The historic demonstrations against anti-Black violence this year have been instrumental in awakening much of the country to systemic racism. According to a sweeping report by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, the vast majority of demonstrations have been peaceful. Yet pernicious narratives that distort the nature of the Black Lives Matter movement persist, obfuscating a more disturbing reality: the prevalence of police violence at protests.
Thanks to a new project by the London-based research team Forensic Architecture and independent journalism collective Bellingcat, a clearer picture of these violations is emerging. The two groups amassed a sprawling archive of police brutality at Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the US this year — and they have now published it online in the form of an interactive cartographic platform.
A team of investigators and volunteer researchers from Forensic Architecture and Bellingcat worked to geolocate, verify, and analyze more than 1,000 pieces of open source video evidence from 43 states and Washington, DC.
Their findings discredit conservative estimates of violent law enforcement intervention during protests. The groups found over 400 attacks on civilians using chemical agents; more than 300 instances of arbitrary arrest, detention, and intimidation; over 250 attacks on journalists, medics, and legal observers; and nearly 300 physical assaults by officers involving batons, fists, rifle-butts, and police vehicles.
On the online platform, users can select three categories of incidents: physical, such as arrests and assaults; procedural, which includes officers hiding their identity and being more permissive toward right-wing participants; and tactical, including kettling (confining protesters to block movement) and false riot declarations. The database also sorts victims’ identities: journalist, civilian, medic, or legal observer.
For example, incident records from May 29, 2020, include the infamous arrest of CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew, Leonel Mendez and Bill Kirkos, during a live news broadcast. The Minnesota State Patrol in Minneapolis apprehended the journalists even as they agreed to step back from the scene. Several human rights organizations, including PEN America, condemned the situation as unethical.
The data is particularly evocative as it adds to mounting proof that police brutality is widespread in the US, the very issue that Black Lives Matter protests seek to address. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor at the hands of law enforcement and white vigilantism, to name only a few, have been at the heart of the movement; more recently, the killing of Walter Wallace Jr. has sparked a new wave of demonstrations in Philadelphia.
“This platform evidences what people of colour in the US have always known: that the institution of policing has no allegiance to the people it claims to ‘protect and serve’ — its allegiance is to the racialized status quo,” said Imani Jacqueline Brown, a researcher with Forensic Architecture, in a statement.
“The power of police to use deadly force against Black people with impunity originates in slave patrols; the widespread use of so-called ‘less-lethal’ munitions (which are in fact weapons of war) holds a mirror to our nation’s emaciated effort to redress its legacy of systemic racism.”