Research shows places with BLM protests from 2014 to 2019 saw a reduction in police homicides but an massive uptick in murders.
April 12, 2021
There’s long been a fierce debate about the effect of Black Lives Matter protests and riots on the deadly use of force by police. A new study, one of the first to make a rigorous academic attempt to answer that question, found that the protests have had a notable impact on police killings.
The study shows that for every 4,000 people who participated in a Black Lives Matter protest between 2014 and 2019, police killed one less person.
Travis Campbell, a PhD student in economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, released his preliminary findings on the Social Science Research network as a preprint, meaning the study has yet to receive a formal peer review. So, you so be extra cautious in accepting the results of the paper.
Nevertheless, the research shows that from 2014 to 2019, Campbell tracked more than 1,600 BLM “protests” across the country, largely in bigger cities, with nearly 350,000 protesters. His main finding is a 15 to 20 percent reduction in lethal use of force by police officers — roughly 300 fewer police homicides — in census places that saw BLM protests over a five year timeframe.
But Campbell’s preliminary work discovered something else, something quite startling.
The research shows the protests correlate with a 10 percent increase in murders in the areas that saw BLM protests. That means from 2014 to 2019, there were somewhere between 1,000 and 6,000 more homicides than would have been expected if places with protests were on the same trend as places that did not have protests. Notably, however, Campbell’s research does not include the effects of last summer’s historic wave of protests because researchers do not yet have all the relevant data.
It’s worth noting that Campbell didn’t subject the homicide findings to the same battery of statistical tests as he did the police killings since they were not the main focus of his research. But his research on homicides aligns with other evidence. Omar Wasow, a professor at Princeton University who has done seminal research on the effect of protests, told Vox that the results are “entirely plausible” and “not surprising,” considering existing protest research.
The reason for the significant rise in murders is not fully understood, but one possible explanation is that proactive policing drops following scrutiny, leading officers to reduce their efforts and thereby emboldening criminals. In other words, police may not be trying as hard — either because they are demoralized or frustrated at public scrutiny.
To read more about the study and see Campbell’s methodology, click here.