For three months Americans in all parts of the country have meekly submitted to government mandates to “shelter in place” and “social distance.” Then, in a matter of days last week, cities large and small descended into chaos at the hands of violent mobs facing hesitant police.
Institutionalized obedience to government that so easily had maintained compliance with measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, quickly vanished in a rash of burning, looting and violence against police and civilians alike. The speed with which this descent took place is alarming, and the damage wrought as a result will have long-lasting and negative effects.
There may be a widely held perception that the important institutions undergirding our society are sufficiently strong to withstand repeated pressures, and that they will erode if at all only after many decades. While such a view might have been accurate in ages past (after all, it took centuries for the mighty Roman Empire to crumble), the technology and instantaneous communication that have infiltrated every aspect of our lives, businesses and governments, has condensed that timeline dramatically.
The social adhesive that law and order provide for our society to function properly is unravelling before our very eyes.
This is not to say what we have been witnessing in the riots that have rocked cities from Milwaukee to New York and even to our nation’s Capital, sprang full born within just the past week. What we are in fact seeing is the blooming of a poisonous plant, the seeds of which were sown in many ways over at least the past several months.
Last summer, for example, we watched videos of New York City police officers being doused with water by taunting young men and not responding. Those seeming inconsequential acts, however, sent an important message to individuals with designs for violence and destruction – police in major cities can be publicly humiliated and will not respond forcefully or at all.
In addition to the police, prosecutors play a key role in maintaining stability in our social system that allows our institutions to function productively; and here, too, there have been significant failings.
In recent election cycles, we have witnessed the rise of a cadre of local prosecutors (many of whose campaigns were funded significantly by liberal benefactors such as George Soros and Michael Bloomberg) who openly campaigned on platforms of “benign justice.” This prosecutorial philosophy carries with it a vow not to prosecute whole categories of offenses because doing so would support what they see as a racist and “classist” society.
The corrosive nature of these lenient prosecution guidelines – according to which, for example, theft cases under $1000, and most shoplifting cases and vehicle thefts will not be prosecuted -- cannot be overstated. The message to criminals and criminal wannabees in jurisdictions where these soft prosecutors have been elected (Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, and many other cities) is crystal clear: commit property crimes and you will not be prosecuted, even if you are caught.
The damage in these jurisdictions is made worse because many of the same prosecutors have vowed not to demand cash bonds for those arrested, as this would unduly penalize persons who are not “wealthy.”
Couple these policies with public statements by a number of mayors and police chiefs that they will resist engaging in actions that might “place an officer at risk,” and you have a toxic environment in which individuals bent on criminal activity are emboldened to do so without fear of consequence. Further encouragement for those bent on tearing down our institutions can be seen in recent days by the number of police officers (and even their chiefs) openly supporting and praising the demonstrators.
The spark that ignited the ongoing chaos in cities may have been the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, but the kindling was put in place months ago by timid mayors and police chiefs and affirmed by “woke” district attorneys. We now are reaping what they have sown, and it is the law-abiding citizens who live and work in those burning communities who will pay the price of their appeasement for many months and years to come.
The pièce de résistance to this tragedy is the recent public declaration by Minneapolis City Councilman Jeremiah Ellison that he proudly supports the militantly violent Antifa. In this environment, it hardly should surprise us that the institutions that long have protected the ordered freedom that has allowed America to flourish, are succumbing to the forces of anarchy.