Not just buildings, and other untimely thoughts

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on June 6 that more than 500 shops and restaurants in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul reported damage during five nights of violence, rioting, and looting that accompanied protests against the murder of George Floyd and longstanding police violence against people of color. Dozens of properties were burned to the ground. Damage costs could exceed $500 million.


Some of the worst destruction took place on a stretch of Lake Street in South Minneapolis, "an area that for more than a century has harbored new ventures by immigrants and, in the past decade, enjoyed a resurgence from the latest influx of new arrivals and the overall surge in the economy" (Meitrodt, Riot-damaged Twin Cities businessses). The owner of a wine and spirits store that has been a fixture on East Lake Street since the 1930s does not know if the store will reopen: "What made us unique is we were in a great neighborhood. And that value is gone unless the neighborhood comes back."


The reluctance on the part of people with good will and good intentions, and some perhaps whose intentions are more open to question, to say without equivocation that violence, rioting, looting are not okay, no matter who is responsible, is among many disheartening developments of the past two weeks. Yes, there is a difference between property damage and the killing of black people by police officers. But the impact on people who live, work, and shop in communities that have been decimated is real and lasting. It is not negligible and should not be downplayed or dismissed with rationalizations. We should not leave their cause to be taken up by Trumpists and their mouthpieces like National Review, which is exploiting it for a fundraising drive (Don’t Let Them Destroy the Country).


It is possible to hold multiple thoughts in mind at the same time. There is a moral imperative to put an end to police violence against people of color. It is past time to review and reform the way policing is done in this country, hold police accountable, and find better ways to address issues that have been delegated to police ill-equipped and ill-trained to deal with them. And violence, rioting, looting are not okay no matter who is doing it. Neighborhoods and cities in this country have burned periodically for more than fifty years. If this were an effective way to bring about the change we want, surely we would not be where we are today.


There are conflicting reports about who and what are behind the violence. What is not in doubt is that police, not all but too many, with the encouragement of the president and the attorney general, have followed the example of Mayor Daley's Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic convention who engaged in what was designated a police riot in the report of the Chicago Study Team to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (Walker Report). There is more than sufficient documentation to reasonably conclude that some, again, not all but way too many, law enforcement systems are themselves lawless and that dramatic, substantive reforms are required if we are to live in a country where "rule of law" and "justice for all" are more than empty words.


Here are other sources and explanations for violence that I find plausible:

  • white supremacists posing as protesters to discredit the demonstrations

  • Boogaloo blockheads, virulently antigovernment and with an expansive view of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, who want to make the demonstrations a prelude to civil war later in the summer

  • people who identify with the left, whether they dub themselves antifa, anarchist, or something else, who see this as an opportunity to do battle with the state

  • people who get caught up in the moment when violence erupts and do things they might not have anticipated and would not do under ordinary circumstances

  • opportunists and hotheads (Reuters)

  • people who rightly feel powerless, oppressed, and without other recourse and react as people in these circumstances have reacted throughout history

The invocation of the antifa bogeyman and accompanying rants by Trump, Barr, Cotton, et al. charging that outside agitators and extremists are behind the unrest is a flashback to the 1960s when segregationists in the South where I grew up claimed that the civil rights movement was the work of outside agitators who came in and "stirred up the blacks" who were otherwise content with their second-class status. Credible reports I have found indicate that demonstrations and violence are for the most part the work of local populations. Individuals and groups with agendas of their own are a marginal part of the mix. The proposition that antisfa is a terrorist organization orchestrating events is nothing but propaganda for the Trumpist base.


Violence seems to have declined in recent days. Protesters are more assertive about calling out individuals and groups bent on disruption. The mayors of Atlanta, St. Paul, among others, have spoken out eloquently on these matters and are working diligently in their cities to repair the damage of recent days and the damage done by a legacy of injustice. They offer the kind of leadership I look to for hope.


The demonstrations are important. We would not be talking about these things as we are if not for them. There comes a time though when continuing to go into the streets day after day becomes redundant. A point of diminishing returns is reached. What comes next? Will we move on with the painfully slow and difficult work that lies ahead? It starts with voting and getting out the vote in November. The repudiation of Donald Trump is a sine qua non for the preservation of the American republic. Taking to the streets is only one way we make our voices heard. It is sometimes necessary. It is not by itself enough. It is what comes next that will make it count for something, or not.


Some of the best commentary on these events that I have found comes from The Bulwark. The publication is conservative, unabashedly NeverTrump, but still conservative. These are not flaming lefties. Here are three examples:

Related blog posts at Portable Bohemia

Other reports and commentary that may be of interest

David Matthews

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