As the Minnesota protests have spilled across the country, fueled by protestors angered over the police killing of an unarmed Minneapolis man named George Floyd, the protests have morphed into marches and demonstrations that have turned violent everywhere from New York City to Los Angeles. Curfews are being imposed in major cities around the US at the time of this writing, and at least eight states, as well as the District of Columbia, have requested the National Guard to assist local law enforcement.
In some cities like Minneapolis, though, officials are starting to turn to a familiar tool to investigate networks of protestors. The tool is contact-tracing, and it’s a familiar tool in that people have been hearing about it frequently in recent weeks as an important component of a comprehensive coronavirus pandemic response. According to Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harringon, officials there have been using what they describe, without going into much detail, as contact-tracing in order to build out a picture of protestor affiliations — a process that officials in the state say has led them to conclude that much of the protest activity there is being fueled by people from outside coming in.