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Sat Aug 30, 2014, 05:40 AM

Police-Provoked Violence At Protests Is As Predictable As It Is Avoidable, New Research Finds


New York City police charge protesters during 2011's Occupy demonstrations.
Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) a katz

The Deciding Force Project is analyzing thousands of police-protester interactions during the Occupy protests to answer that. Nick Adams, a sociologist and fellow at University of California Berkeley’s Institute for Data Science, oversees this research and spoke to AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld about what provokes police-protester violence.

Steven Rosenfeld: Are police provoking violence in demonstrations? Are they doing this? And then we can get into the evidence and talk about what might be different.

Nick Adams: The way that we answer that question is we have data from over 8,000 news accounts: newspaper, radio, television, local, regional, national—accounts covering events of the Occupy Movement across the United States, 192 different cities. We gather all of this information and then we parse it and turn it into numbers and a database, and we can look at interweaving narratives in each city across different events. Whether they’re protests, marches, demonstrations, or police raids of camps, or whatever they are. We can look at the strategic, operational and tactical level, and see how violence is emerging—sometimes strategically, often at the most emotional escalations that are occuring on the ground.

So to answer your question, do police provoke violence? Certainly, sometimes. Whether they’re doing it intentionally or not varies, moment to moment. Sometimes police provoke a standoff or some kind of force strategically, but often times it emerges out of an escalation with protesters. All of this is shown in the data that we have. We’re still processing data so we can put hard numbers on it.

SR: Let’s break it down a little bit. You’re talking about several different situations, such as police going to where people are camped, or where they are lined up. Where is violence between protesters and police more likely, or less likely, to occur?

NA: We need to be careful about how we are defining violence. For some people, when they hear violence, they might think rubber bullets, tear gas and batons, and so on. In our work, we define it as any use of force. And that goes for protesters also, if protesters are pushing police officers, even if it’s not hurting them. We are really interested in force, even more so than just violence.

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