Facing Protests Over Use of Force, Police Respond with More Force

Many people complained that police officers across the country treated the crowds protesting racist policing with far less respect than they did the right-wing demonstrations in recent weeks against public health lockdown orders.

Experts agreed, saying research shows that the police are more likely to respond with force when they are the subject of protest, and that they respond more aggressively toward younger crowds and people of color than they do toward white and older people.

“There’s deep resentment on the part of the police that so many people are angry at them, and they’re lashing out,” said Alex Vitale, a sociologist at Brooklyn College who studies the police response to protest and coordinates the Policing and Social Justice Project. “Look at what we saw — people sitting on their own stoops getting hit with pepper balls. Anyone who looks at them funny, they’re attacking them.”

Paul Schnell, the Minnesota Department of Corrections commissioner, who was assisting in the official response, later apologized for that incident, which actually involved paint canisters. “We do not want there to be collateral harm,” he said.

In many places, the police defended their tactics as necessary to deter crime. In Dallas, Chief U. Reneé Hall said pepper spray and tear gas were needed to disperse demonstrators who were vandalizing property. “We will not tolerate tearing up our cities, our communities,” she said, according to The Dallas Morning News.

But critics said the protest was “a simple march” and the response was unwarranted.

The militarization of the nation’s police departments in recent decades has been on full display. But such equipment and training, including armored personnel carriers and SWAT team training, have been heavily criticized for warping the relationship between the police and the communities they serve.

Jennifer Cobbina, a criminal justice professor at Michigan State University, has researched the response to the protests in Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown at the hands of the police in 2014, and in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in 2015.

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