Black Lives Matter: Keeping Democracy Healthy in a Pandemic

This 10th edition of Freedom House’s newsletter, Keeping Democracy Healthy in a Pandemic, focuses on the protests calling for racial justice across America.

By Nate Schenkkan, Director for Special Research

Hello, and welcome back to Freedom House’s newsletter on democracy and the pandemic. This week we focus on developments in the United States.

The Black Lives Matter protests are transforming our national conversation about racism and racial injustice—and hopefully about policing and freedom of assembly as well. Freedom House issued an open letter calling for a new bipartisan effort on racial justice reforms last Monday. We also condemned the excessive use of force against protesters, including the violent dispersal of peaceful demonstrators from Lafayette Square in front of the White House.

Racism is a pandemic too BLM protest
Black Lives Matter protests that began in the United States have spread to countries around the world. Editorial credit: MF_Orleans /

For recommendations on action by the federal government to support the reform of policing in the United States, see this open letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions has also explained the international human rights law principles that should always guide the use of force by police, and how the practices we have seen on American streets fail to meet those standards.

Freedom House’s Amy Slipowitz puts all of this into a broader context, describing how both the crisis of US policing and the COVID-19 crisis demonstrate the indivisibility of rights, and how weakening or strengthening certain rights can affect others. The pandemic has underscored the fact that populations whose human rights were already undermined are likely to suffer disproportionately from any new emergency, and that preventing such outcomes requires improving conditions in ordinary times. Addressing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on African Americans will have to entail expanding access to health care, combating bias in medicine, and applying remedies for discrimination in housing and employment and for other structural factors that have led to higher rates of illness and death in African American communities.

For people engaging in protests, we also want to provide some helpful recommendations on how to stay safe. Our Allie Funk was interviewed by WIRED for this article on digital security. And the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has a detailed advisory for journalists, which may also be useful to demonstrators.

One of the major concerns to emerge from the protests has been the widespread and frequently abusive deployment of tear gas, which—in addition to the infringement of basic rights like freedom of assembly—could pose a serious health risk given the ongoing transmission of a deadly respiratory virus.

Here is a quick tour of some other resources that have come out recently:

Heroes: US Protesters

Our heroes this week are all the protesters in the United States who have come out into the streets to peacefully demonstrate against racism and demand a more just society. We should also note the impressive shows of solidarity and similar demands coming from protesters around the world. Keep it up.

Stay safe, and stay free.


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