words and use rhetoric and public relations in order to frost this stuff over and put a nice picture on what we see that is frightening, frightening.  

    I have a nephew who is a policeman who talked about getting attacked the other night.  You’re telling me that somebody has the right to throw feces and urine in the face of those that we as taxpayers pay to protect us and that’s okay?  What has happened to us?  If we don’t get this right right now, I’ve got grandchildren.  I don’t want to see the country we’re going to have 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now. If we don’t start acting like we got some guts, right now – brethren, sisteren, friends, colleagues – right now.

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