Politics & Policy

How to Make a Riot Worse

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
We have abandoned our cities to political correctness.

Despite a tremendous effort over several decades to determine the root causes of inner-city riots, we still know little about what causes them. To describe them is often inappropriately thought to explain them.

Since the 1960s, they have occurred disproportionately in Northern, inner-city, African-American neighborhoods and the participants, especially in the early stages, are largely young males.

Because riots in our time tend to occur in poor black neighborhoods, we associate characteristics of black poverty with riots. Yet, before the 1960s, most rioters were white, and when blacks were involved, they tended to be victims rather than participants.

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Many 19th-century riots were the actions of white middle-class or stable white working-class populations. Yet, social scientists have not proposed that the demographic characteristics of being white or economically stable led people to riot.

Every riot has a precipitating event, something that results in anger turning to aggression. The mysterious death of Freddie Gray, a young black man, who succumbed while in police custody, was such an event. The reaction to it had the potential to turn into a riot. But it did not in and of itself turn into a riot.

Riots, like all forms of political and social violence, require mobilization, and mobilization requires leadership. Spontaneity is one of the great myths about social events.

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#related#The most critical factor affecting a leadership’s ability to mobilize people to riot is how successful it is in the initial stages. Ironically, its success is largely determined by how authorities respond.

Canadian military historian D. J. Goodspeed concluded that most of the great revolutions in history could have been stopped in their tracks by a mere company of disciplined troops willing to lay down volley after volley of directed fire.

In the 1960s in the United States, police and National Guard units were untrained to deal with riots, and their use of force was not only disproportionate, it was also frequently incapable of discriminating between rioters and innocent residents. In Detroit in 1967, the Michigan National Guard provided a case study of the indiscriminate and ineffectual use of force. It was replaced by the elite 82nd Airborne, which used disciplined force to quickly bring the riot to a halt.

RELATED: What Are Baltimore’s Rioters Trying to Communicate?

The most critical factor affecting a leadership’s ability to mobilize people to riot is how successful it is in the initial stages.

When it comes to riots in America, pundits bring out the Kerner Commission Report, citing its highly questionable material on root causes while always seeming to ignore those parts of the report that noted that the use of quick, decisive force ends riots.

This, obviously, brings us to the tactic enunciated by Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: “It’s a very delicate balancing act, because while we try to make sure that [the rioters] were protected from the cars and other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”

This, of course, was the same tactic used in Ferguson by Missouri governor Jay Nixon, which permitted rioters to destroy small businesses in downtown Ferguson without opposition.

SLIDESHOW: Baltimore Riots

The foundations for this tactic, oddly enough, are to be found in the response, or, more appropriately, the delayed response, of then–Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates to the 1992 Rodney King riots. Instead of going to the central command post, Gates went on an hour-and-a-half helicopter tour of the city, leaving no one in charge.

But some observers opined that Gates knew exactly what he was doing, and the same has been stated of Missouri’s governor and Baltimore’s mayor. After all, it was Gates who, as a young officer, made highly effective tactical decisions that abated the 1965 Watts riots. Gates knew how to stop riots. He apparently chose not to do so in the Rodney King case.

Why? Because today it is politically unacceptable for the world to see, in real time, American police using effective and decisive force against young black men. Gates appeared to make the choice to let rioters riot and looters loot.

That is the new tactic. Rioters are to burn and loot themselves out like a raging forest fire.

Stopping riots is not only about control, but also about what is politically palatable, which is why Los Angeles’s Koreatown was abandoned to the mercies of the rioters. There are more black votes than Korean votes in Los Angeles.

We now give those who wish to destroy space to do so, and we thus throw gasoline on the already incendiary nature of riots. It is not politically acceptable to use decisive force against young, black, male thugs. It is acceptable to let them burn poor families out of their homes, attack fire trucks, and throw bricks at police. Welcome to politically correct America, a society that will incinerate itself on the altar of political correctness.


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