5 Ways Officials Have Cracked Down on Protests Since the Floyd Uprisings

Portside Date:
Author: Kandist Mallett
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Teen Vogue - Black Canary

Throughout the summer of 2020, uprisings erupted across the nation in response to the police murder of George Floyd. Demonstrators took over highways and sidewalks, marching late into the night; some cities experienced property destruction, burning cop cars, and brutal police violence. In an attempt to quell the protests, local and state governments issued curfews, brought in the National Guard, and used political and police repression. Since then, these tactics have continued to the point where some cities now preemptively issue curfews if there is any fear of political unrest.

The United States is quick to scorn other world leaders for repressing anti-government protesters. President Joe Biden recently condemned the Myanmar military for its attacks on anti-coup protesters, and called for the “unconditional release” of Russian protesters. Yet here in the U.S., officials, especially liberals, engage in double talk. They say they support the right of people to “peacefully protest” but then enact measures that make it dangerous to do so, whether peaceful or not. Below is a sample of the repressive measures officials have taken in the year since the Floyd uprisings.

Enacting curfews that make protesting an arrestable offense

On April 26, Elizabeth City, North Carolina mayor April Onley declared a state of emergency, placing the city under an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in response to protests over the police killing of Andrew Brown Jr. Brown was killed by a sheriff’s deputy who was attempting to execute an arrest warrant. At least a dozen people were arrested after several nights of defying the city’s curfew.

Elizabeth City’s city manager Montré Freeman told a local news station that some reports of protesters' actions raised concerns that led to enacting the curfew. “The Elizabeth City police chief, who I have a good relationship with, called me and asked me about a curfew. Then I spoke to the Pasquotank NAACP president Keith Rivers, and he agreed to have a curfew," Freeman told a local publication. What Freeman described illustrates the coordination between the city, police, and even community organizations like the NAACP to try and manage social unrest.
The ability to protest without time constraints is important. Many people have school and work during the day, and evening protests allow for more individuals to participate. Issuing curfews and arresting people who defy that curfew, whether those individuals are protesters or not, is a serious abuse of power. (During the summer 2020 uprisings, at least one food delivery worker in New York City, who thought he was an essential worker, was arrested for allegedly violating curfew.)

After the police killing of Daunte Wright and ahead of the Derek Chauvin verdict, Minneapolis declared a state of emergency with a 7 p.m. curfew, which protesters also defied. This has been a trend throughout the past year, starting with the Floyd unrest; continuing in August in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after the shooting of Jacob Blake; September in Louisville, Kentucky, ahead of the Breonna Taylor announcement of grand jury indictment; and in October in Philadelphia and North Carolina after police killed Walter Wallace Jr. There was also a preemptive closure of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills on the night of the election, and on January 6, in Washington, DC, a curfew was put in place after the pro-Trump Capitol siege.

However you feel about the protests, the ease with which state officials are able to enforce curfews and curb dissent should be alarming.

Deploying the National Guard

If you were in one of the many cities popping off during the Floyd uprisings, you probably saw National Guard troops deployed. In Los Angeles, I remember how surreal it felt to have a guard station set up down the street from my house. While walking my dog, I’d see armored vehicles patrolling the neighborhood.

Dispatching National Guard troops to respond to protesters isn’t new, but it has happened to an alarming extent over the past year. National Guard troops were deployed in Philadelphia in response to the Wallace protests, to Portland, Oregon, after the election, and were on standby ahead of the Chauvin verdict. The military also approved dispatching the Washington, DC, guard ahead of any “first amendment protest” in response to the Chauvin verdict, CNN reported.

But in January, when thousands of pro-Trump supporters descended on the Capitol building, wandering the halls of Congress and entering lawmakers’ offices, National Guard troops were not immediately called upon. Capitol Police were told to “hold back,” despite having knowledge that Congress was the target, according to an internal report from the law enforcement agency’s own inspector general. The law enforcement response to the mostly white crowd that attacked the Capitol compared with the response to police brutality protesters who have mobilized around the loss of Black lives could not be more different.

Using surveillance tools to monitor protesters

In the months since the Floyd unrest, we’ve learned more about how the federal government and local law enforcement surveilled protesters. With approval from the Department of Justice, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Albuquerque reportedly enlisted the Drug Enforcement Agency to conduct “covert surveillance” on protesters, according to emails obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. This included aerial surveillance and infiltration of protests.

In Minneapolis, a Customs and Border Patrol-operated predator drone flew over protesters last May, and in early June, U.S. Marshals reportedly flew drones over DC protesters. Local law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Phoenix have also reportedly used sophisticated surveillance tools on protesters. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) requested footage from users of Amazon’s Ring home security systems, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Daily Beast reported that the New York Police Department had at least one paid informant embedded in the protests. In Phoenix, police referred to protesters as “targets” while using drones, surveillance cameras, and vehicles to spy on them, according to an investigation by the local ABC affiliate. 

Some of these efforts persist: In October, the LAPD received approval from the Los Angeles Police Commission to record and store aerial footage from its helicopters that has been captured during protests and other mass gatherings, after receiving private donations through the Los Angeles Police Foundation.

Increasing police budgets

There was a lot of posturing after local governments were scared into entertaining some sort of defunding of the police. In Minneapolis, the city council pledged to defund its police department, but recently devoted funding to hiring local officers; in February, city council members unanimously voted in favor of spending $6.4 million to hire and train new officers after some residents called for additional hires, citing an uptick in violent crime. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti has asked the city council there to approve a 3% increase to the LAPD’s already inflated police budget, for a total of $1.73 billion. Garcetti cited a rise in homicides as the reason the move was necessary. Durham, North Carolina, increased its police budget by $1.2 million, and Salinas, California, increased its police budget by $1.7 million.


City leaders may claim the increased police budgets are unrelated to unrest, but Minneapolis and Los Angeles, two cities that experienced heavy unrest after Floyd’s murder, also say they need to hire more officers because so many have retired or gone on leave after the protests. These cities cite the need for more police recruits as one reason they need a larger police budget, and having more police on the ground will mean that there will be more police to counter unrest.

Pushing harsh state laws and pretrial detention

According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, there have been more than 90 pieces of anti-protest legislation written since the Floyd uprisings. In Alabama, a proposed bill would make entering critical infrastructure, including mines and oil pipelines, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $6,000. If someone interrupts operations via the kind of civil disobedience we saw at the pipeline protest in Standing Rock, that person would be charged with a felony and could face up to 10 years in prison. This type of legislation shields energy sectors at a time when we need more critical action to stop the flow of fossil fuels.

Florida passed legislation that expands the definition of a riot, making participating in one a third-degree felony that comes with the loss of voting rights. The law now says that a group of more than three people who the law sees as acting with “common intent” and whose actions are deemed as resulting in property destruction and/or personal injury is now considered a riot and punishable as such. Florida has always been hostile to Black people and Black rebellions, and this new law is the latest iteration of the state’s repression, which dates back to slavery.

While most of the anti-protest bills are coming from Republican-controlled states, don’t be fooled into thinking the Democrats aren’t also at fault. Just look at all the police budget increases, use of surveillance, and curfews. Biden’s Department of Justice continues to press federal charges against protesters who were arrested in relation to last year's unrest. As of November, more than 60 protesters have been held on pretrial detention, according to the Reveal.

As police continue to kill people and corporations continue poisoning our rapidly warming planet, future civil unrest is assured. By looking at how local and federal government officials have responded to protests over the past year, we can see that despite stump speeches they may make in favor of free speech and protests, their actions tell a different story. While we prepare for whatever future protests are ahead, we know what the government's response will likely be: repression.

Source URL: https://portside.org/2021-05-25/5-ways-officials-have-cracked-down-protests-floyd-uprisings