Law & the Courts

Black Lives Matter Is Pushing Our Cities Back to the Brink

Police square off with protesters in Milwaukee, Wisc., August 14, 2016. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
To listen to some of the protesters, the Milwaukee shooting was the excuse for the riot, not the reason.

What happens when a city combines body cameras, a “model” law requiring independent investigations of police shootings, and a police chief so committed to reforming the way cops interact with the black community that he’s profiled on public radio’s immensely popular program This American Life? What happens in that same city when a black cop shoots an armed black suspect toting a stolen gun — a gun the suspect reportedly refused to put on the ground despite repeated commands? Do the legal reforms increase community trust? Or does the city erupt in riots and violence?

If you chose “riots and violence,” you’re correct. That’s exactly what happened in Milwaukee this weekend in response to the police shooting of Sylville Smith. Police pulled Smith over on Saturday afternoon, he fled from the scene, and police gave chase. Smith was carrying a stolen handgun. An officer with six years’ experience caught Smith, reportedly ordered him to drop the gun, and opened fire when Smith failed to comply, shooting him the in the chest and arm. Smith died.

According to police, the shooting was caught on camera. (The footage has not yet been released.) But rather than wait for the evidence or for any semblance of an investigation, hundreds of Milwaukee residents rioted, burning police cars, looting stores, and attacking police. Indeed, to listen to some of the protesters and political leaders, the shooting was merely the excuse for the riot, not the justification. Here’s one protester telling reporters that riots are happening because “rich people, they got all this money, and they not . . . trying to give us none.”

And city alderman Khalif Rainey said that the riots were “byproducts” of “the injustice, the unemployment, the under-education” that he says makes Milwaukee the “worst place to live for African-Americans in the entire country.” He ended with an ominous warning: “Rectify this immediately because, if you don’t, this vision of downtown, all of that, you one day away. You one day away.”

Then, of course, Black Lives Matter leader Deray McKesson added his own helpful thoughts — without any meaningful evidence that the police shooting was unlawful:

If radical activists have their way, American cities will be ungovernable. Any police shooting will excuse a riot, even without lies like “hands up, don’t shoot.” In such an environment, police reforms are less about improving police–community relations or about making poor communities safe than they are about the raw exercise of power.

Indeed, the results speak for themselves. Despite its reforms, Milwaukee has been wracked by levels of homicide not seen since the bad days of the early 1990s. Last year, the number of fatal shootings, disproportionately black-on-black violence, hit a 22-year high:

(Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

This year is set to be terrible as well, with 83 homicides already. More than three-quarters of the victims are black, and they are not being killed by cops.

So, yes, Alderman Rainey, Milwaukee may be a terrible place for African Americans, but it is not because of the police. Here is the sobering reality of modern urban life. If police use the kinds of aggressive policing techniques that have been part of the decades-old solution to the soaring crime rates of the 1980s and early 1990s, they increase interactions with the community and inevitably increase the potential for abuse.

If, however, the police back off appreciably, decreasing the number of arrests and stops, then, as we’ve seen in city after city, homicide rates soar. But being an activist means never saying you’re sorry, so in either case oppression and death are the cops’ fault. Police aggressively, and the police are to blame for strained community relations. Back off, and the police are to blame for the chaos and violence that ensues.

#related#The destructiveness of Black Lives Matter lies in its fundamental inability to recognize that the primary responsibility for peace and justice within black communities belongs to the community itself. The police are not making black people kill each other at alarming rates. The police are not making black people drop out of school or black men father children out of wedlock. Yet it’s remarkable the extent to which anti-police activists simply take those factors as givens and then demand that police know exactly how to navigate and defuse the resulting, inevitable social pathologies.

In other words, activists demand the impossible and then riot when their impossible demands aren’t met. Unless cooler heads prevail, they will continue to push our cities back to the brink, back to the bad old days when murder rates were so high that people openly wondered if our great urban communities were doomed to fail. Want to save our cities? Then reject the radicals. In the name of justice, they bring chaos. In the name of peace, they bring death.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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