Report on Human Rights Violations in the United States in 2020
IV. Continuous Social Unrest Threatens Public Safety
The government failed to maintain proper law and order, and shootings and violent crimes, which were already high in incidence, recorded new highs during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing panic among members of the public. The police's unrestrained use of violence in law enforcement triggered waves of protests that swept across the country. The police had abused their force to suppress protesters, and attacked and arrested journalists on a large scale, further fueling public anger and continuous social unrest.
Crime rates were on the rise amid the pandemic. While outdoor activities were down drastically as a result of various epidemic response measures, the crime rates were up in large cities amid the pandemic. According to the FBI's Preliminary Uniform Crime Report released in September 2020, in the first half of 2020, the number of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses increased 14.8 percent year on year, with cities with populations of 250,000 to 500,000 reporting an increase of 26 percent. During the same period, the number of arson offenses increased 19 percent year on year, while such offenses rose 52 percent in cities with populations of 1 million and over. Murders in Chicago spiked by 37 percent, while arson in the city was up 52.9 percent. New York City recorded an increase of 23 percent in homicides, while Los Angeles saw murders rise by 14 percent.
The number of violent crimes remained high. According to FBI reports released in 2020, more than 1.2 million violent crimes occurred in the United States in 2019, including 16,425 murders, 139,815 rapes, 267,988 robberies, and 821,182 aggravated assaults, translating to five murders, over 40 rapes, 80 robberies and 250 aggravated assaults per 100,000 inhabitants.
Gun sales and shootings hit record high. A study from the University of California, Davis found a significant increase in firearm violence in the United States associated with the coronavirus-related surge in firearm purchasing. A new destabilizing sense as virus fears spread had been motivating even people who had considered themselves anti-gun to buy weapons for the first time. The Washington Post reported on its website on Jan. 19, 2021 that, COVID-19 lockdowns, anti-racism protests and election strife had led to record gun sales of about 23 million in 2020, a 64 percent increase over 2019 sales. The 2020 numbers include purchases by more than 8 million first-time buyers, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. USA Today reported on its website on Dec. 18, 2020 that, with regard to gun homicides, the United States has historically reported a rate about 25 times higher than other wealthy nations. According to data from Gun Violence Archive, more than 41,500 people died by gun violence in 2020 nationwide, an average of more than 110 a day, which is a record. There had been 592 mass shootings nationwide, an average of more than 1.6 a day. Shootings in Chatham County of North Carolina, Riverside County of California, and Morgan County of Alabama each claimed seven lives. A deadly weekend in Chicago came at the end of May, when 85 people were shot, 24 fatally. In the afternoon of Jan. 9, 2021, 32-year-old Jason Nightengale went on a random shooting rampage in Chicago, leaving three people killed and four others wounded.
George Floyd's death from police brutality sparked unrest. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man from Minnesota, died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes during an arrest for forgery. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said what he saw was "wrong on every level," noting, "Being black in America should not be a death sentence." Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said in a statement, "This abusive, excessive and inhumane use of force cost the life of a man who was being detained by the police for questioning about a nonviolent charge." Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said, "The depths of despair are enormous right now for black people in this country. You pile on unchecked police violence and it makes for a perfect storm." The police brutality sparked visceral outrage, leading to protests in support of Black Lives Matter throughout the United States, as well as in other countries. The unrest escalated across the nation, with protesters blocking the streets and building barricades to confront the police. A large number of police stations, public institutions and shopping malls were looted. The Guardian reported on its website on June 8, 2020 that, since George Floyd's death at the hands of police, about 140 cities in all 50 states throughout the United States have seen protests and demonstrations in response to the killing.
The demonstrators were suppressed by force. In the face of visceral public grievances, the then U.S. administration leader added fuel to the fire by deploying a large number of National Guard soldiers across the country and calling for shooting. Targeted with flying rubber bullets and tear gas on site, the public were horrified and the society fell into chaos. U.S. federal agents had been grabbing protesters seemingly without cause. More than 10,000 individuals had been arrested, including many innocent people. The disclosure of the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, an African-American woman, during a police raid fueled a renewed wave of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, with the city of Louisville alone reporting arrests of 435 individuals during the movement. The Guardian reported on its website on Oct. 29, 2020 that, at least 950 instances of police brutality against civilians and journalists during anti-racism protests had occurred since May 2020. The police had used rubber bullets, tear gas and "unlawful lethal force" against protesters.
Journalists had been subject to unparalleled attacks by law enforcement. There were at least 117 cases of journalists being arrested or detained while on the job covering anti-racism protests in the United States in 2020, a 1,200-percent increase from the figure in 2019. The Guardian reported on its website on June 5, 2020 that, reporters were beaten, pepper-sprayed and arrested by police in numbers never before documented in the United States. There were 148 arrests or attacks on journalists in the country within one week after the George Floyd incident, which was more than what was recorded during the previous three years combined. The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement on Dec. 14, 2020 that, U.S. journalists faced unprecedented attacks in 2020, the majority by law enforcement.