The Rationale For Riots

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.

*The year Iman Blow won the Fencers Club High School Invitational in girls foil, my son won in boys epee. Small world. On the strip, every fencer is equal except for skill.

**When there’s loot to be had, why not?

47 thoughts on “The Rationale For Riots

  1. Rendall

    “White people in America have rioted, slaughtered, massacred and destroyed for centuries…”

    Growing up, I was taught never to make a bald, generalizing statement such as this. I thought it was just one of the liberal rules, like never assuming anything about an individual due to their race or sex. It was as taboo as the n-word, and I still find it shocking to see such a thing in print. This polemic would lose its rhetorical power to move the unstable to violence if Blow and his passionate ilk were forced by principle or even journalistic standards to distinguish between “All white people…” or “Some white people…” or even “A vicious minority of white people…”

  2. B. McLeod

    The primitive violence of the rioters serves to highlight the vital importance of the police. Citizens of a few dozen major urban centers have reason today to be more appreciative than ever of the officers who serve on their local forces.

  3. Jake

    Peaceful protest hasn’t worked and the political process is a naked sham. There are other solutions to the real problem, but those in control don’t want to make substantive change, which is a shame, because there are things worse than riots and looting.

    1. SHG Post author

      Peaceful protest has worked wonderfully, as has the vast changes over the past generation. What it has not done is remedy all problems overnight and made let minority dictate their will to the majority.

      1. Jake

        In the context of this discussion my definition of ‘worked’ means all people interacting with the police are treated equally, regardless of the color of their skin, and no more people are needlessly murdered by LEOs. The timeline for this change can’t be generational.

          1. Jake

            Scott, look at the country. I am far from alone in this view. Wake up, man. There are ways out of this without further escalations of violence and property destruction.

            1. SHG Post author

              Of course you’re not alone, Jake. But you perpetually fail to see that terminal gap between what you want to achieve and how to accomplish it.

            2. Lee

              Jake must not be old enough to remember how things were before the Civil Rights Movement. I (barely) am old enough and things have changed for the better.

              Are things perfect? Far from it, but rioting and looting are not going to help and will simple reinforce negative stereotypes.

            3. SHG Post author

              Young people are always impatient; they see problems and demand they be fixed NOW. It’s understandable. Who wouldn’t want problems fixed immediately. It’s just always doable. Rioting may add to the sense of urgency, but does nothing to make a “fix” any easier or faster.

            4. Jake

              Olds: Show me the data that proves the civil rights riots in the 60s had nothing to do with the ensuing change or gtfoh.

            5. SHG Post author

              Your tenacity is endearing, but it doesn’t help your cred or contribute to your persuading anyone. If you don’t want to be constantly seen as a doofus, stop being a doofus.

        1. Dan J

          These are 2 very big and different problems. Assuming you fix racism by tomorrow, you still have police killing people. Or I suppose everyone could be treated equally poorly, which also doesn’t fix much. Is rioting just going to be the new norm? What is the way out?

          1. Jake

            First, nobody I marched with Friday night is trying to fix Racism. BLM and supporting protesters expect an end to racist policies and procedures in policing.

            Second, I would be OK with everyone being treated equally poorly because if sheriff’s deputies kicked down the front door of somebody with the wealth and influence of Jeff Epstein back in the 00’s, shot his dog and his wife, and broke his arm handcuffing him, this shit would have ended more than a decade ago.

            Third, the right way forward is legislative change. Current policies clearly do not create a substantial disincentive to kill, so the policies need to change. I’ll leave the details to the legislators. Those of us in the streets are working on motivating them.

            1. SHG Post author

              Jake, you’re doing it again. It’s not all about you. You aren’t the center of the universe. No more comments today.

  4. Richard Kopf


    Thanks for the video entitled “Looter talks to FOX 11 after being arrested.”

    The news crew may have inadvertently stumbled upon the honest man that Diogenes of Sinope went searching for while holding a lantern to the faces of the citizens of Athens.

    “I’m out here for the dough.”*

    All the best.


    * That pithy remark might fit on protest sign.

      1. John Barelycorn

        The Soho to Midtown Band could become a thing you know…


        Seeing as it does not appear to be 1968 anymore, the robbed rider will have to get on the 2020 bus to SJ world headquarters.

        After a few days of rehearsal you should have your face paint scheme figured out esteemed one and I am sure the robbed riders hearing aid will be dialed into his tambourine.

        The Broadway-Lafayette metro station might be a good spot for your first gig and I guarantee you that you will make the cover of that newspaper you read everyday if your stage is a trailer pulled behind your baby six-wheeler “tractor”.

        P.S. If you stream the discussion about who is going to be Midtown and who is going to be Soho I will donate 50 fully stocked medical kit backpacks to the live-streaming street medics, of your choice, throughout the country.

            1. John Barleycorn

              Well Fuck!

              Looks like I will have to ride on out to DC now and join the “We Have One Beautiful Law” merriment before the effervescences oozing their way out of the President’s chalice melt a hole in what’s left of the republic.

              Let the robbed rider know I can pick him up on the ride out and drop him off at the SJ World Headquarters if he wants, but he will have to have a tight pack and bedroll.

              If he calls, ask him if he can do me a favor and see if John Boy will let me crash on his couch or pitch a tent in the backyard when I get down to DC after dropping him off.

  5. David Landers

    Of all the shoe joints in all the towns in all the world, she burns down mine. Play it, Howl. Play As Time Goes By.

  6. Sam

    What’s the rational for Riots? I recall during the 1992 LA riots a reporter asking 2 hispanic guys walking out of a trashed liquor store with a cart full of beer how they felt about the Rodney King verdict. In perfect Spanish one of them asked, quien?

    You no doubt would have gotten a different reply from each person leaving the liquor store and one or two of them might have not been a person lying to themselves. The rest seem to go on to contribute columns. Just as Voltaire pointed out that anything too stupid to be said is sung, typically that which is to ridiculous to be believed becomes a column.

    The best explanation for violence I’ve heard came from Solzhenitsyn:

    “Violence can only be concealed by a Lie, & the Lie can only be maintained by Violence. … Any man, who has once proclaimed Violence as his Method, is inevitably forced to take the Lie as his Principle”

  7. PseudonymousKid

    Pops, The majority of protestors are not committing crimes and are not rioting. They are marching and trying to be heard. Some protestors engage with the police and violence ensues. Or the police engage with the protestors and violence ensues. Either way. These aren’t fucking idiots armed to the teeth like the reopening protestors were. Why weren’t they engaged and dealt with violently?

    Damage to property is not the same as violence against people. Why are we so sure the correct response to property damage is violence? How many TVs is a human life worth?

    I’m begging the question and describing my feelz. Fine. I don’t know the answer, but whatever you’re implying won’t do any good either.


    1. SHG Post author

      You raise serious questions, PK. Do your analogies hold up to scrutiny? If so, does it mean anarchy wins? Is there a line to be drawn, and if so, where?

      I argue against rationalizing criminal conduct. But if no amount of TVs are worth a human life, why are we writing comments on a blawg instead of rifling Best Buy for an 80″ flat panel HD TV so we’re ready when the NFL returns?

    2. LocoYokel

      Sorry Kid, property damage IS violence against people. Unless you assume the property exists in some primeval state unowned and unused by any person. Who do you think has their livelihood destroyed when you burn down that Starbucks and who has to go in and clean up and account for the losses when your mob trashes the Target and cleans it out? Who’s not going to get the paycheck that month or the raise they needed that year.

      Grow the fuck up and get a brain.

      1. delurking

        The Boston Tea Party occurred in 1773. It was a riot. There was destruction of private property.
        It was followed a few years later by the Declaration of Independence, wherein you will find these lines:
        “For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
        For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:”

        Our current state governments repeatedly either fail to prosecute or prosecute by mock trial police officers who have obviously committed crimes. You can go online today and find many videos of police flagrantly committing crimes in the last few days, fully aware they are being recorded and that dozens of other police officers are watching them. They don’t care, because they know they will face no consequences. They know that not one other officer will speak out against them. Only when a police murder crosses an extremely high level of depravity is a prosecution started, and even then elements within the government will work to prevent it from being successful (see, e.g., SHG’s post on May 30). Furthermore, as PK points out, the police deal with these demonstrators very differently from the way they deal with armed demonstrators who are protesting because they want a haircut.

        If you honor the founding generation for standing up to tyranny nearly 250 years ago, you should honor the peaceful protestors who stand with their hands up for the same principles today, while they are beaten by criminal police officers. It continues to amaze me that the peaceful protestors do not respond in self-defense more frequently. Instead, you pretend PK’s first paragraph wasn’t written, taking his second one completely out of context in order to childishly insult him.

        What was that about growing up?

        1. SHG Post author

          History is not your strong suit. You would do better to make your point without misstating the nature of the Boston Tea Party (which wasn’t at all a riot, but a very well planned attack by the Sons of Liberty in response to the Stamp Act) and ignoring that the colonists didn’t get a vote in who was crowned King of England.

          1. delurking

            Are you sure the Boston Massacre had no influence on the mindset of the participants?

            I am not addressing the distinction you are making between a riot and a very well-planned attack. I do that intentionally because I think it is beside the point.

            1. SHG Post author

              Me: The Boston Tea Party was not a riot.
              You: Are you sure the Boston Massacre had no influence on the mindset of the participants?

        2. Lee Keller King

          Sorry, Delurking, but you got it wrong. The Boston tea party was carefully calculated and planned political protest in which the only property that was destroyed was (1) the tea, and (2) the padlock securing the tea, set padlock belonging to the captain of the ship. And the Sons Of Liberty replaced the padlock the next day. Moreover, no one was injured in the Boston Tea Party (except one of the partiers, it was hit in the head by a crate, but later fully recovered).

          Furthermore, not only were the sons of Liberty careful not to create any collateral property damage, they cleaned up their mess before they left, sweeping the decks of the 3 ships clean.

          There is simply no equivalency between the Boston Tea Party and the rioting and looting that have been occurring in American cities since the death of George Lloyd.

          1. delurking

            OK, OK, I’ll address it.

            LocoYokel: “property damage is violence against people”
            riot; def: “a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd”
            There is a reason I used the reply button to LocoYokel and addressed him directly.

            Please note that I distinguish between peaceful protestors and rioters.

            1. LocoYokel

              I strongly considered not replying as you are not even arguing the point I made but going off on some weird rabbit trail.

              I was addressing PK’s statement about property damage and not arguing against protesting at all. There is a significant difference between a protest, even if it’s loud and unruly and an open riot with people looting and burning cars and businesses.

              Protest all you want, I will even join you if I believe in the cause. Riot near my home and expect me to be out front with a carbine and lots of spare magazines keeping you criminals the fuck away from my house and family. Being from Texas, I firmly believe in the Texas version of the castle doctrine that Scott doesn’t like.

            2. delurking

              Well, I strongly considered not replying to you as you were not even arguing the points PK made, but going off on some weird rabbit trail just to set yourself up to deliver a juvenile profane insult.

              Then I decided such incivility should be publicly chastised, civilly.

  8. Erik H

    June 1, 2020 at 5:18 pm

    Olds: Show me the data that proves the civil rights riots in the 60s had nothing to do with the ensuing change or gtfoh.
    In places where there were peaceful protests that were met by state violence, they tended to move more to the protestor side and lose support for the state.

    In places where there were violent protests the result was that they tended to move more to the law-and-order side and support the state. Some historians think that this was the main nexus behind the Nixon election.

    You don’t seem like the type to be very convinced by that sort of thing, but it is what it is.

    1. Jake

      Yet, the net-net was a (federal) civil rights act.

      PS- I said show me the data. I’m sure you’re wonderful but if you could provide any hint of evidence that backs up your supposition I will take the L – at the regional level. Not on the civiil rights act.

      1. SHG Post author

        The Civil Rights Act was 1964, Jake. They didn’t have time machines back then. And please stop demanding data. First, it doesn’t magically appear because Jake demands it, and Jake doesn’t get to make demands here. If you’re unpersuaded for lack of data, that’s fine, but you don’t run this joint.

        1. Jake

          Are you suggesting there were no riots or violence related to the civil rights movement prior to July 2nd, 1964?

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