Echoes of Police Violence

“Police kill so many people that each death drowns out the last.”

Olayemi Olurin tweeted that sentence this morning, and the violence she describes echoes through Crowd Counting Consortium’s data on protest activity across the United States. We record new protests, vigils, demonstrations, marches, banner drops, and direct actions in response to police brutality every day. The names and locations change, but the flow is relentless.

The chart below shows daily counts of protest events against police brutality, loosely construed, from the start of 2021 to the end of January 2023. There are notable surges, including a large one in spring 2021 around the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, and then a smaller but still significant one in recent weeks after the killing of Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran in Atlanta’s Weelaunee Forest on January 18 and the January 27 release of video showing the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis.

What may be most noticeable in that chart, though, is the near-constancy. In several places—McCarren Park in Brooklyn, New York; outside the Sherman Oaks Galleria in L.A.; in front of city hall in Rockford, Illinois; and on the square in downtown Wooster, Ohio—daily actions that began in the summer of 2020 continue more than two and half years later. In dozens of other towns from Maine to Georgia to Oregon, Black Lives Matter–themed vigils and demonstrations recur weekly or monthly. Meanwhile, when bursts of activity in response to a police killing or death in custody die down in one town, there are always loved ones and activists busy organizing new protests or vigils somewhere else.

The map below shows that neither fatal encounters with police nor protests against them are regionally specific. While police killings—as documented by the remarkable Mapping Police Violence project—and protests against them occur more often in major urban areas on the coasts and in the upper Midwest, we also see many of both scattered across sparsely populated parts of the Midwest and Great Plains and desert Southwest. No part of the country escapes this perpetual crisis.

The red dots on that map, and the green bars in the chart preceding it, represent nearly 9,000 protest actions against police brutality across more than 800 different cities and towns, just since the start of 2021. Those nearly 9,000 events mention more than 500 different names.

On the evening of January 24, I drove to DC’s Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park for a vigil honoring Tortuguita. Police sat in numerous cars on at least two sides of the rectangular park, and a handful of officers stood in the grass 40 or 50 yards away. By my count, more than 150 people came out in the cold to light candles, write postcards to activists jailed in Atlanta, contribute their art to a banner, and, in some memorable cases, take to the mic to verbalize their rage and grief.

Just a few days later, many of the same people were back out in response to the video showing police officers fatally beating Tyre Nichols. Per DCist:

In Franklin Park, activists with the local abolitionist group Harriet’s Wildest Dreams held space for about 50 community members ahead of the release of video footage showing the officers’ fatal beating of Nichols, a father of a four-year-old. Later in the evening, a small group gathered in Lafayette Square, growing to about 50 demonstrators by 8 p.m. chanting “no justice, no peace.”

Both events dwindled within a few hours, amid a mood of exhaustion among longtime organizers. Several told DCist/WAMU that they would not march through the streets for a lengthy protest – exhausted by decades of police violence and killing of their community members. Instead, they said they are resting and saving their energy to support the community’s needs.

“Black people die every fucking day at the hands of the police,” Mikki Charles, an organizer with Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, told the crowd at Franklin Square. “The list is endless. And I’m tired of coming out here and listing every single name that’s been killed.”

Published by Jay Ulfelder

Jay Ulfelder has worked for more than two decades at the intersection of social science and data science, with particular interests in contentious politics, democracy, and forecasting.

%d bloggers like this: