By Edward Achorn
Is it possible that politicians, after stoking hatred and division, are having second thoughts about rioting in their cities?
Months of massive Black Lives Matter protests — threatening police (“pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon”) and calling for their defunding — have spun off rioting and looting. Neighborhoods have been wrecked, with billions of dollars of investment in cities destroyed. Black businesses have been wiped out, and black people killed.
As residents with money flee for safer places, some leaders fear their cities may never recover.
Yet activists and the news media have been wary of criticizing riots associated with the left. Some, to be sure, have accused right-wing extremists of exacerbating the riots or charged President Trump with inspiring people to loot and destroy by creating social tensions through his obnoxious Twitter posts. But many have looked the other way, fearful of offending the radical elements of their political base by criticizing violence too forcefully.
Breaking ranks with BLM
That may be changing, as Democratic voters express concern and politicians worry that they could lose support.
Last Monday’s New York Times broke ranks by quoting black leaders who blasted efforts to slash New York City’s police budget by $1 billion. The vast majority of blacks — the people Black Lives Matter claims to be championing — oppose defunding the police.
Politicians in Portland, Oregon, have gone easy on rioting and objected to federal efforts to stem destruction, including the attempted burning of a federal courthouse. But even they have noticed that this form of social activism is problematic.
In that city, rioters barricaded the Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct building and tried to set it on fire with officers inside. That was finally a bridge too far, even for Mayor Ted Wheeler.
“When you commit arson with an accelerant in an attempt to burn down a building that is occupied by people whom you have intentionally trapped inside, you are not demonstrating, you are attempting to commit murder,” the mayor conceded.
He also voiced a concern that may be more serious to a politician than murder: Such rioting could end up benefiting the re-election campaign of the other party’s president. That means power and patronage.
“You will be creating the B-roll film that will be used in ads nationally to help Donald Trump during his campaign,” Mayor Wheeler warned.
Nightmare in Chicago
Massive looting and destruction along Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile Sunday night prompted a strong condemnation by Mayor Lori Lightfoot. A local CBS reporter, too, seemed to deplore the violence, instead of brushing it off as an insignificant part of a “mostly peaceful protest.” Among other things, the rioters smashed the windows of Chicago’s Ronald McDonald House, while families and sick children huddled in terror inside.
Chicago Black Lives Matters organizer Ariel Atkins defended the looting of the city’s high-end stores.
“That is reparations,” Ms. Atkins said. “Anything they wanted to take, they can take it because these businesses have insurance.”
But Alderman Raymond Lopez warned that the heartbreaking destruction could have long-term effects.
“The fear is spreading, the anxiety is spreading and we’re seeing individuals who used to see the downtown areas, like the crown jewel of our city, now wanting to leave, people who live there wanting to re-evaluate their choice in housing options and stores who were just starting to get past the May riots and looting thinking that they may not stay on the Magnificent Mile anymore,” he said.
Since businesses pay taxes, the widespread blight and the loss of retail are sure to slash tax revenues, putting immense pressure on budgets and leading to cuts in services or higher taxes, or both.
The American Way
America, for all its faults, is the freest and most just country in history. We have (had?) a system to resolve differences peacefully, through open debate and fair elections. Unfortunately, there are forces that want to destroy that system and politicians who are in league with them.
It is hard to put the genii of hatred and destruction back in the bottle. But it would be wonderful if leaders from all races and political persuasions jointly called for an end to the riots. Imagine if they championed love rather than hate. Imagine if they pleaded for mutual respect and a peaceful resolution of political differences.
That is evidently too much to hope for, since people from opposing sides seem invested in division. But the American people plainly do not like the rioting. Politicians may be slowly discovering that they must listen to them.
(Read Edward Achorn’s books about American history.)