Black Lives Matter Protests and Risk Avoidance: The Case of Civil Unrest During a Pandemic

85 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2020 Last revised: 27 Jun 2021

See all articles by Dhaval Dave

Dhaval Dave

Bentley University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) - NY Office

Andrew Friedson

University of Colorado at Denver - Department of Economics

Kyutaro Matsuzawa

San Diego State University

Joseph Sabia

San Diego State University - Department of Economics

Samuel Safford

San Diego State University

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: June 2020

Abstract

Sparked by the killing of George Floyd in police custody, the 2020 Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests brought a new wave of attention to the issue of inequality within criminal justice. However, some policymakers warned that such protests should be curtailed due to public health risks of infectious disease contagion. The current study finds that this epidemiological argument rests on an incorrect counterfactual that ignores economic incentives for risk-avoiding behaviors. We use newly collected data on BLM protests and anonymized cell phone data from SafeGraph, Inc. to estimate the impacts of BLM protests on (i) stay-at-home behavior, and (ii) foot-traffic to restaurants/bars, retail establishments, and business service locations. Event-study analyses provide strong evidence that net stay-at-home behavior increased following protest onset, consistent with the hypothesis that non-protesters shifted their activity in response to the perceived heightened risk of contagion and protest-related violence. Moreover, we find that the types of activities that were averted by BLM protests were potentially riskier for disease spread than outdoor civil rights protests: restaurant and bar-going and retail shopping. These risk-avoiding responses to protests, coupled with mask-wearing by protesters, explain why BLM protests did not reignite community-level COVID-19 growth. Together, our findings highlight the pitfalls of ignoring general equilibrium effects in assessing the net economic impacts of civil rights protests.

Suggested Citation

Dave, Dhaval and Dave, Dhaval and Friedson, Andrew and Matsuzawa, Kyutaro and Sabia, Joseph and Safford, Samuel, Black Lives Matter Protests and Risk Avoidance: The Case of Civil Unrest During a Pandemic (June 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3632635

Dhaval Dave (Contact Author)

Bentley University - Department of Economics ( email )

175 Forest Street
Waltham, MA 02452-4705
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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) - NY Office

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New York, NY 10016-4309
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Andrew Friedson

University of Colorado at Denver - Department of Economics ( email )

Campus Box 181
P.O. Box 173364
Denver, CO 80217-3364
United States

Kyutaro Matsuzawa

San Diego State University ( email )

San Diego, CA 92182-0763
United States

Joseph Sabia

San Diego State University - Department of Economics ( email )

5500 Campanile Drive
San Diego, CA 92182
United States

Samuel Safford

San Diego State University

San Diego, CA 92182-0763
United States

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