What Riots Are Good For: Pay Up, or Else

Vehicles burn during riots in Ferguson, Mo., November 2014. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)
The Left has a long tradition of using riots to push redistributionist policies that don’t work.

This week saw the latest in a spate of riots in Democratic cities: Milwaukee burned. It burned not because of some grave racial injustice, but because a black officer shot a black suspect armed with a stolen gun. That’s the new normal: Ferguson burned because a white officer shot a black man who tried to take his gun and then charged him; Baltimore burned because a group of officers, some of whom were black, didn’t buckle a black suspect into a seat, and that suspect died in the back of a police van.

Circumstance no longer matters, however; neither does proof of systemic discrimination. No, the only thing that matter is the perception of racial discrimination. And that perception justifies violent racist action.

That’s what happened in Milwaukee, which has — not coincidentally — seen a 70 percent spike in murder from 2014 to 2015. Rioters torched a gas station while shouting “black power!” Some tried to chase down white citizens unfortunate enough to drive into the wrong area. A leftist white journalist fled the city after being targeted for his race; another reporter was chased by men in a Chevy Suburban because he is white.

Great Racial Unifier™ President Obama couldn’t be reached for comment — he was busy golfing. The media, meanwhile, continue to mirror the stance of CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill, who calls such riots “uprisings” and states that there is a need for “resistance to oppression . . . and you can’t circumscribe resistance,” and declares, with no sense of irony, that black Americans cannot be racist.

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Why in the world would the Left sign off on riots that damage black businesses, raise crime rates in the black community, and destroy community relations with the police? Why would leftists pretend that looting a store for a flat screen television or grabbing the nearest set of hair extensions and running for the exits constitutes valid civil-rights activity?

Because the Left has used riots as a tool of policy for decades.

Fred Siegel documented what he terms “riot ideology” in his book The Future Once Happened Here. Such ideology took deep hold in the 1960s, with prominent politicians such as Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach warning of riots in “30 or 40” cities if LBJ’s favored legislation providing funding to inner-city communities wasn’t rammed through Congress. Siegel wrote, “As the immediate threat of riots subsided, liberals would argue that more money for the cities was essential — if not to halt riots, then to contain the still rising racial anger, which expressed itself in rising rates of often violent crime.”

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Political thugs such as future D.C. mayor Marion Barry fully embraced this logic. He said of the violent activities of the Black Panthers: “I think that everything that anybody does is good. I’m serious. For instance, I know for a fact that white people get scared of the Panthers, and they might look at somebody a little more moderate and say, ‘Well, let’s give them a little money.’” Political cowards such as New York Mayor John Lindsay routinely caved to this kind of pressure: He said that welfare expansion would be a necessary precondition to stopping riots. “Our experience,” said one of his aides, “is that some good can come of confrontation politics.”

Riot politics hasn’t been relegated to the threat of race riots. After the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, for example, the nation’s largest trade union of public employees, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, blackmailed the city of Memphis with the threat of riots. The head of AFSCME called an assistant to Vice President Hubert Humphrey and informed him that violence would occur if Memphis didn’t capitulate to AFSCME’s union demands: “I don’t know what buttons to press,” he said, “but goddammit, Memphis is going to burn.” The White House sent an emissary to Memphis, and the city quickly capitulated.

RELATED: Milwaukee Deserves Better

The Left still recognizes the value of a good, clean riot. German Lopez of Vox wrote on Monday, “Riots are the culmination of a serious distrust in the system — and can lead to real, substantial change.” Lopez cited the examples of the Baltimore DOJ’s investigating the police department after the riots; the federal Kerner Commission, which pushed reforms of local police departments after riots during the 1960s; and the imposition of new policing standards in Los Angeles after the Rodney King riots in 1992.

Leftists have long governed virtually every city in which major riots have taken place, from Milwaukee to Baltimore to Los Angeles to Detroit.

There’s something stomach-churning about the logic here. Leftists have governed virtually every city in which major riots have taken place, from Milwaukee (no Republican mayor since 1908) to Baltimore (no Republican mayor since 1967) to Los Angeles (before the 1992 L.A riots, no Republican mayor since 1961) to Detroit (where the mayor during the 1967 riots was a Democrat who had walked arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King). Yet instead of governing properly — instead of making life better for their citizens — politicians have worked hand-in-glove with agitators who riot, thereby placing outside pressure on politicians to take radical action. This inside-outside game perverts politics itself: Instead of voters electing politicians who will enact their agenda, politicians become tools of violent mobs — or worse, instigators of those mobs for purposes of clubbing the voters into submission.

While leftists may believe that riots have made life better for those living in their cities, there’s little evidence of that. Ferguson isn’t better off because of its riots — no business will invest there. The same is true of Baltimore. And Milwaukee won’t see any uptick in living standard because rioters choose to bash in car windows while shouting about racial solidarity.

#related#But the Left gets the images it wants: the images of constant crisis flashing across our television screens. Then leftist politicians offer us salvation in the form of payoffs. All we have to do to stop the violence is pay up. In essence, the Left’s agenda is exactly that of the infamous Milwaukee rioter who told the media, “The rich people, they got all this money, and they not like trying to give us none.”

The Left utilizes rioters to achieve that redistribution. All it costs is the businesses of local black people, the safety of black residents, and the possibility of recovery in high-crime black areas.

Mr. Shapiro is the host of the podcast The Ben Shapiro Show, the editor emeritus of The Daily Wire, and the author of How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps and The Right Side of History.


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