The Left’s Burning Cities

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

In Baltimore, as the National Guard steps in, curfews are imposed, and business owners pick up the pieces from their burned-out, looted stores, let’s not forget why one more American city has been torn apart by racial violence. Blue America has failed at social justice. It has failed at equality. It has failed at accountability. Its competing constituencies are engaged in street battles, and any exploration of “root causes” must necessarily include decades of failed policies — all imposed by steadfastly Democratic mayors and city leaders.

Are the riots caused by the Baltimore Police Department’s “documented history” of abuse? Which party has run Baltimore and allowed its police officers to allegedly run amok? Going deeper, which American political movement lionizes public-employee unions, fiercely protecting them from even the most basic reform? Public-employee unions render employee discipline difficult and often impossible. Jobs are functionally guaranteed for life, and rogue officers can count on the best representation money can buy — courtesy of Blue America.

SLIDESHOW: Baltimore Riots

Are the riots caused by inequality? Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos’s son, John, made waves on the left with his “tweetstorm” stating that his “greater source of personal concern, outrage, and sympathy” was not with “one night’s property damage” but with a litany of economic outrages that he claims have “plunged tens of millions of hard-working Americans into economic devastation.” Mother Jones summed up his message by declaring, “At the end of the day, it comes down to social and economic inequality.”

The more “blue” a city is, the greater its level of income inequality.

So let’s examine inequality. It turns out that the more “blue” a city is, the greater its level of income inequality — inequality compounded by a lack of affordable housing. This chart, from The Atlantic, is telling:

Translation: As a city gets increasingly blue, its housing gets increasingly unaffordable.

There is a deep literature tying liberal residents to illiberal housing policies that create affordability crunches for the middle class. In 2010, UCLA economist Matthew Kahn published a study of California cities, which found that liberal metros issued fewer new housing permits. The correlation held over time: As California cities became more liberal, he observed, they built fewer homes.

Are the riots caused by an expansive government, which uses police officers as the tip of the spear to enforce social reform? The expansive regulatory state criminalizes everything from legitimate crimes to selling “loosies,” the individual cigarettes that triggered the New York City police’s fatal encounter with Eric Garner. In a powerful post the very liberal Tah-Nehisi Coates (who is presently condemning calls for nonviolence in Baltimore as a “ruse”) decried “the belief that all our social problems can be solved with force.” Coates continued:

Peel back the layers of most of the recent police shootings that have captured attention and you will find a broad societal problem that we have looked at, thrown our hands up, and said to the criminal-justice system, “You deal with this.” . . . Was Walter Scott’s malfunctioning third-brake light really worth a police encounter? Should the state repeatedly incarcerate him for not paying child support? Do we really want people trained to fight crime dealing with someone who’s ceased taking medication? Does the presence of a gun really improve the chance of peacefully resolving a drug episode? In this sense, the police — and the idea of police reform — are a symptom of something larger. The idea that all social problems can, and should, be resolved by sheer power is not limited to the police. In Atlanta, a problem that began with the poor state of public schools has now ending by feeding more people into the maw of the carceral state.

#related#The regulatory state necessarily creates more interactions between armed law enforcement and citizens. It fosters resentment. It creates the possibility for confusion, mistakes, and petty acts of violence and vengeance. Yet the Left never seems to learn. Even now deep-Blue Hawaii wants to raise the legal smoking age to 21. How long before there’s a tragic incident tied to confrontation between a police officer and a 19-year-old smoker?

For decades, the Left has ruled America’s great cities, presiding over often-unaccountable police departments, denying access to affordable housing, and dramatically increasing the state’s intrusion into citizens’ lives. In fact, the Left’s diverse urban centers are at the heart of the so-called coalition of the ascendant that will allegedly guarantee liberal domination for years to come.

Yet now one part of that coalition is throwing rocks and burning cars, and another part of that coalition is locking shields and wielding pepper spray. And a third segment — the urban intellectual elite — can’t decide whether to justify or condemn the riots. It’s blue versus blue in America’s cities. Their one-party rule has failed.

— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.


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