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Nearly 1,000 Instances of Police Brutality Recorded Against Black Lives Matter Protests
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=56825"><span class="small">Tobi Thomas, Adam Gabbatt and Caelainn Barr, Guardian UK</span></a>   
Friday, 30 October 2020 08:12

Excerpt: "Police attacks on citizens and journalists over five months accompanied by incidents of tolerance of or collaboration with far right."

An Oregon State Trooper arrests a journalist during a crowd dispersal near the Portland east police precinct on August 30 in Portland, Oregon. (photo: Nathan Howard/Getty)
An Oregon State Trooper arrests a journalist during a crowd dispersal near the Portland east police precinct on August 30 in Portland, Oregon. (photo: Nathan Howard/Getty)

Nearly 1,000 Instances of Police Brutality Recorded Against Black Lives Matter Protests

By Tobi Thomas, Adam Gabbatt and Caelainn Barr, Guardian UK

30 October 20

Police attacks on citizens and journalists over five months accompanied by incidents of tolerance of or collaboration with far right

he United States is currently experiencing one of the longest continued periods of civil unrest in generations, after demonstrations sparked by George Floyd’s death expanded to protests against black Americans killed by police and systemic racism in the country.

Retaliation by police against civilians and the press was widely documented in the first wave of protests, but as the protests have continued, so too has the violence. There has not been a single week without an incidence of police brutality against a civilian or a journalist at a protest in the US since the end of May.

At least 950 instances of police brutality against civilians and journalists during anti-racism protests have occurred in the past five months, according to data collected by Bellingcat and Forensic Architecture and analysed by the Guardian.

The database shows more than 1,000 violations, including:

  • more than 500 of instances of police using less-lethal rounds, pepper spray and teargas;

  • 60 incidents of officers using unlawful assembly to arrest protesters;

  • 19 incidents of police being permissive to the far right and showing double standards when confronted with white supremacists;

  • five attacks on medics;

  • and 11 instances of kettling.

Originally the data focused on attacks on the media and almost 150 incidents were identified by 2 June, but the collection was expanded to include incidents involving civilians during the protests too. The data is probably an undercount as it only contains documented and verified incidents.

More than 200 incidents took place in Portland, where police spent more than $117,500 on teargas and less-lethal munitions in a six-week period from late May, according to Oregon Live.

Police stocked up on rubber ball rounds, pepper spray grenades and foam marker rounds, and as protesters held demonstrations on more than 100 consecutive nights between May and September, they repeatedly found themselves subjected to these less-lethal munitions.

“By and large these kinds of things have been used on mostly peaceful protests,” said Heather-Lynne Van Wilde, a Portland-based journalist who has covered the demonstrations for the Raindrop Works news site.

“It definitely does feel like it’s a disproportionate use of force for what’s going on in the crowd.”

In July a protester, Donavan La Bella, was shot in the head with a less-lethal munition at a demonstration. He suffered a fractured skull, and has spent the past two months in and out of hospital.

Others have complained that excessive use of teargas has meant the gas has seeped inside the homes of people who aren’t even at protests. The advocacy group Don’t Shoot Portland filed a lawsuit against the city of Portland in June, alleging “indiscriminate use” of teargas at the protests.

“It’s like nonstop brutality. It’s causing irreparable harm – not just physical,” said Tai Carpenter, board president of Don’t Shoot Portland.

“The trauma is massive for a lot of people. Not only that when you’re protesting violence to be met with violence … but also the fact that during Covid we’re all isolated, a lot of people have to adjust to a new way of living, their livelihoods are affected and now they’re realizing that their civil liberties do not matter at all.”

Police brutality against protesters has also been extensively documented in New York City, Seattle, Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

Another troubling detail from the data is how police have handled rightwing extremists, who have frequently come out to “counter-protest” anti-racism demonstrations.

Nineteen incidents show police being permissive to far-right members and treating white supremacists favorably at protests. The Seattle police department was involved in at least seven of these instances and in one case this contributed to the death of Summer Taylor, a 24-year-old protester who was hit by a car which was able to get through a police blockade.

Another notable instance took place in Washington DC, where the Ohio national guard deployed a known neo-Nazi to the anti-racism protests taking place in the city, while in Salem, Oregon, video shows an officer advising armed, white, counter-protesters on how to avoid arrest as police prepare to enforce a curfew.

In Olympia, Washington, a police officer posed for a photo with individuals who appeared to be members of the 3 Percenters, a rightwing militia group, while in Philadelphia officers stood by as a group of rightwing men attacked a journalist.

“This is vigilante activity, that the anti-Black Lives Matter protesters believe is an extension of police – and in some cases the police agree,” said Alexander Reid Ross, a professor at Portland State University and researcher at the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right.

“It’s sort of one hand washes the other here, where the police are unable to come in and beat down the protesters in this way sometimes, and so the far right, which absolutely supports the police, does it for them.”

Ross, who wrote the book Against the Fascist Creep and contributed to a damning Amnesty International report which found police had frequently failed to “prohibit and prevent threats of violence by armed groups and individuals at peaceful assemblies”, said police enabling of the far right was not “a universal reality”, but said some police departments “have done this for a long time”.

The use of “unlawful assembly” to arrest protesters has also been a pervasive tactic in shutting down protests. The data documents 60 incidents of officers using unlawful assembly – almost half of these instances took place in Portland.

The right of assembly is clearly laid out in the first amendment of the constitution, which says no law should restrict the “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”, but experts argue that police actions have failed to abide by that notion.

Tabatha Abu El-Haj, a professor of law at Drexel University in Philadelphia and an expert on the first amendment and the right of peaceable assembly, said unlawful assembly laws have been misused at protests over the past decade – something which “absolutely” could infringe protesters’ civil rights.

“The thing that gets lost in all of this is how central a democratic practice gathering in the streets with other people to try to get your voices heard is,” Abu El-Haj said.

“There’s often a focus on elections, and elections are clearly important, but what we all want is for the government to respond to the things that are not working in society. Sometimes legislatures do that, and sometimes legislatures don’t.”

Dr Adam Elliott-Cooper, a researcher at the University of Greenwich who is also part of anti-racism charity the Monitoring Group, said that although protests against racism and policing in the US have a long history, there have been developments in recent years.

Elliott-Copper added: “The rise of far-right nationalism and widespread anger at the handling of coronavirus has contributed to the summer seeing some of the largest protests in US history.

“While the police killing of George Floyd was the spark, it is clear that anger at racism, bigotry and injustice more generally contributed to the mass mobilisations we’ve seen across America, and the world.” your social media marketing partner