skip to content

Centre of Governance & Human Rights (CGHR)


In late spring 2020, a wave of Black Lives Matters protests surged around the world in direct reaction to recent police killings of Black Americans, but also more broadly in response to systemic racism.  In many instances, these peaceful protests were met with shocking displays of police violence from local, state and national law enforcement agencies, including extensive deployment of tear gas, rubber bullets and other violent crowd control strategies. Night after night, U.S. cities lit up with flames as police and protestors engaged in running battles. To date, over thirty deaths have been recorded, with others suffering life-changing injuries. The protests echoed around the world: Rhodes finally fell, Belgium began a long-overdue reckoning with its colonial past and marching citizens from Paris to Tokyo expressed their solidarity.

The Cambridge DVC began to independently collect open source material on the protests on the 1st of June. We discovered subsequently that Amnesty HQ had already begun to write a report on the protests, and so we combined our efforts. Amnesty aimed to document the widespread pattern of police violence in all fifty of the United States. As such, the evidence that we gathered was not exhaustive, but rather attempted to show the breadth of the measures American law enforcement took to suppress peaceful protest. 

Our DVC gathered open source content from social media platforms such as TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We then systematically geolocated each video by using a range of OSINT tools such as Google Earth Pro, Yandex and SunCalc.

This was a lightning-fast project, and the DVC worked exceptionally quickly to examine over 1,500 videos and verify over 500. In collaboration with Amnesty, we produced a clean sheet of the abuses committed complete with tables to show the prevalence of violent policing in each state.

The DVC’s work contributed to Amnesty’s November 2020 report, ‘USA: Losing the Peace, U.S. Police Failures to Protect Protestors from Violence’. It also contributed to Amnesty’s interactive map of incidents of police violence. This research raises systemic questions about the state of American civil liberties during a uniquely politically fraught and polarised age and has helped to set the agenda around American discussions of police violence. We can only hope that policymakers in better possession of the facts will make better decisions.

Mikey Pears