Lawlessness is not the solution for lawlessness. This isn’t an argument akin to “two wrongs don’t make a right,” though that cliche can obviously apply to the current riots as well. The arguments made in a Slate column by Northwestern University professor Steve W. Thrasher are unpredictable in their delivery and selective with their facts, but there’s a common theme in all of them. Let’s see if you can guess what that theme is from a single sentence in the article.
Thrasher wrote, “The destruction of a police precinct is not only a tactically reasonable response to the crisis of policing, it is a quintessentially American response, and a predictable one.”
The theme in his article is this: Any violent response to George Floyd’s murder should be considered acceptable because the foundation of policing that allowed for Floyd to be murdered exists and has always existed in America. It is a brilliantly written article with an unavoidable flaw in his ideology that taints the entirety of his argument. By Thrasher’s reckoning, the problem manifests in two forms: Too much policing and a disproportionate focus on people and neighborhoods that are low-income, Black, or both.
It would be fruitless to attack his article on the facts he selects because doing so would cause a back-and-forth of cherry-picked data. For example, he argues that Black Americans are disproportionately arrested, charged, and prosecuted. I could counter with facts showing Black Americans disproportionately get caught committing crimes. He could counter with income inequality, geographic segregation, or any number of academic arguments that crime is higher in the Black community because lack of opportunity makes crime a more viable option. I could counter with the need for personal responsibility, the presence of social programs to assist people in getting a leg-up in education and revenue, or Democratic policies that force a cycle of government dependency. In the end, neither side would be convinced that the other is correct and we’d simply end up angrier that there are people in this world who won’t see the truth as we see it.
Since there’s nothing positive that can come from tit-for-tat or counter-factual one-upmanship, I’ll let his arguments sit in their bubble while I make my own arguments about why burning down police stations or looting businesses is very clearly not the appropriate response to police brutality or any other perceived problems with policing in America. I won’t try to match his level of academic calculations in making my argument, not because his article is over anyone’s head (like I said, it’s brilliant because it makes his points using plain language and accessible statistics), but simply because the arguments against such actions are righteous prima facie.
Let’s start with the arguments I won’t be making. There are those, particularly on the political right, who believe equal opportunity is better than income equality. I agree. But I’m not one who believes opportunity equality exists in America. Many will point to exceptional people like Thomas Sowell who dropped out of high school in Harlem before graduating magna cum laude from Harvard. They may point to Dr. Voddie Baucham who grew up in East Los Angeles with a single Buddhist mother before becoming an extremely successful pastor, among other accomplishments. But for every success story, there are thousands of Black kids who do not grow up to find the American dream. America has a problem with opportunity equality that would be considered major if it weren’t for the fact that no other nation on the planet is doing better. Most are doing far worse. Being at the top of the opportunity list does not mean we’ve solved the problem. We simply have it better than everyone else.
Another argument I won’t use is the notion that peaceful protests are all that are necessary to make the point. If that were the case, there would be far fewer instances of police brutality against African-Americans than there are today because protests have been happening for decades. Since the victories of the civil rights era, African-American advocacy groups have focused on correcting this and other issues that are prevalent in minority communities. We’ve seen this lack of protest effectiveness on the right as well. The historic 2nd Amendment rally in Virginia this year saw a successful gathering of tens of thousands of protesters in front of the state capitol. It was huge. Many were armed. It went off without a hitch and the message was delivered. The next day, the state legislature passed a gun control bill.
Does that mean violence, vandalism, and looting are the only recourse? No. In fact, these activities are among the most counterproductive ways to try to produce changes in the system. This isn’t rallying the people behind the memory of George Floyd or the need for reforms. It isn’t making the argument to redirect funds away from policing and into social programs. It isn’t reducing racism. It’s doing the exact opposite of all of these desirable results. For every police station burned, store looted, or person beaten by supporters of Black Lives Matter, reforms are pushed further from consciousness. Police forces are being exposed as being unprepared for such riots, prompting calls to increase, not decrease police presence and preparedness. As for racism, it’s on the rise on both sides of the racial aisle.
America in 2020 shouldn’t even have a racial aisle in the first place. We’re supposed to be civilized, but George Floyd was not treated with civility. As a result, rioters are acting uncivilized as well. This is prompting many to prepare or even act out on similarly uncivilized thoughts. Unconscious racism in some is finding its way to the surface. Previously non-existent racism in others is manifesting with every news report of truck drivers dragged out of their rigs, small business owners ruined, and livelihoods lost for the masses.
Dr. Martin Luther King had a taller mountain to climb. He had fewer resources and greater opposition to his goals. But his style proved to be not only effective, but also inspirational to a generation that went from hopelessness to optimism in a matter of a few years. It may seem unfair to play the MLK card in this argument, but not doing so would be nearly criminal as his example is one that should be embraced today. His fear wasn’t the people who opposed Black equality because he knew he had righteousness on his side in that debate. No, his fear was that Black anger would be co-opted by forces bent on using their aggression for purposes that did not serve the cause. Thereby, the righteous cause would be hijacked by unrighteous groups. We’re seeing that today with these riots. Righteous anger about George Floyd’s murder is being redirected towards achieving anarchic goals of the radical left. They want division. They want anarchy as a path to forced totalitarianism. This is a dry run of their plan to normalize a true police state so when people who share their ideology are ubiquitous in local, state, and national government, the shift towards Marxism will be exponentially easier.
Cognizant scholars making arguments to the contrary are either not looking at the situation properly or are willfully promoting a totalitarian agenda by obfuscating the facts behind academic arguments. I fear the latter is more prevalent than the former.
These riots are not driven by righteous desires to lift everyone to the same level. They’re a concerted attempt to bring as many people down to lower economic and emotional levels. Equality by attrition is worse than inequality. At least that’s how it should be viewed.
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