Insistence that the protests following the death of George Floyd were “mostly peaceful” has obscured the extent of their violence. A new paper by David Bernstein, professor of law at George Mason University, provides the fullest account yet of the arson, looting and bloodshed. Protesters did not just unleash chaos in discrete neighbourhoods. They exploited, and exacerbated, weaknesses in our regime.
According to Bernstein, the protests resulted directly in the killing of 13 people: Javar Harrell, Chris Beaty, Mqwan Blanchard, Marquis M Tousant, Jose Gutierrez, Victor Cazares Jr, David Dorn, Horace Lorenzo Anderson, Tyler Gerth, Antonio Mays Jr, Secoriea Turner, Jessica Doty Whitaker, and Aaron Danielson.
Far more people were killed as an indirect result of the protests. Between January 1 and October 3, Minneapolis, where the protests began, saw 61 homicides, compared with 34 in the same period last year. In Seattle, there have been 49 homicides this year, compared with 28 in all of 2019. Similar patterns can be observed in other cities.
The violence was not limited to homicide. In Minneapolis, some 1,500 properties suffered at least $500 million in damages. Businesses in the Lake Street corridor, many of which were minority-owned, suffered $200 million in uninsured damages.
The protests exploited tensions between political leaders and police. In city after city, political leaders deferred to, or even echoed, the anti-police rhetoric of the protesters. New York mayor Bill de Blasio said in May, “I want to see a light touch [in policing] because people are undeniably angry for a reason.” He called the anger of protesters “unfortunately very justified”.
One police leader criticised de Blasio, citing “numerous emails, letters, text messages, photos of New York City … being destroyed. We have no leadership coming from City Hall. We are being told to stand down.” Police in Louisville, Columbus, and Portland made similar complaints.
Perceiving that they are unwanted, Chicago police in August and September resigned at twice the previous rate. As of October 6, 2,385 New York police officers have submitted their retirement papers – an 87 per cent increase over the same period last year. As of July, about 65 Minneapolis police officers had resigned, and nearly 200 more had applied to leave. (The department typically loses 45 people per year.)
Police strikes are illegal in every state. But in June, after an officer in Atlanta was charged with the murder of Rayshard Brooks, about 170 officers called in sick simultaneously, a phenomenon known as “blue flu”. The same thing happened in Los Angeles, where about 300 called in sick after the city council voted to cut their budget.
Armed citizens have stepped into the gap. The NAACP chapter in Minneapolis organised an armed militia (the “Minnesota Freedom Riders”) to protect local businesses. Likewise, a woman named Cesia Baires formed a group called Security Latinos De La Lake to protect property in the city’s Lake Street district. Its members carried semi-automatic weapons, handguns and bricks and wore T-shirt uniforms. Baires explained to Minnesota Public Radio that the police had retreated from her neighbourhood. “So what are we to do? Just stand there and do nothing?”
American cities are progressive bastions uneasy with the official violence on which they rely. Often their citizens, like those of Rome, must call on people from the hinterlands to wield the force that the residents themselves are unwilling or unable to. (In New York, the majority of uniformed officers live outside the city.) The breach between progressive officials and those who wield force gives an opening to those who attack our regime.
Meanwhile the White House continued to be guarded by Secret Service and Park Police. Fifty-one of these officers were injured by protesters. Eleven were hospitalised. If these officers had yielded, as some seemed to want them to do, the White House could have been overrun.
Juan Linz, an authority on the breakdown of democratic regimes, observed: “All theorists of revolution, particularly the revolutionaries themselves, agree that the inefficient use of force, or reluctance to use it, is decisive in the transfer of legitimacy to the opponents of the regime.” In 2020, American leaders have come dangerously close to forfeiting their legitimacy.