Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2021


In summer 2020, mass protests spread across the globe challenging police brutality and racial injustice and demanding change. Fueled by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd, these protests drew 15 million to 26 million participants in the United States alone to participate in late May and June of 2020. The sheer scale of these protests made them the largest movement in U.S. history. While there has been some consensus that this unprecedented protest movement pushed social awareness and changed the national conversation around race, existing research has yet to clearly document the extent to which it affected law and policy on the federal, state, and local levels. We begin to fill this gap by documenting the correlation between the online and offline protest activity, and showing the relationship between the location and intensity of protest activity and the initial wave of legal and policy change.

In this Article, we use Twitter conversation and protest data to show how BLM fueled global protests that changed minds, hearts, and the baseline understanding of inequality in ways that could also ultimately drive legal and policy change. We then focus on the relationship between protest and activism in the summer of 2020 and legal and policy changes occurring across states and cities over the following year. We find that the protests of 2020 did indeed begin a paradigm shift in the social awareness of racialized police violence, and this important and significant social change has in turn already inspired political change and some degree of legal and policy change. However, the movement remains in a precarious position and it is uncertain how enduring these state and local policy changes will be and whether they will lead to the deeper and lasting structural changes sought by the movement. We are also observing substantial backlash policy that threatens to not only derail current racial justice efforts, but also exacerbate the underlying inequalities that the movement opposes.

In Part I, we offer an analysis of the 2020 protests, including the critical role of social media in building the protests themselves as well as the policy demands that the protests helped to broadcast. In Part II, we assess the policy activity occurring within the first year following this historic level of activism in the United States, looking specifically at where and when legislators responded to three different kinds of movement demands: individual accountability, institutional changes, and broader systemic reform.

Publication Citation

William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice, Vol. 28, No. 1, Pp. 103-167.