ESPN commentator Max Kellerman on Tuesday claimed “93 percent” of this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful. The blame for “a big percentage” of the rare bouts of violence, Kellerman said, belongs to “extremist right-wing agitators posing as protestors.”
As it turns out, Kellerman was repeating a talking point funded by the U.S. State Department.
Kellerman cited a report published earlier this month by the U.S. Crisis Monitor project, a joint effort by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University. ACLED receives funding from the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, a State Department office.
The report claims many “demonstrations” did not turn violent, “though at least one ended in tragedy—as when an armed teenager allegedly fired on protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing two people and leaving one seriously injured.” The report’s authors also contend that federal authorities deployed to keep the peace around Portland’s federal courthouse in July and August actually “re-escalated tensions.” (Portland has experienced more than 100 consecutive nights of unrest as of early September, interrupted by smoke from the wildfires around the state.)
Along with ESPN’s Kellerman, the ACLED report has been cited favorably by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and dozens of TV and newspaper outlets around the United States.
The study has not gone uncriticized, however.
“The report, generally speaking, classifies demonstrations as either peaceful or as riots,” wrote Seattle radio talk show host Jason Rantz at Newsweek earlier this month. “This simplistic view is troublesome because in many big cities where these violent demonstrations have unfolded, police departments have purposefully stood down and not declared a riot—and, in some cases, haven’t even been involved in quelling them for fear it would exacerbate the problem.”
Given the relative infrequency of violence that the ACLED study purports to show, Rantz argued, could be used to “justify . . . less coverage of the violence. After all, it’s only 7 percent of what’s going on. Some media outlets will happily use that logic here.”