George Floyd Death Why Do Some Protests Turn Violent

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George Floyd Death Why Do Some Protests Turn Violent

Curfews have been imposed in multiple cities in the US, after unrest and protests have spread across the country over the death of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody.

Most of the protests began peacefully – and several stayed peaceful. But in a large number of cases, demonstrators clashed with police, set police cars on fire, vandalised property or looted shops. The National Guard has activated 5,000 of its personnel across 15 states and Washington DC.

George Floyd Death Why Do Some Protests Turn Violent

Experts have also drawn parallels with the 2011 England riots – when a peaceful protest over a man who was shot dead by police turned into four days of riots, with widespread looting and buildings set alight.

George Floyd Death Why Do Some Protests Turn Violent

Incidents like Mr Floyd’s death can “become a trigger moment because it symbolises a broader experience, amongst much larger numbers of people, about the relationship between police and the black community”, says Prof Clifford Stott, an expert in crowd behaviour and public order policing at Keele University.

https://www.bbc.com

Confrontations are particularly likely when there are structural inequalities, he adds.

Prof Stott studied the 2011 England riots extensively, and found that the riots there spread because protesters in different cities identified with each other – either because of their ethnicity, or because they shared a dislike of the police.

This meant that, when the police appeared to be overwhelmed, rioters in different districts felt empowered to mobilise.

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How the police respond matters

Violent protests are less likely when police have a good relationship with the local community – but how they react to demonstrations on the day also matters, experts say.

“Riots are a product of interactions – largely to do with the nature of the way police treats crowds,” says Prof Stott.

https://www.bbc.com

For example, he says, in a large crowd of protesters, tensions may begin with just a few people confronting the police.

However, “police often react towards the crowd as a whole” – and if people feel that the police use of force against them is unjustified, this increases their “us versus them” mentality.

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This “can change the way people feel about violence and confrontation – for example, they may start feeling that violence is legitimate given the circumstances.”

Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences at UCLA, believes police in the US “ramped up their aggressiveness” over the weekend.

“Deploying the national guard, using rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray – these are a range of police tactics that can exacerbate an already-tense situation.”

George Floyd Death Why Do Some Protests Turn Violent

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