Black Lives Matter Protests, Social Distancing, and COVID-19
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Sparked by the killing of George Floyd in police custody, the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests have brought a new wave of attention to the issue of inequality within criminal justice. However, many public health officials have warned that mass protests could lead to a reduction in social distancing behavior, spurring a resurgence of COVID-19. This study uses newly collected data on protests in 315 of the largest U.S. cities to estimate the impacts of mass protests on social distancing, COVID-19 case growth, and COVID-19-related deaths. Event-study analyses provide strong evidence that net stay-at-home behavior increased following protest onset, consistent with the hypothesis that non-protesters’ behavior was substantially affected by urban protests. This effect was not fully explained by the imposition of city curfews. Estimated effects were generally larger for persistent protests and those accompanied by media reports of violence. Furthermore, we find no evidence that urban protests reignited COVID-19 case or death growth after more than five weeks following the onset of protests. We conclude that predictions of population-level spikes in COVID-19 cases from Black Lives Matter protests were too narrowly conceived because of failure to account for non-participants’ behavioral responses to large gatherings.
Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w27408