Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
— Willian Butler Yeats, “
Can you make ?
Here isin full, issued May 28, after several days and nights of rioting. Here is the final sentence:
The city urges everyone to exercise caution and stay safe while participating in demonstrations, including wearing masks and physical distancing as much as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The city has made hundreds of masks available to protesters this week.
Protesters? Earth to Minneapolis Mayor Moron: Rioters torching whole sections of your city are not protesters. Many are professional agitators from out of town. Locals who loot stores are opportunists, many of them career criminals. The city’s message took zero notice of these elementary realities.
Mayor Moron’s contribution to the city’s full message was this: “We need to offer radical compassion and love that we all have in us. I believe in this city and I know that you do, too.”
There is a validated playbook for dealing with riots. It is a tale of two riots in the awful summer of widespread racial unrest in 1967. Eugene Methvin’s 1991 National Review “laid out the playbook:
In a nutshell: Riots begin when some set of social forces temporarily overwhelms or paralyzes the police, who stand by, their highly visible inaction signaling to the small percentage of teenaged embryonic psychopaths and hardened young adults that a moral holiday is under way. This criminal minority spearheads the car-burning, window-smashing, and blood-letting, mobbing such hate targets as blacks, or white merchants, or lone cops. Then the drawing effect brings out the large crowds of older men, and women and children, to share the Roman carnival of looting. Then the major killing begins: slow runners caught in burning buildings and-as civic forces mobilize-in police and National Guard gunfire.…
The time to halt a riot is right at the start, by pinching off the criminal spearhead with precise and overwhelming force. The cops will usually be caught flat-footed (no pun intended) by the initial outbreak. But they need to spring into a pre-arranged mobilization that should always be as ready in every major city as the fire-department or hospital disaster-response program.
Methvin compared two July 1967 riots. In Toledo, rioters began smashing things, throwing rocks at police cruisers. The authorities resounded instantly and decisively, arresting the thugs, with order restored within 36 hours. No one died. Not so, where the authorities decided to allow rioters to let off steam. Five days of violence followed, with more than 40 fatalities and more than 1,000 injured. Property damage was estimated at over $40 million, in 2020 dollars, roughly $300 million. It was the worst rioting in America since the 1863 New York City draft riots, not to be exceeded in scale until the 1992 Rodney King riots.
And there is a lasting loss for failing to do so. South Central Los Angeles never recovered from the double blow of the 1965 Watts and 1992 conflagrations. Detroit and Newark never recovered from the destruction of 1967. Washington, D.C., never fully recovered from the riots after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. As Methvin noted, during the 1991 Mount Pleasant riots in the nation’s capital, the new mayor got a crash course in the right and wrong way to deal with violent unrest:
In Washington, D.C., on Sunday, May 5, a black female police officer attempted to arrest a Hispanic man who was drinking and unruly on a street in the Mount Pleasant area, heavily populated by recent Central American immigrants. The man drew a knife and advanced, the officer reported, whereupon she shot and severely wounded him. The rumor spread that he was dead, shot while handcuffed. A flashfire of violence erupted as hundreds of youths set fire to police cars, smashed windows, and looted. Washington’s new mayor, Sharon Pratt Dixon, at first ordered police to disperse crowds but make no arrests. The second night, running gangs of youths fought a thousand policemen, burning and looting as they spread out. Mayor Dixon then declared a curfew and ordered arrests, whereupon the violence subsided. Police made 230 arrests in three days.
Yet that same year, New York Mayor David Dinkins“let off steam” approach, as black rioters marched through the streets of Crown Heights shouting “Heil Hitler!” as they assaulted Jews, after a rabbi’s car accidentally struck two children, killing one. A rabbinical student — a student guest from Australia, a more civilized place than was New York City in 1991 — was stabbed to death. (It should be noted that in both the Mount Pleasant and Crown Heights cases, crowds reacted violently to rumors of police misconduct that proved to be false.)
That eternal lesson, however, has once again been unlearned, as the capital’s current mayor, almost as much of a moron as Minneapolis’s America’s moron numero uno, refused to help the Secret Service guard the White House when rioters assailed the residence; the Secret Service, which does know what to do, promptly quelled the violence.
The full due bill for the current mauling of countless cities across the nation, with neighborhoods torched beyond repair, will be in the many billions. Beyond that are the businesses that will never reopen and the lives of innocent property owners and their families ruined. Even worse, the due bill comes on the heels of a pandemic that for a long time will raise the costs of rebuilding and lower potential revenues.
And there is more long-term damage, perhaps greatest of all, if the 2020 precedent is followed elsewhere: an indictment brought within four days, a speed record. Thissays it all: “after four days of dragging his feet, the [county attorney] has filed murder charges.” Yes, the horrific video we have all seen shows as conclusively as any video ever has, a police officer choking to death a suspect handcuffed, prone, and clearly helpless, telling the officers he was unable to breathe. Having initially told the public that indictment awaited conclusion of an investigation, after the mob went on a rampage, the county attorney hastened to tell the world: “I didn’t want to wait any longer to share the news that he’s in custody and charged with murder.”
When you reward bad behavior, expect more of it. It is precisely in highly charged cases that investigations must be more, not less, deliberate. America’s legal system is littered with legal land mines that can get even an airtight case tossed by the courts: due process, chain of custody as to evidence, rules limiting search and seizure, excluding confessions, etc.
In this case, given Mayor Moron, the prosecutor likely felt compelled to give in. But he’d have done better to have told the public that the more important a case is, the more important it is to thoroughly investigate and proceed with extreme care. The consequences if, for any reason, no matter how legally sound, this case is tossed out, will surely be more violence.
The worst elements around the country will see that in this horrific case mob pressure paid off. Future cases will almost always be less clear-cut than this one. Such ambiguities will necessitate longer investigations. Cutting corners then will lead in some cases to dismissal or acquittal. This will, naturally, bring out the mobs again.
Bottom Line. In this case, it is likely that a guilty verdict will be reached. Then will follow the federal civil rights case, where a guilty verdict is also very likely — especially as the feds are not under comparable time pressure, as they can investigate while the state case proceeds. But a potentially dangerous precedent has been set, in that a mob forced instant indictment.
The“sentence first — verdict later” has returned today with a vengeance, giving us “indictment first, investigation later.”
John C. Wohlstetter is author of Sleepwalking With the Bomb (2nd ed., 2014).