passing the blame

Cities keep blaming protests on 'outside agitators.' Arrest records show that's not true.

June 3, 2020

Every U.S. has state has seen protests against police brutality. And in several of them, police have arrested protesters for breaking curfews, failing to disperse, and, in some cases, for violent behavior.

Leaders in those cities, as well as Attorney General William Barr, have often blamed non-peaceful actions on "outside agitators" with an apparent agenda of their own. But as cities start to share arrest data, the numbers don't add up.

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Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, where protests kicked off after George Floyd was allegedly murdered in police custody, initially declared protesters "are coming from outside the city, from outside the region." People from other states were arrested in Friday night protests, but two local news channels reported between 84 and 86 percent of them were from the Minneapolis area. The same statistics have been reflected in Dallas, where 172 of 185 weekend arrests were of people from the area; Columbus, Ohio, where 84 of 89 people arrested over the weekend were from central Ohio; and many, many other cities.

Howard University law professor Justin Hansford described "outside agitator" as a "racial term" that means "protests are somehow less legitimate," in an interview with Vox. "Not only do you delegitimize the protest itself, but you also delegitimize the activists as not being skillful enough, or clever enough, to do this on their own," Hansford said.

Rapper and filmmaker Boots Riley meanwhile had his own assessment of the term. Kathryn Krawczyk

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