On Monday, I published an article compiling dozens of instances of police violence against demonstrators protesting police violence.
Major media outlets are not covering the breadth of police violence against protestors. Often they speak in generalities about tensions and clashes before inevitably lapsing into commentary on the occasional looting and arson that has accompanied the civil unrest. That means the most reliable resource for information on what has actually transpired between protestors and police is user-generated video that circulates on social media. The volume of these videos is overwhelming, and there’s no centralized place to find them all.
Consequently, as exhaustive as my list was, I missed some particularly egregious acts of police brutality that occurred last weekend. For example in Austin, a young black man named Justin Howell was filming the protests on his phone when the police struck him in the head with a “less lethal” projectile, fracturing his skull. When fellow protestors picked up his body and began to carry it to safety, the police shot at them too, injuring one of the medics. Howell’s older brother says that he has sustained brain damage. At the same protest, the police hit a teenage boy in the head with a rubber bullet.
The police riots continued throughout the week. Below is another list of more recent incidents. Again it is incomplete, but again it demonstrates clearly that we are witnessing a gigantic paroxysm of police violence. Viewed together, it’s clear that what follows is not a string of miscalculations. On the contrary, direct aggression — not diplomacy or deescalation — appears to be police departments’ general strategy for responding to the protests.
Lawless Law Enforcement
In Asheville, police in full riot gear stormed a medical tent, battered the medics with shields, and threw several medics to the ground. The medics say the tent had been approved by the city, and that they were not resisting as police physically assaulted them and bizarrely stabbed water bottles, leaving them crumpled and empty on the ground. In Richmond, a police officer repeatedly spat on a protestor who was sitting motionless, fully restrained. In Philadelphia, a police officer pulled down a protestor’s mask to pepper spray her in the face.
In Charleston, police arrested a peaceful protestor simply for delivering an emotional speech. Police in Kansas City did the same thing. In both of these instances, the protestors were young black men. In Milwaukee, the police rushed with batons and arrested a well-known Black Lives Matter activist. In Denver, the police shot projectiles at and injured a black member of the Use of Force Committee who had met with the police department hours earlier. In New York City, police pepper sprayed and arrested a black state senator, Zellnor Myrie.
In Portland, Oregon, a police vehicle drove recklessly and aggressively down a street people were attempting to clean. In Boston, police drove a car into a peaceful crowd at a dangerous speed. In New York City, police trapped nearly five thousand protestors on the Manhattan Bridge for several hours while digital billboards atop skyscrapers broadcasted tweets from Governor Andrew Cuomo reading, “DO NOT BE A CRIMINAL!” and “HELP ME RESTORE CALM.” In Walnut Creek, California, soldiers in tanks threatened, “If you do not move, you will be dead.”
Across the country, journalists were targeted by police despite being visibly marked and verbally identifying themselves as press. In New York City, journalists were shoved and pinned against cars in retaliation for breaking the city’s curfew. When they explained that they were exempt from the curfew, an officer said “Get the fuck out of here you piece of shit.” In Washington DC, police were caught on video physically assaulting members of the press. In Seattle, an alarming video showed an NBC anchor and other members of the press corps fleeing exploding projectiles in an environment resembling a war zone. In Des Moines, police pepper sprayed a journalist as she said, “I’m press! I’m press! I’m with the Des Moines Register! I’m going!”
In Cincinnati, police took a bag from a diabetic protestor and refused to return it to her when she pled for her insulin. In Seattle, a police officer approached a completely calm pedestrian and attacked him unprovoked, choking him and pinning him to the ground. In Hoover, Alabama, fifty police showed up in full riot gear to confront a fourteen high school students sitting on the lawn of their campus with signs. In Oakland, police used tear gas and flash grenades on a youth-led peaceful protest that occurred in broad daylight. In Washington DC, a child picked up an unexploded sting ball grenade, to the horror of her father. It could have killed the child if it had detonated.
In Buffalo, police brutally attacked and arrested a protestor who was giving an on-air interview to press. In Kalamazoo, Michigan, police shot tear gas at protestors who were laying on the ground motionless. In Salt Lake City, police shot protestors with projectiles at point-blank range. In St. Johnsbury, Vermont, police threw a woman down a flight of stairs. In Los Angeles, police fired projectiles at people who were simply standing still and having a conversation. In Des Moines, police used pepper spray in an elevator. One of the women in the elevator screamed, “Please don’t, I have a baby!”
In Atlanta, police arrested a black woman and kept her in jail for fourteen hours because she violated curfew by going to the store to get tampons. In Chicago, two black women running errands in their vehicle were rushed by a dozen armed police officers, dragged from their parked car, thrown to the ground, and pinned down with knees to the neck. One of the women was injured by shattered glass and detained. Police seized the car. In New York City, police forced a woman to turn over the keys to her car because she honked in support of the protestors.
In Los Angeles, police blocked random intersections and began arbitrarily breaking windows and dragging motorists from their cars before arresting them for violating the city’s curfew. Los Angeles police also sprayed rubber bullets at teenagers in drive-by shootings.
An LAPD officer was overheard on a police radio saying, “You should not be driving past anyone. Stop where you are, and take someone into custody.”
In Philadelphia, a video circulated showing a police officer forcing a stick into a black man’s hand while the man was pinned to the ground, creating the impression that the man was brandishing a weapon before other police officers were called over to further restrain him. Also in Philadelphia, police pushed protestors who had occupied a highway onto a fenced-off hill on the side of the road, and then fired tear gas indiscriminately at the trapped crowd. Tear gas is theoretically meant to disperse protestors, but there was nowhere for the protestors to go.
In New Orleans, police nearly caused a stampede when they tear gassed protestors marching on an expressway. In Huntsville, Alabama, police admitted to using tear gas on peaceful protestors because they didn’t want to “roll the dice” that the protests would turn violent. In Fargo, North Dakota, the police chief apologized after he was busted pretending to be a violent protestor and instigating conflict, holding a beer can and cursing at law enforcement.
In Orlando, police boxed in peaceful protestors before the curfew had begun, rendering all of them arrestable for violating curfew. In New York City, police stole protestors’ bikes while also telling them they needed to go home because of curfew, and they also beat people as they were attempting to go home. In Washington DC, police confronted non-protestors who were waiting in line to vote. It was election day. The curfew was not meant to apply to voters, but police illegally ordered them to disperse anyway, rendering them unable to vote.
In Chicago, the police broke a protestor’s wrist with zip ties. In Santa Monica, after seven hours of detaining protestors with no food or bathroom, the police lacerated a woman’s hand as they carelessly and aggressively used a knife to cut the zip tie they had used to restrain her. “I could see my bone and my flesh was falling off,” she said on social media. “The police sat there and did nothing to help me but called the fire department.” In New York City, a hospital worker was coming home from the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis when police attacked him and beat him so badly that he needed staples in his head.
White Vigilante Allies
In Columbus, a twenty-one-year-old protestor died. Her family has apparently asked that her name be withheld and are still awaiting autopsy results, but social media posts indicate that people who knew her believe she died from complications arising from the inhalation of tear gas.
In Asheville, Philadelphia, Chicago, and elsewhere, white men with automatic weapons and baseball bats walked the streets unharassed by the police. In Crown Point, Indiana, police watched on the sidelines as a crowd of over a dozen white people, eight of them armed with machine guns, menaced passing protestors. In Chicago, police sat by as white men with bats wandered around looking for protestors to confront. In Orange County, California, police were spotted wearing right-wing militia patches on their uniforms.
In Philadelphia, the police calmly asked a roving gang of white vigilante to disperse, and then allegedly arrested a black man who’d been the target of a flying baseball bat from their ranks; later a video emerged showing Philadelphia police posing with the white vigilantes for group photographs. In Oakdale, California, a group of white counter-demonstrators with Trump and pro-police flags physically assaulted a Black Lives Matter protestor. The incident resulted in the police riding their horses into the crowd of Black Lives Matter protestors and attacking them on the ground with batons.
The police’s permissiveness and friendliness toward armed white vigilantes and groups they consider allies underscores the extent to which the police view themselves not as guardians of public safety, but as anti-protestor combatants. The through-line in the examples above is obvious: American police are not trying to deescalate urban conflict, but to provoke and dominate their opponents. They’re not attempting to keep the peace. They’re fighting to “win.”
This list is inevitably missing many flagrant acts of police violence against protestors that happened between Sunday night and Thursday morning. It’s hard to keep up. It’s hard to know where to train your gaze. The only thing we can say for certain is that the United States is witnessing nothing less than a nationwide police riot.