Google+
Close
Ferguson Agonistes
Much to liberals’ chagrin, race riots are not noble “happenings.”

A demonstrator in Ferguson hides his identity. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Text  


Comments
227
Jonah Goldberg

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reid Er (and people with less odd names),

I’m writing this “news”letter from the back patio at the Hotel Portsmouth which, not coincidentally, is in Portsmouth, N.H. If you follow me on Twitter, you’d know that. You’d also know that I’ve already had a martini (or two).

So if this “news”letter ends a bit incoherently with lots of slurred typos (“yoos sink Hayek wasn’t a Whig? Sat’s craszy talk”) or boisterous claims (“I killed the original Mr. Peanut in a duel! He had it coming, he puts Brazil nuts in everything!”), that’s probably why.

Advertisement
It’s been a crazy week. The Fair Jessica, the kid, and the dingo have all been out of town and things get kind of weird when I’m left alone (even the Couch felt unsafe). I had to clean the domicile for the house-sitter. I didn’t want her to open the front door and retch like a rookie cop at a horrible crime scene in bad movie. The tidying process mostly involved collecting all the dog toys strewn about (“Don’t forget all the empty bottles. You coulda started a bowling league, using them for pins.” — The Couch). Still, I thought it would be fun to mess with her a bit (actually it’s “sitters” — a very nice young lady who works at AEI and her husband). I have a lot of fake blood from Halloween (the Goldbergs were a zombie flight crew), so I figured I’d leave a bloody knife lying on the laundry room floor with a note that just read “Oh no. It happened again.”

Can’t wait to see if she texts me with any questions.

Ferguson Agonistes

I have to confess I am very late to the Ferguson story. I tend not to follow these kinds of events too closely when they break, because they always seem to go the same way. What am I supposed to say? If the cop did something wrong, he should be punished for it. If he didn’t, he shouldn’t be.

But even if he did something wrong, rioting is almost never justified. It can be more or less understandable depending on the circumstances, even forgivable I suppose. But never justifiable, never mind permissible. Why should the crime — real or alleged — committed by person X make it okay for person Y to do harm to person(s) Z? No one has ever been able to explain that to me.

And I grew up in New York City in the 1970s, when race riots were a thing — though not as much of a thing as they were in the 1960s. And that’s part of the problem. In the 1960s, you could see the point of race riots (though less so in the North where they were quite common). But by the 1970s, liberals had incorporated race riots into their mythology as noble “happenings” even though the romance of rebellion had lost its plausibility. And by the 1980s, tragedy had been fully swamped by farce. It is an axiomatic truth going back to Socrates: Nothing can be wholly noble if Al Sharpton is involved. Nonetheless, it was amazing to watch New York liberals act like battered spouses as they tried to explain why blacks are right to loot while at the same time they shouldn’t do it.

I haven’t followed the details well enough to have an informed opinion on what actually happened. But, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the easy part. I’m wholly with my NR colleagues on this. There should be an honest investigation. If the officer unlawfully shot an unarmed man, he should face the consequences. If he didn’t, there should be no (criminal) consequences. How this is a complicated issue intellectually is a mystery to me. How this has become a complicated political problem, sadly, is not.

This Is Different

All of that said, I think the Ferguson story has become more interesting and significant than the usual spectacle of this kind. The timing coincides with the ripening of an argument on the right against the militarization of U.S. police forces (led by Radley Balko as far as I can tell). It’s funny how unaware so many liberals are that this conversation was even taking place on the right. Liberals have been mocking libertarians for years as paranoid lunatics. Oh you want to live without government? Move to Somalia! Oh wait, when did the cops get tanks? (Some wag on Twitter made this point but I can’t find it now.)

It looks like the Missouri Governor made the right call bringing in the state police and Captain Ron Johnson, an African American from Ferguson. I’m sure the guy is qualified and he seemed pretty impressive from what I’ve seen and his decision to demilitarize things as quickly as possible was inspired. But part of his success stems from the fact he’s black. And that’s okay.

I think this should be an educational data point for those who think any nods towards racial diversity are ideologically suspect. I am as against racial quotas as anyone, but the idea that police forces shouldn’t take into account the racial or ethnic make-up of their communities when it comes to hiring has always struck me as bizarre. A Chinese-American cop will probably have an easier time in Chinatown than a Norwegian-American cop. A bilingual Hispanic cop will have similar advantages in a mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhood. When my dad was a kid in the Bronx, it was not uncommon for a cop to give a teenager a well-intentioned smack as a warning and leave it at that. But forget the smack. Today, in many neighborhoods, if a white cop even talks harshly to a black kid, it might immediately be seen as a racial thing. If a black cop said the exact same things, it might be received differently.

One last thought. While some uncharitable folks might find a way to blame Obama somehow for the chaos in Missouri, I don’t think that would be fair. This sounds like a local issue. But it has become nationalized by the media, and that’s not good for Obama. Chaos at the border, tear gas in the streets, crucifixions in the Middle East, ebola scandals, a “booming” economy where no one feels the boom: These all contribute mightily to the sense the planet is going ass over tea kettle and are not the sorts of things that incline people to be happy with the status quo.


Clashes in Ferguson
TUESDAY, AUGUST 19: The daily protest gatherings appeared to heed calls for calm on Tuesday evening, only to see a return to violence aimed at police forces and a resulting crackdown that once agin filled the air with lights, sirens, and tear gas.
As with previous days, the gatherings and marches during daylight hours were largely peaceful affairs, punctuated by heated rhetoric directed at law enforcement, as authorities strove to keep demonstrators moving through the usual location.
Some arrests were made during the daytime demonstrations.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson again walked among the crowd to call for an end to the violence.
Law enforcement and Ferguson community leaders appealed for a night of calm to help ease tensions. A noticeably smaller crowd remained after dark, changing the mantra “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” that has become the protesters rallying cry throughout the unrest.
A young demonstrators waves a sign that reads “Justice!”
After clashes broke out with police, some in the crowd stove to prevent further escalations, locking arms and confronting those in the crowd bent on violence.
A man stands between police and protesters to appeal for calm.
An older man appeals for calm from a group of younger men wearing masks and face coverings.
Some demonstrators and onlookers took shelter inside a nearby business.
A business owner tussles with a young demonstrator, forcing him outside.
Verbal confrontations escalated later in the evening after bottles were thrown at police.
A policeman speaks with demonstrators as tensions escalate.
Authorities reported that some protesters had thrown urine at police, and additional threats were made from a passing vehicle. In all police made 47 arrests on Tuesday evening.
MONDAY, AUGUST 18: More clashes shook the streets of Ferguson on Monday as the arrival of the Missouri National Guard and the cancellation of the midnight curfew failed to quell the growing crowd of protesters and the growing anger surrounding the investigation of the death of Michael Brown more than a week ago.
Authorities report at least 31 persons were arrested in renewed clashes, which saw the air along Florissant Avenue once again filled with smoke and tear gas as police and demonstrators vied for control.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson told reporters that there was information that some of the more disruptive participants had travelled to Ferguson from as far away as New York and California. Pictured, protesters tip over a porta-potty onto Florissant Avenue.
Johnson had been sent to Ferguson to try and reduce tensions between police and local residents, but that mission appears to have failed as clashes have only increased in intensity since the weekend.
As on previous days, earlier demonstrations were largely peaceful, though arrests did take place as police tried to keep people moving along Florissant, where most of the unrest has taken place.
Rapper Nelly arrived on Monday to join the protests.
Among the large group of demonstrators, a man with a megaphone speaks to the crowd.
Anger rises among the demonstrators.
A melee ensues as police move to arrest a demonstrator.
Heavily-armed special police units were once again out in force.
Police units form a line to prevent demonstrators from moving further.
Riot police advance on the crowd.
Police wear gas masks as they deploy tear gas in the crowd of demonstrators.
A man reacts to the effects of tear gas.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 17: After the curfew on Saturday evening broke down into more clashes and arrests, police increased their presence on the streets on Sunday. But as night fell the situation again turned violent, with demonstrators taunting police and drawing a firm response from police.
After another day of violent clashes and flaunting of the town's midnight curfew, Missouri governor announced late Sunday evening that he is deploying the Missouri National Guard to restore order.
Said Nixon: "Given these deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent attacks on lives and property in Ferguson, I am directing the highly capable men and women of the Missouri National Guard ... in restoring peace and order to this community,"
Police with riot gear assemble earlier in the evening to deal with the gathered crowd.
Special units prepare to head out as a tear-gas shell streams from behind an armored vehicle.
Police respond to reports of looting at an area business.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 16: By Saturday, Missouri governor Jay Nixon announced a midnight curfew in an attempt to gain control over the streets of Ferguson in the wake of Friday's continued unrest and growing anger over emerging details of the investigation. Pictured, police maintain order during daylight.
Local business owner Mustafa Alshalabi cleans up his store, Sam’s Meat Market, the morning after looters ransacked it.
Local shopowners brandish firearms to protect their property from further looting.
Two groups of demonstrators march down Florissant Avenue.
Demonstrators pass a line of police.
Captain Ronald Johnson talks with demonstrators earlier in the evening in attempt to head off more clashes with police.
Police stand guard at the 911 Hair Salon.
Police stand guard at area businesses.
Police stand guard at area businesses.
The energy level of demonstrators remain high.
Demonstrators hold up homemade signs.
Police shoot smoke cannisters into the gathered crowd.
Demonstrators run to grab smoke cannisters and hurl them back at police.
Demonstrators and journalists run as police fire tear gas into the crowd.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 15: By week's end, the stronger police presence had returned after several businesses suffered damage and crowds of demonstrators continued to challenge law enforcement.
A demonstrators wears one of many tee-shirts with the image of Michael Brown.
A demonstrator wears a bandana as a mask to conceal her identity. Some have also used masks to cope with smoke and tear gas fired by police.
Fellow Ferguson residents try to restrain energized demonstrators.
Demonstrators stand and kneel in front of law enforcement officials.
Demonstrators climb vehicles travelling Florissant Avenue.
Cars crowd Florissant Avenue as rain begins to fall.
Capt. Ron Johnson, joined by Missouri Congressman Lacy Clay (at left) uses a bullhorn to appeal for calm.
Looters among the demonstrators raid an area liquor store.
Looters emerge from a local business.
Looters flee the scene.
Law enforcement prepare to move against the demonstrators.
A police officer chases a demonstrator.
Particles from a concussion grenade explode into the air.
A demonstrators walks amid gas cannisters fired by police.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 14: Protesters walk down Florissant Avenue as demonstrations continued.
Demonstrators show the "Don't Shoot" hands-up gesture to gathered media.
Demonstrators gather near the location where Michael Brown was gunned down by a Ferguson police officer on August 9.
Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson walks among demostrators as night falls. Johnson, a Ferguson native, was brought in to take over security from local police in an attempt to quiet tensions.
A child's train joins the demonstrations on Florissant Avenue.
Tear gas spreads through the crowd.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 13: Some 500 demonstrators gathered Wednesday to continue protests against the shooting and delays in identified the police officers involved. Protesters vented their anger and in some cases taunted police.
Local police and other law-enforcement personnel have stepped up their presence on city streets over the past several days. But some observers wonder if the show of force, including military-style weapons and tactics, is only exacerbating tensions.
Though confrontations have been loud and vocal thorugh the week, there has as yet not been a repeat of the looting and arson the broke out on August 10, when some two dozen local businesses were damaged and a convenience store was gutted by flames. Nine persons have been charged in those incidents.
Throughout the night, as they have done since the demonstrations began last weekend, many protesters advanced on police lines with arms held high in the air in a gesture of surrender, exclaiming “Don’t Shoot! Don’t Shoot.”
After repeated calls to disperse were ignored, police cracked down with riot gear and tear gas.
Police line up to push the protesters back.
Some demonstrators responded by throwing the tear gas canisters back at police, while others attempted to hurl homemade molotov cocktails.
An Al-Jazeera news crew flees the scene as teear gas strikes their camera location.
Police guarded area businesses to head off a repeat of Sunday's looting and arson.
Tear gas and smoke filled the night air as police moved against demonstrators.
A demonstator braves the smoke to grab a gas cannister and hurl it back at police.
Smoke from tear gas and gas cannisters drifted into nearby neighborhoods.
Police fan out to secure nearby neighborhoods and search for violent protesters.
Updated: Aug. 20, 2014

ADVERTISEMENT


Text  


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review