While attending Brooklyn College, I worked the night shift as a toilet cleaner in a Manhattan office building. One particular evening at the end of my shift, I rode the subway back home to Brooklyn and found myself in the middle of one of the infamous Bedford-Stuyvesant riots. The horror of what I witnessed has stayed with me over the years. It left me with the uncomfortable feeling that the ordered world we are accustomed to could be destroyed in the blink of an eye.
That memory was rekindled today as I watched videos of the Minneapolis riots. It seems that an African-American suspect died when the arresting policeman placed his knee on the man’s neck for eight minutes. In response, the local citizens went on a rampage of rioting and looting and damaging automobiles. The rioters even burned down a police station. Watching the man being tortured was horrifying, but so was the violence. Both of them made me sick to my stomach. Peaceful protest is protected by the US Constitution. Violence and looting are not.
It has been suggested that the Minneapolis rioters were motivated by what they perceived as a racist assault by police. Minorities are said to feel helpless in the face of racism. Their resulting anger is considered by some on the Left as an acceptable excuse for creating havoc in the streets. I do not agree. Police misconduct can never be used as justification for violence and looting. Sadly, the inadequate response of police has encouraged mob violence because rioters know they can get away with it.
We have a history of not dealing effectively with outbreaks of looting. I was in Los Angeles during the 1992 riots when police were unable to stop the violence. An entire neighborhood was trashed. The only exception was in Korea Town where a group of shopkeepers protected their property by arming themselves and standing on rooftops. The same thing occurred in Baltimore in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray. It is believed that police were ordered by the mayor to stand down, effectively tying the hands of officers as they were pelted with rocks and bottles. In this week’s Minneapolis riots, the police were again told to stand down. The police chief said he doesn’t want police to go into areas where their safety is at risk. The safety of the police, did you say? The job of police is to protect the public, argued an outraged Tucker Carlson on his Fox TV show, and part of that job is to risk their own safety. Things tend to fall apart when the police fail to do so.
Do these frequent outbreaks of violence justify greater concern? Civil order is something we take for granted, but should we? World leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, have predicted that civil unrest and violent protests could be a serious risk to businesses and communities in the near future. According to CNBC, almost a quarter of the world’s countries witnessed a surge in protest and unrest in 2019 and that figure is set to rise further in 2020. The US is not immune. If we continue to encourage public violence, the fragile civil order will be susceptible to complete and utter collapse. This could happen at any moment, suddenly and swiftly—in the blink of an eye—just as it did in Brooklyn when I was a college student.
The current viral pandemic has the potential to destroy the civil society. “The threat of social and political unrest around the world is rising,” claims the Los Angeles Times, “as the coronavirus crisis fuels discontent amid food shortages, job losses and lockdowns.” If the economy collapses due to the extended lockdown, civil order could go with it.
In place of civil order, we will be at the mercy of anarchy. Looting will not be limited to public areas. You can expect looting to occur in your home. Home invasions could become commonplace. The result would be martial law. Our streets would be patrolled by the National Guard on a permanent basis. You would not be able to leave your home without armed protection. If you think the coronavirus lockdown is unpleasant, it would be a piece of cake compared to the breakdown of order in our streets.
How can anarchy be avoided without the imposition of a police state? Violence and looting are criminal activities that must have consequences. The police must be empowered to arrest looters in order to set an example. In a Stalinist state, looters would be shot. We certainly don’t want that, but we have a right to feel confident that our police are capable of protecting us. As it stands, that confidence is slipping away.
Photo by Carlos Gonzales, Minnesota Star Tribune.