Story at a glance

  • The Black Lives Matter movement, organized against policy brutality and racist violence, started in 2013 and has spread globally.
  • A new study found that census places with Black Lives Matter protests experienced a 15 to 20 percent decrease in police homicides over the following five years.
  • Protests also influenced the operations of local police agencies, according to a preprint, from body camera policies to operating budgets.

Cities where Black Lives Matter protests were held have seen up to a 20 percent decrease in police killings in the following years, according to a preprint of a new study uploaded last month, the first such analysis of the now-global movement.

There is still no federal database with credible data on police killings, which limits the study's analysis, acknowledged author Travis Campbell, who used public datasets from Mapping Police Violence and Fatal Encounters Dot Org, among others, as well as available data on protests and the American Community Survey. 


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“It’s extraordinarily important to have concrete data of the numbers of incidents that involve police violence of all stripes, from killings to torture to being held incommunicado in police stations to people who died in custody,” Aislinn Pulley, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Chicago, told Scientific American. The organization has created a list of everyone who died at the hands of the Chicago Police Department since 2011. “We didn’t have access to that data prior to the movement—and we still have only partial access.”

Places that have had at least one Black Lives Matter protest also tend to have a higher poverty rate, a larger Black population share, a higher Black poverty rate, more college education and a larger population, found the study, which also looked at the size, intensity and frequency of protests. 


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"This fall in lethal use-of-force is growing over time and is prominent when protests are large or frequent," Campbell concluded. 

The study, posted on the Social Science Research Network as a preprint on Feb. 12, has not yet been peer reviewed, which means the findings are not verified. Still, the correlation suggests that the movement is doing something right. Within months of George Floyd's death last May, cities across the country announced police department budget cuts, resignations and the removal of monuments and statues, some citing the protests directly. 

“We should use that knowledge to know that the work we’re engaged in—the movement, the advocacy, the organizing—is what we need,” Pulley told Scientific American. “And that needs to expand and get broader, so we can join much of the rest of the world in having zero police killings. We can get there. That takes continued and persistent organizing.”


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Published on Mar 01, 2021