After another night of peaceful protests and riots, violence and looting, two narratives emerge. One for the protests. Another for the riots and looting. To anyone who has paid attention over the past generation, the frustration reflected in the protests are neither surprising nor hard to understand, even though matters of race have consistently improved and opportunities present themselves now that weren’t available a decade ago.
That said, we remain far from a society offering equal opportunity and, more particularly directed toward the conduct of police toward blacks and Hispanics, the improvement has been slow and come at the expense of too many lives along the way.
Why the killing of George Floyd in particular was the impetus for protests is unclear. Maybe because it came on the heels of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor? Maybe because people have been cooped up during lockdown and needed to get out?
Regardless, there is reason to protest and protest is a right and the most American way to vent one’s grievances. Riot and looting, however, present a different question. Charles Blow tries to answer it.
When people feel helpless, like there is nothing left to lose, like their lives already hang in the balance, a wild, swirling, undirected rage is a logical result.
Do people “feel helpless”? Do people feel there is “nothing left to lose”? Blow’s son went to Yale. His daughter went to Columbia. They’re hardly helpless and have plenty to lose. They are living the dream. They are the elite. They earned it and deserve it, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But helpless? Only when it comes to Iman Blow making the United States Olympic Fencing Team.*
You destroy people’s prospects, they’ll destroy your property.
This makes for a great platitude, but did the owners of businesses and cars burned and looted destroy anyone’s prospects? Many were owned by people of the same race. Others were strong supporters of equality. Others still just sold stuff and didn’t hurt anyone in the process. The slogan is a lie, a sham.
If a cop hurt someone, then other people, too often white radical college students indoctrinated in critical race theory, believe they must destroy on behalf of others, even when the others were busy telling them not to do so. The white “allies” believed that they were smarter, more virtuous, more dedicated to a cause. Why should they listen as black people implored them to stand down when they know better?
But Blow goes on to spew the theory of the mostly white pseudo-intellectual elite at the expense of those who just want to make it home without some cop stopping them, tossing them against a wall, killing them. Or some with less complex rationales.**
Our intransigence on the issue of social justice and use of force by the police is making last-straw extremists of members of a generation that feels unheard and disrespected.
That’s some tricky framing, as Blow doesn’t speak to intransigent social problems, which by definition are intransigent because they are not susceptible to simplistic solutions as have been promoted by the knee-jerk radicals who issue demands that unicorns prance on rainbows and we abolish prison and defund police, whereupon everyone will lock arms and sing Kumbaya and no one will beat the crap out of anyone else and steal their purse, car or life.
Instead, Blow speaks to “our intransigence on the issue of social justice,” an ideological cry that society won’t radically reinvent itself to suit the demands of elite thinkers, like New York Times columnists.
We can bemoan the violence that has attended some of these protests, but we must also recognize that to have to live in a world, in a society, in which you feel that your very life is constantly under threat because of the color of your skin is also a form of violence.
This facile analogy is emotional, but inapt. What did the owner of the restaurant burned and the store looted do to make anyone feel their life was threatened? How is the nice person who lives in your neighborhood supposed to get to work at the hospital to treat COVID-19 victims when you burned her car? What did they do to you, to anyone?
If America wants peace it must be responsive in peacetime. You can’t demonize an athlete who peacefully takes a knee to protest against police brutality, labeling him a “son of a bitch,” as President Trump did, and then pine for peaceful protests now.
On the contrary, you can. I can. We can. And no, you can’t fall back on every past grievance as justification for looting the local supermarket, Target or Louis Vuitton store. Trump said mean things about Kaepernick? Yes, he did. So how does that make your neighbor the person to harm?
American violence is learned violence. It is the American way.
White people in America have rioted, slaughtered, massacred and destroyed for centuries, often directing their anger and violence at black people and Native Americans, to take what they had or destroy it, to unleash their rage and assert their superiority, to instill terror, to maintain power.
History is replete with bad conduct. If that’s the claim, then there will never be an end to the rationalization for rioting and looting, for black violence now because of white violence back then, as history isn’t going to go away. If there will never be a time when violence now can’t be justified by violence then, then rioting, looting and violence will always find justification. Except we can’t have a society where one group feels entitled to riot, loot and be violent against whomever it wants for reasons having nothing to do with them, in perpetuity.
Now, that chicken is coming home to roost.
I never thought I would write these words, but that chicken can be cut both ways. If your rationale to protest becomes your excuse to riot and loot, you may not like when the chicken ends up roosting on the burned out shells of the lives of your neighbors and friends who never did anything to deserve your violence and pseudo-intellectual blame.
**When there’s loot to be had, why not?