Trump called protests violent. We found majority are peaceful
Residents in five Democrat- run cities also dispute claims of being ‘ under siege’
CHICAGO – Hours after a 14- year- old boy was fatally shot, dozens of young people held a “love march” through the city’s South Side Englewood neighborhood last Saturday, holding images of people lost to gun violence and calling for investments in grocery stores, schools and health services in their neighborhoods.
“I’ve lost 34 friends to gun violence and police brutality, and it pushes me to keep going and show love,” said Juanita Tennyson, 23, who has hosted three of these marches and a series of food drives since George Floyd’s death in police custody May 25 in Minneapolis. “People think protests are bad and violent, and they’re not. They can be beautiful and peaceful and calm.”
As Election Day nears, President Donald Trump and his supporters continue to warn voters that big cities run by Democrats are “going to hell” because of violence associated with Black Lives Matter protests that erupted nationwide this summer.
Roughly two- thirds of Americans say they believe protesters and counterprotesters are overwhelming American cities, according to a recent USA TODAY/ Ipsos poll.
But the people who live and work in those cities say Trump is either terribly misinformed or lying. While murders and shootings have soared across the country amid the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout, the vast majority of demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have been nonviolent.
Protesters did not engage in violent or destructive activity in more than 93% of the 7,750- plus demonstrations across all 50 states and Washington,
D. C., from May 26 to late August, according to a report by the U. S. Crisis Monitor, a joint effort including Princeton University that collects and analyzes real- time data on demonstrations and political violence in the U. S.
To be sure, demonstrations were violent or destructive in about 220 locations, instigated by protesters, counterprotesters, police and others, the report said. People have been injured and killed, and buildings, vehicles and more have been damaged.
Few of those charged in protest- related arrests appear to be affiliated with highly organized extremist groups, and many are young suburban adults from the very neighborhoods Trump vows to protect from violence, according to a review of thousands of pages of court documents by The Associated Press.
So what’s really going on? The USA TODAY Network looked into what’s happening on the ground in Portland, Oregon; Detroit; Milwaukee; Louisville, Kentucky; and Chicago.
Night after night, TV stations broadcast images of thousands of people descending upon the federal courthouse, where a small number of protesters brushed with police in chaotic clashes.
But resident Greg Sutliff, 34, said most people are now going about their lives unaffected by the protests, which have largely been confined to areas around the police department, courthouse and city hall.
Overall, violent crime is down, and the number of homicides in the past 12 months remains the same compared with the previous period, according to city data. Even the highest daily spikes in violent crime this summer did not exceed the record daily count from 2015 to 2019, according to statistics from the University of Pennsylvania.
There were 15 homicides in July – more than double the monthly average since mid- 2015, according to city data. In August, a man was fatally shot after a pro- Trump caravan faced off with counterprotesters. Since 2015, the city has rarely recorded more than four homicides in a month.
Sutliff, who helps run a small nonprofit, rejected the idea Portland is dangerous or violent. “It’s extremely frustrating that the president has been trying to divide the country into hostile camps and painting an entire city as a place that’s uninhabitable and violent, when that’s not the case,” Sutliff said.
Sarah Iannarone, who is running for mayor in Portland’s nonpartisan election, said she wants partnership from the federal government, not criticism.
She said Trump masterfully takes accurate but isolated examples of violence, like a flag being burned or a window being smashed, and then spins narrative fitting his political purposes.
Still, Iannarone said, the high- profile protests have prompted elected officials across the country to move more quickly toward police reform than they might have otherwise. “You have to give the protests nationwide credit for moving policymakers to move with urgency to address this situation,” she said.
The Portland Police Bureau didn’t respond to requests for comment, and the mayor’s staff said he was unavailable for interviews.
Detroiters have also protested since May, but, unlike in many other major U. S. cities, there was no looting or widespread property damage. There were, however, several instances of violence between police and protesters in the early days of the protest movement.
Police arrested hundreds of demonstrators during the first week of protests that began May 29. Protesters said police slammed them to the ground, shot them with rubber bullets and neglected them when they needed medical care.
A federal judge in September temporarily banned Detroit police from using batons, shields, gas, rubber bullets, chokeholds or sound cannons against peaceful protesters.
Police Chief James Craig has been highly critical of protesters he categorized as radical. He has highlighted protesters throwing railroad spikes and rocks at police officers and attempting to overtake an intersection.
Tristan Taylor, the leader of Detroit Will Breathe, the group orchestrating protests, said he wasn’t surprised a majority of Americans say they believe protesters and counterprotesters are over
whelming cities. That’s the point, he said – physically stopping society from running business as usual is the power of protest.
Although protests continue daily, they don’t consistently bring out hundreds like they did in May and June.
Since the first day of protests, violent crime and homicides have risen sharply in Detroit. Violent crimes peaked July 5, when the city recorded 72, and again on Aug. 15, with 67, according to statistics from the University of Pennsylvania.
As of September, homicides were up 23% from the same time last year and nonfatal shootings were up 50%.
Craig attributed the spike in violent crime to pandemic- related stress, the stay- at- home order and protests.
Meanwhile, the federal government deployed dozens of federal agents in Detroit over the course of the summer as part of Operation Legend, a Trump- administration initiative to battle crime in major U. S. cities. Sixty- two people have been charged with firearms- related offenses and three were charged with other violent crimes under Operation Legend, the Department of Justice said last week.
Five months after protests began in Milwaukee after Floyd’s death, there is little sign of a city “under siege.”
There have been nights of violence, especially early on, and more recently in Kenosha and suburban Wauwatosa. But officials and residents say the protests have been marked more by determination than destruction.
In the first days, thousands of protesters crisscrossed Milwaukee and surrounding suburbs in long, daily marches. Unrest broke out near two police stations late at night, and police used tear gas and pepper spray to break up crowds.
Since then, dedicated protesters formed a group called the Peoples Revolution, which has marched or gathered to strategize every day. The activists have devoted much of their energy to the cases of Alvin Cole, shot and killed in February by a Wauwatosa police officer, and Joel Acevedo, who died after an off- duty Milwaukee officer put him in a chokehold during a fight at the officer’s house in April.
Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson said those marching regularly are committed to seeing real change carried out and are “fighting for the founding creed of this nation.” But a small number of others who join late at night and who are unorganized and destructive “turn the tide of the conversation from one that’s positive to one that’s negative.”
In August, Joseph Mensah, the officer who shot Cole, said he was assaulted by protesters, and two men are facing felony charges after a shotgun was fired. In October, officials coordinated a heavy police response to protests when the Milwaukee County district attorney did not charge Mensah in Cole’s death.
Sarah Griffie, a member of activist group Tosa Together, lives in the area that saw the most activity in Wauwatosa and now, more than a week after the intense protests, she says “things have mostly gone quiet.”
According to Milwaukee Police Department data, homicides this year are down more than 20% from the same time last year; other violent crimes are also down by double- digit percentages.
But a count by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shows Milwaukee is on pace for a record homicide year. There had been more than 155 homicides as of Oct. 18, according to the count. The city had 99 homicides in all of 2019.
Milwaukee saw its greatest number of violent crimes, 70, on June 21, according to statistics from the University of Pennsylvania. But none of the peaks exceeded the highest number of daily violent crime incidents seen between 2015 and 2019, when the city recorded 73.
Twenty- five people have been charged with firearms- related offenses under Operation Legend, and four have been charged with other violent crimes.
In Kenosha, after a police officer shot Joseph Blake in the back at close range in August, that community became a national focal point. Buildings were set on fire and, on a night after a call for armed men to protect businesses, two protesters were shot and killed. The most intense clashes lasted for three days. But protesters have kept marching and organizing.
Louisville never stopped protesting. Protests began in Kentucky’s largest city May 28, the day a frantic 911 call was made public from the night Breonna Taylor was killed and three days after Floyd’s death.
Taylor, an unarmed Black woman, was shot in her home March 13 by police who were executing a search warrant.
Although protests are continuous, Louisville is not under siege. The main sign of ongoing protest is occasional blocked traffic and an occupied downtown park.
“Besides COVID, most parts of Metro Louisville are functioning as best as it can function under the pandemic,” said community activist Christopher 2X.
But over the course of more than 140 days, there has been some violence. During the first nights, there was gunfire downtown, and many businesses were looted. Two people were killed in June.
Following the Jefferson County grand jury decision Sept. 23 not to charge the officers in Taylor’s death, protests intensified. That evening, two police officers were shot.
There have been 887 arrests tied to the protests as of Oct. 15, according to Louisville police, but they typically stem from what organizers call “good trouble.” Demonstrators have blocked bridges to traffic, shut down a city block to host an impromptu block party, and organized a massive sit- in on Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s front lawn.
Separately, Louisville has experienced more homicides this year than any year prior. As of Oct. 11, there had been 130 criminal homicides, surpassing the record of 117 from 2016. Violent crime as a whole is up, too. From January to August, there were 4,378 reported instances, compared with an average of 3,093 over the past five years.
Mayor Greg Fischer said in September that the city had to address the “horrifying increase in homicides that we’re seeing in our city, many of which are connected to the illegal drug trade.”
Other local leaders have pointed to circumstances stemming from the coronavirus pandemic – like joblessness and no in- person school – as contributions to increased violent crime.
The large majority of demonstrations in Chicago have been peaceful: There have been dance parties rallies and there was a daylong encampment where activists reimagined what community safety would look like without police and gave out food, art and mental health resources.
At the same time, there was a small percentage of violent and destructive incidents that garnered the bulk of media attention. One event, in July, turned violent after dozens of people attempted to topple one of the city’s Christopher Columbus statues. Twelve people were arrested, and 18 officers were injured.
Police Superintendent David Brown said in late September that officers believed there was a “coordinated effort over the summer to embed agitators in peaceful protests.”
There was also violence associated with two rounds of looting this summer. There were nearly 200 incidents of violent crime on May 31 – the most in a single day all summer and more than any daily record from 2015 to 2019, according to statistics from the University of Pennsylvania. And more than two months later, 100 people were arrested and 13 officers were injured, and a security guard and a civilian were shot.
Tess Porter, 54, owner of Tess’s Place Style Shop in Englewood, had her front windows shattered in the first round of looting, and her beauty products and equipment were stolen. The loss was “heartbreaking,” Porter said, but she didn’t blame protesters.
“I don’t believe the protests had anything to do with the looting. It was an evil thing people just took the opportunity to do at the time,” Porter said.
Total crime rates are down this year, but murders are up 53% from the same time last year, and shootings are up 53%, according to the Chicago Police Department.
Ahriel Fuller, 25, started running a free supplies drive over the summer. Fuller said it’s “ironic” that Trump characterizes protests in Chicago as violent.
“People want to say that protesters are violent, but you have to look at the people who are in charge of violent systems,” she said. “Poverty is violence, and we’re responding directly to poverty. This is a protest. It’s my protest.”
Members of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks join a George Floyd protest march in June in Milwaukee.
A majority of this summer’s racial justice protests in Chicago were nonviolent, like this peace walk.
Mothers stand arm- in- arm outside the Justice Center in downtown Portland, Ore., during a July protest. Residents say the city is peaceful and reject the president’s claim it is overrun with violence.
Sadiqa Reynolds, CEO of the Louisville Urban League, leads chants during a march for Breonna Taylor on Oct. 10.