Commentary: Shame on Anyone Who Justifies Rioting as 'Just' Property Damage

|
|
Posted: Jun 01, 2020 1:05 PM
Commentary: Shame on Anyone Who Justifies Rioting as 'Just' Property Damage

The killing of George Floyd was outrageous and inexcusable.  Those responsible -- especially the ex-officer who put his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, including three minutes after the handcuffed man became unresponsive --  should face justice.  'A few bad apples' retorts to serious questions about systemic abuses ring hollow.  As millions of Americans of all races and political ideologies express righteous anger over what happened in Minneapolis (and Louisville), and demand change, there have been some voices with large platforms who have sought to justify or downplay rioting and looting.  They've done so by noting that businesses have insurance and arguing that such violent upheaval 'only' involves property damage, which can be replaced and repaired, unlike human lives.

This is facile and destructive.  It's true that large companies like Target and Auto Zone are insured and have the resources to overcome setbacks like individual stores getting ransacked and burned.  But what about, say, a Somali-American man who has worked extremely hard at a local big box store in the Twin Cities for years, slowly climbing the ranks and becoming a manager?  He has a family to feed, and the last few months have been stressful enough, in light of the pandemic.  What happens to his job and income?  How long does the insurance claim take to process?  When does the rebuilding begin?  When might the store realistically reopen?  What about the black-owned small businesses that were destroyed by rioters, like these?


A black firefighter with four kids spent his life savings to open up a bar that got wrecked in the riots.  In the very community he's served so faithfully.  Thankfully, his story received national attention, and his GoFundMe account has attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations, but many other businesses will not be so fortunate.  How are they supposed to pick up the pieces?  And what does the 'just property damage' brigade say to this scared and heartbroken woman?


She was not physically harmed, but her community is in shambles.  Try telling her it's not too big of a deal.  Beyond the ripple effects and residual impacts of the damage caused by rioting, the commission of "mere" property damage crimes often runs a high risk of spinning further out of hand and also causing physical harm.  The videos and reports of assaults, severe beatings (content warning), shootings and deaths are gut-wrenching:


When tensions run exceedingly high, and emboldened, escalatory mobs engage in non-peaceful acts, human lives can get caught in the wreckage.  There must be a bright line drawn between needed, constructive, peaceful protest, and rioting.  Here's part of New York Times columnist Ross Douthat's latest piece

The political history of both the 1960s and the 2010s suggests a strong presumption against the political effectiveness of looting or vandalism or arson, to go along with the direct costs for the communities where riots are most likely to break out...For radicals, this presumption doesn’t require shedding tears for the insurers of, say, a ransacked Minneapolis Target. It just requires recognizing that most spasms of robbery or arson aren’t the revolution but often a ritual reaffirmation of the status quo — a period of misrule that doesn’t try to establish an alternative order or permanently change any hierarchies, as a true revolution would, but instead leaves the lower orders poorer and the well-insured upper classes more or less restored...Martin Luther King Jr. became more politically radical in his last years, but his opposition to rioting was a constant. “Every time a riot develops,” he warned just months before his death, “it helps George Wallace.”

It has been interesting to watch the rapid evolution of certain people who've gone from effectively defending riots, including agitating against the word 'riot,' to ludicrously attempting to blame the riots on narrative-friendly forces. It's audacious gaslighting, designed to deflect responsibility for moral failures and leadership failures.  Fortunately, there are some leaders who clearly recognize the poisonous effects of rioting, and who refuse to play make-believe about who is driving the violence: