The protests that have rocked communities since the death of George Floyd were perhaps the defining reality of our summer. Mass action in the streets has become a major feature of civil discourse. It is by no means over.
The question is whether it has all constituted protest in the American tradition — peaceful, constructive, and respectful of liberties — or something more destructive.
The media narrative is that Black Lives Matter and its allies on the Left have been overwhelmingly peaceful. Several days back, a group of academics called the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, or ACLED, released its own analysis on Black Lives Matter and the protests surrounding it. The verdict, from both ACLED and the media: 93% peaceful.
The number was picked up and disseminated by major media nearly everywhere. “The vast majority of Black Lives Matter protests — more than 93% — have been peaceful,” declared Time.
The clearly intended message is that BLM is moral in both its aims and its methods. Immoral methods, for example, burning down city blocks and terrorizing local residents and entrepreneurs, are not representative acts.
All this raises two questions. First, are ACLED and the media accurately communicating the content of the ACLED data? Second, is “93% peaceful,” which could also be stated as “7% violent,” really that low a figure?
To answer those questions, we downloaded the ACLED data set and had a look for ourselves. The ACLED team cataloged a total of 11,541 civil-society incidents from May 24 through Aug. 29. ACLED’s event coding is far from perfect. It is reliant upon media reports, which carries with it its own obscuring bias; it does not appear to account for property destruction fully; and it may omit incidents of public menacing, threats, and intimidation.
For example, I was personally present to witness the violent threats in the streets of Washington toward attendees of President Trump’s convention address. For that date, ACLED lists three “peaceful protests” and one “protest with intervention.” The ACLED data set is, therefore, charitable toward anyone who, from May to August, wished to communicate that he or she might visit harm upon others.
Still, of the 11,541 civil-society incidents recorded by ACLED, 1,101 — just under 1 in 10, or 9.54% — were violent, according to ACLED’s own classifications. This yields a “peaceful” rate of 90.46%, rather than the reported 93%. That’s because the latter figure only counted BLM-involved events. Looking at the whole data set gives a more comprehensive picture.
In any case, a nearly 1-in-10 chance of civic violence seems like quite a risky proposition. The United States, after all, once set the standard for the absence of this sort of thing. It’s when you dig into that 9.54%, those 1,101 violent incidents, that things get interesting. ACLED helpfully records the participants. Looking at them shows that of the 1,101 violent incidents across 97 days, 933 of them directly involved Black Lives Matter. That’s 84.74% of the civic violence in America across summer 2020.
This is where a tremendously interesting, alarming, and entirely unreported-by-the-media fact comes into focus: Black Lives Matter participated in the overwhelming majority of civic violence this summer.
The answer to our first question is that ACLED’s own data shows that the media characterization of BLM as intrinsically peaceful is misreporting. As for the second — is 93% peaceful really that low a figure? — requires a bit of perspective. As it happens, a 1-in-10 chance of violence is not particularly low. Looking to expertise in civil-society breakdown reveals it to be quite the opposite: a remarkably high rate of civic failure.
Consider, for example, that only 2% of fatal police shootings involve the death of an unarmed African American. By media logic, that’s 98% peaceful. Of course it’s not, and BLM is prepared to bring real revolutionary violence to the U.S. to change it.
Looking at the ACLED data, as opposed to trusting the media spin on it, illuminates the extent to which the Black Lives Matter movement is both unusually violent and uniquely responsible for civic violence in communities coast to coast. The next question is, what do we do about it?
There are no easy answers. But there are simple ones. For one thing, no one, anywhere, ought to be acquiescing to the demands of a movement whose legitimacy rests not upon law and democracy but upon menace and the mob. It’s probably too late to save professional sports and much of corporate America from that self-abasement, but people can and should be prepared to say no. Every person of goodwill and decency supports racial and civic equality in law and society; it is foundational to the American promise. A movement that physically attacks history, communities, and fellow people is not promulgating that creed.
For another thing, we can speak the plain and empirical truth about Black Lives Matter and its radical allies. That means discarding euphemisms like “mostly peaceful” and speaking forthrightly about its leading role in fostering violence. That very role also means that we stop talking about it as a protest and start talking about it as an insurgency — or insurrection.