The Cooperative Society Newsletter
September 2020, Issue 24
by E.G. Nadeau, Ph.D.
The Cooperative Society Project tracks a variety of measures that indicate whether life is improving for people and the planet. One of these measures is “conflict.” The purpose of this newsletter is to take a look at how things are going related to this measure during the coronavirus.
Has violence increased or decreased in the world during the pandemic in 2020?
This is not an easy question to answer, partly because there is not a lot of reliable current data. The answer is also complicated by the varying impacts of the virus on different types of violence.
This newsletter sorts out some of the main things that we know and don’t know about violence besetting the world in 2020, and what can be done about it.
Several types of violence
In the case of domestic violence, there appears to be clear evidence that COVID-19 has caused a spike in violence to women and children. It is easy to believe these data because hundreds of millions of people around the world have lost their jobs, and in many cases are under stress from lack of money and food, the threat of infection, and uncertainty about the future. On top of this, many families are confined to staying at home in crowded conditions.
Homicides are a more difficult problem to analyze this year. Deaths from homicide appear to be up in a number of major cities in the United States. But these data can be misleading. The long-term trend in the U.S. and other countries is a decrease in the number of homicides per year. So, the increases observed this year may be a temporary blip rather than a longer-term trend. In addition, we have only partial data because homicides in rural areas and smaller cities are usually not aggregated and reported until the following year.
ACLED, a well-respected data source on international violence, reported on September 3 that 93% of almost 8,000 Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the United States between late May and late August were non-violent. These numbers are far different from the stereotypes about the summer’s protests.
ACLED also reports worldwide data on conflict events and fatalities on an ongoing basis. As of September 19, the organization indicated that between mid-September 2019 and mid-September 2020, the number of “battles, riots, explosions/remote violence, and violence against civilians” had decreased by an average of a little over 20% per month during this time. During the same time, fatalities from these events decreased by over 10%, while protests increased by 33%.
One could speculate at length about what is behind these divergent statistics. So here are a couple of speculations from me: Crises like the pandemic may cause combatants and violent protesters to back off a bit on their violence because of disruptions created by a greater, more immediate crisis. On the other hand, non-violent protesters may increase their activity in reaction to the immediate crises and other grievances. Such a ramping up of non-violent protest is consistent with the Black Lives Matter demonstrations this summer.
Back to the pandemic, COVID-19 itself can be used as a form of violence, knowingly, through ignorance, or a combination of the two.
For example, we have recently learned from Bob Woodward’s new book Rage and the tapes from interviews between Woodward and Trump that the President was aware of the severity of the virus in early February 2020 but played down its importance to the general public – and continues to do so to this day.
The result of Trump’s deception as well as his incompetent leadership in fighting the virus is a form of violence against the American people, tens of thousands of whom have needlessly died of coronavirus, with tens of thousands more to come in the months ahead. To put this in perspective, the results of one analysis indicate that Trump’s bumbling of the War on COVID-19 has killed more than twice the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War.
Antidotes to the virus
So, what are the primary antidotes to the violence related to COVID-19?
In the U.S., the precursor to addressing the problem is to defeat Trump in November. After that, the Biden administration will need to put together an effective national strategy to get the coronavirus under control through rigorous enforcement of wearing masks; promoting social distancing; and widespread, rapid testing, tracing, and where necessary, quarantining.
In parallel to gaining control of the virus, the new administration will also need to provide economic security for those who have been harmed by the financial effects of the virus. This will take the form of a combination of unemployment compensation supplements, rent and mortgage protection, other stimulus financing, small business grants and loans, and guaranteed healthcare coverage for those with inadequate or no health insurance.
The coup de grace will be an effective vaccine, which is likely to begin to be distributed in early 2021 and will be ramped up to cover the entire population, probably by the third quarter of the year. Of utmost importance in its distribution is that, in addition to those fighting the virus on the front line, the rollout of the vaccine should equitably reach all Americans.