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Police More Likely to Target ‘Left-Wing’ Protesters, Statistics Show

Kelly Kline/Creative Commons
Protesters at a Black Lives Matter rally in Seattle, Washington on May 30, 2020.

Recent research supports an alarming disparity that was evident during the Capitol insurrection: Police are less likely to target right-wing demonstrators than people protesting issues associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. Data show this is true in the Mountain West, too.

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which tracks political violence around the world, studied interactions between law enforcement and protesters across the nation for a 10-month period beginning in April 2020.

Data from the Mountain West reflects national trends with police here intervening in nearly 7% of progressive protests, versus 3% of right-wing demonstrations.

People demonstrating for what ACLED deemed "left-wing" causes not only faced more engagement and intervention by law enforcement, they also experienced more use of force when law enforcement did engage with them.

When police intervened, they used force against left-wing protesters three quarters of the time versus one-quarter of the time with right-wing protesters.

"This is despite quite a bit of militia activity, especially far-right militia activity, in the region," said Roudabeh Kishi, director of research and innovation with the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

Kishi pointed to areas like Coeur d'alene, Idaho, where armed vigilantes lined the streets last summer in response to rumors of "ANTIFA agitators."

Meanwhile, members of an armed paramilitary group, the New Mexico Civil Guard, grabbed headlines last summer for their alleged involvement inciting violence at a peaceful protest. A man was shot at an Albuquerque demonstration there while protesters toppled a statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate. New Mexico filed suit against the group claiming it helped incite the shooting.

Kishi also referenced years of anti-government activity at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada, where Cliven Bundy has unlawfully grazed cattle. In 2014, Bundy led an armed standoff with militia members against federal agents there.

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project only recently began monitoring political violence in the U.S. It joined forces with Princeton's Bridging Divides initiative to create the U.S. Crisis Monitor. The number of largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests transpiring across the country last year after the police killings of unarmed Black people such as George Floyd prompted the new project. Kishi says her team also wanted to track interactions between police and protesters leading up to the presidential election, a time where uncertainty gripped the nation.

The U.S. was at a "heightened risk of political violence and instability going into the 2020 general election, as evidenced by increased political polarization, violent hate crimes, and large-scale social movements," the ACLED website reads. "In the short term, political violence can erode the space available for compromise and civil discourse that is necessary for policymaking and reform. In the long term, it can undermine community building and core democratic institutions."

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I am an Investigative Reporter with KUNC's investigative desk. I'm interested in our region's appetite and aversion to equity, whether that's in housing, healthcare, education, politics or policy.