The Corner

U.S.

Sloganeering Doesn’t Make Rioting a Good Idea

Protesters hit a defaced NYPD vehicle during a rally against the death of George Floyd, Times Square, New York City, May 30, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

I keep seeing public officials offer up this slogan:

And I keep wondering: Why? That “life is more valuable than property” is, of course, absolutely true. But it’s also entirely irrelevant in this context, because we are not discussing a killing that pitted property against life. George Floyd was not murdered by a property developer or killed to save a cathedral. He was killed by a bad cop. And no amount of property damage is going to bring him back. So, yes, we should indeed be more upset that George Floyd lost his life than that a local business was destroyed. But we should nevertheless be upset by both. That arson is a lesser crime than murder does not make rioting useful or virtuous — especially given that rioting itself tends to lead to deaths at worst and to poverty and heartbreak at best.

The mantra is particularly ill-fitting in this case, because there is scant disagreement about the injustice of the proximate cause. Almost everyone in America — Democrat, Republican, libertarian, socialist — agrees that what happened to Floyd was appalling. Hell, most police departments agree, and many are going out of their way to say so. As far as I can see, almost nobody has said, “well, the killing was bad, but what happened to Target was worse.” At whom, exactly, is the insistence aimed?

I have come across some people who are openly defending the riots because they believe that they will lead to change. This is a separate argument to Demings’s, although I suppose one could squint her words into that meaning. Either way, those people are wrong. The most likely consequence of these riots will be a diminishment in the number of minority-owned businesses; a reduction in long-term investment in America’s poorer areas; and, if history is any guide, an uptick in support for the sort of politicians who are the least likely to support reform. As a matter of amoral realpolitik — and the “riots work!” argument is an argument from amoral realpolitik — the best way to ensure that life is deemed valuable is to avoid property damage, not to engage in it.

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