Some time ago, the scene out of Portland looked to be that of a battlezone. It was one of many that sprung up in the wake of George Floyd’s death. On 5 May 2020, the 46-year-old black man was killed by Minneapolis police officers, who were investigating Floyd for supposedly trying to pass a phony twenty-dollar bill. The video of his death went viral, sparking nationwide outrage, and not for the first time. As we all know, the anger has been boiling for a while. It’s only a matter of time before the real war begins.
The Claims Journal is a publication which covers insurance news. According to them, the destruction and looting had spread to 20 states and 25 cities. “In the U.S., there has been no precedent for a riot catastrophe like this,” said Tom Johansmeyer, Assistant Vice President of Verisk, a firm that analysis risk. Johansmeyer said that while major retailers were hit the hardest, “there are a lot of smaller losses out there as well.” He estimated that losses will exceed $25 million, deemed a “catastrophe” level. If this “movement” is a response to lost lives, then it would also be appropriate to mention the almost 30 lives that have been lost amid the chaos.
During his speech at Mount Rushmore, President Donald Trump said this would not be tolerated. Soon after, the President launched Operation Legend. Although Trump did say that he’d use federal troops to help local law enforcement squash the rioters, the operation itself was specifically for the protection of federal property, namely courthouses.
Not that local law enforcement had been sitting on their hands: According to the Washington Post, some 14,000 people across 49 cities have been arrested since the end of May, many for minor offenses, like curfew violations and failing to disperse.
Libertarian podcaster Eric July wishes the headlines would read: “Rival Gangs Battle in the Streets of Portland.” Because there is violence to be found on both sides, this is an apt analogy. One gang wears helmets and camouflage, while the other is blackly dressed from head to toe. Let’s start with the second gang.
“Peaceful.” How many times have we heard that word used to describe the protesters, none excepted? These are black-hooded Gandhis, we’re always told, doing nothing more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights. They’re peaceful up until the second they’re dragging someone out of their car, or beating another over the head, or throwing objects through privately-owned business’ windows. Then we see the gears change: Well, yes, those are acts of violence, but they’re completely justified given that America’s police are, according to most, empowered by a white supremacism which aims to either kill or incarcerate every last person of color.
The hesitancy to be forthright covers up an uncomfortable fact: That the rioters aren’t much different from the ones blasting them with pepper spray. That isn’t mere rhetoric, despite the chants that “All Cops Are Bastards” (ACAB). Drivers and business owners have been assaulted, and so those assailing activists have that in common with the police.
Adding to that comparison, who will argue that many of those now asking for libertarians and freedom fighters to come to their defense were, just a couple months ago, applauding the police as they arrested peaceful business owners who did nothing more than defy the lockdown? If my observation is true, then demilitarization of the police is hardly what they seek. Rather, and more explicitly, it’s the end of so-called “white supremacy.” The Black Lives Matter website uses the word “eradicate.”
What is white supremacy? We can only guess at all the components.
“Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” finds its way on the gallows, where presumably some “nonbinary” person holds the lever. Private businesses are part of the oppressive capitalist system, so those can burn along with the courthouses and police stations. Monuments of figures as diverse as Albert Pike to Confederate leaders to the Founding Fathers – those come down quicker than any white person who tried to protest.
And as this eradication takes place, some “educator” named Robin DiAngelo tours the country, lecturing white people on their “privilege” and “fragility.” Tucker Carlson’s commentary on her book leads me to believe that DiAngelo wishes to indict all white people for a racism that’s as unavoidably necessary as oxygen.
While the Democrats and the leftist media play their role as the promotor and apologist of destruction, others are even more honest. The Nation, for instance, published an article titled “In Defense of Destroying Property.” The article acknowledges that, “The destruction is too widespread to attribute it to a few bad actors.” And why the need for this destruction? Because the “police need to be defunded, and some police stations need to disappear.”
Property is a “violent thing,” the article goes on, and so “disavowing property destruction and even theft because of a spurious attachment to a reified notion of nonviolence is a mistake.” Lastly, “the vandalizing of property and the theft of goods could just as easily be framed as the enforcement of a moral economy – the rightful reappropriation of stolen wealth.” As I said, there’s no reason to stop at the police stations and courthouses. Therefore, if I break into my neighbor’s house or business and steal everything in the place, perhaps shooting them when they resist, I can simply justify it on the grounds that the property sits on stolen land.
Why is it so difficult to guess that the principles enshrined in Bill of Rights might also be on the cutting block? I start to get the feeling that, if those same police energies could be made to collect a “privilege tax” on the white middle class, it would be met with widespread approval. The sooner we all understand and acknowledge this hatred, the sooner we can start giving a more complete analysis.
Thinking they have an ace in their hands, some will try to argue against these generalizations. If ever a libertarian engages in a collectivized assessment, they’re swiftly castigated for it. Indeed, this is more of tendency towards unthinking. Bifurcating with “them” and the “other” might often be wrong and lacking nuance – but not always. Presumptions derive naturally from a recognition of patterns. For humanity, war is the rule and peace is the exception, so we’ve had to take notice of the symbols and appearances of our enemies. I’m thinking it’s hardwired.
If you see a hundred people dressed in black running around a street that’s lined with several burning buildings, but your eye had only seen a dozen of them with bottles and bricks in their hands, why would it be wrong to guess that the others might have been participating in the destruction just a second beforehand? You say, “they probably were” or “they might have been”; not, “only the dozen or so who I personally saw and I won’t entertain the possibility that some of the others were also complicit.”
Try to view it another way: Somewhere on that burning street, there’s someone wearing a helmet and camouflage. Suddenly, that person grabs somebody on the street and throws them into a car. Apparently, this has been happening in Portland. Now, if a libertarian were the first person to see those images, they’d shriek. Their first reaction would be one of outrage. Cries of “martial law” will be shouted for days.
And while the presumption is probably correct – that the official who physically removed the peaceful protester was and is a government actor – it’s not obvious that said-strong-armed actions are necessarily unlibertarian, as an anarcho-capitalist society would respond to the chaos by encouraging shop owners to pool their resources and employ a private police force so as to protect their properties. Likely, such a society would see a lot more rioters thrown into the back of buses. Of course, the only legitimate objective would be to grab or stop those who were seen destroying businesses, and any deviation from that goal would allow for legal action. (That an anarcho-capitalist society would also see every street and sidewalk privatized – not tolerating even those walking in the middle of the road – does complexify the problem a lot more. And so let’s stick to the real world, and the fact that many businesses and institutions employ private security, or bravely defend their own property; see the McCloskeys).
Finally, if you were a business owner in the market for private armies, you would not pick a firm that had trained its compensated soldiers to refrain from making collective judgments. You’d want those who were protecting your property to be vigilant of the many anonymous faces found as the Black Blok. After all, that’s the very tactic of these minor-terrorists: All as one, and none as all.
Again, that does not mean that the private army could indiscriminately grab whomever they wished. They’d have to have reasonable assurance that the one they’re launching into the back of a bus had actually thrown the bottle.
Still, as I said, the presumption above is granted, as the officers in Portland are, in fact, agents of the federal state. Furthermore, the general criticism among the masses, which in my opinion is now only given as a pretense – that America’s police forces often abuse an authority which was never properly given to them – is, in my view, and my experience, accurate. And so it’s important that we discuss the other side of the spectrum.
I don’t know anybody who saw the video of George Floyd getting choked to death who did not believe it to be anything less than cold-blooded murder. For those of us who recognize the existence of so-called “Blue Line” culture, whereby police protect their own, we have to wonder: If that deadly encounter had happened on a dark street, and the video not captured by a civilian, would the police have faced criminal repercussions? Would they be charged and tried in a court of law? For we who say the term aloud – “American Police State” – we know that accountability isn’t a guarantee.
After one has been abused so many times by the police, your perspective of them changes. They begin to take on the appearance, not of rational and empathetic defenders of our rights (whether understood divinely, constitutionally, or culturally), but rather as a cold and blunt object. Although this object is oftentimes wielded by corrupt lawmakers, it always has its own interests at heart. That isn’t to say that all police are abusive; nor to suggest that no officer ever signed on simply because they wanted to make their community a better and safer place. I certainly won’t be making the case that America’s overwhelmed prisons are full of nonviolent pot smokers. Not at all.
But power is what collectivizes America’s police. It’s what binds them. No matter how well-intentioned the individual officer is, they wield an authority which one-hundred years ago was regarded as unconstitutional. And the routine abuse of that power, with nary an instance in which “good” officers turn in their abusive partners, leading to disconcerting lack of accountability, is what makes it easy to throw out the whole batch as being rotten. This power is awarded both by the federal government and the state governments: The Supreme Court, and their individual state unions, respectively.
We often hear the term “qualified immunity.” Cornell Law School has a summary of all the Supreme Court rulings that granted such power. “Specifically, qualified immunity protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a ‘clearly established’ statutory or constitutional right,” reads the website. It’s not that it’s impossible to sue an officer, but the Supreme Court has set the hurdle very high, and they have no desire to lower it.
Then there’s unionism. While some police departments condemned the killing of George Floyd, the President of the Minneapolis Police Union, Lt. Bob Kroll, wrote a letter to union members, denouncing the “despicable behavior” of political leaders who Kroll said were selling out the city’s police.
Such language is familiar in a society where police unions shield their members from scrutiny. In New York, there was a long battle to “repeal 50-A,” a state law that prohibited the public from attaining records of police misconduct. Efforts to overturn the law and release the records were repeatedly blocked by both the union and Governor Cuomo, who eventually gave in to the recent street pressure and signed the repeal legislation. Nationwide corruption? JacobinMag.com reports on the work of scholars who have documented how police unions in California, Florida, and Texas have challenged efforts to “change sentencing laws, abolish solitary confinement, outlaw capital punishment, close prisons and jails, end commercial bail, and on and on.”
My criticism of the rioters and looters is not meant to suggest that there aren’t any peaceful protesters. I’m sure there are many just expressing their grievances and demanding necessary reform. That is their right. And, of course, the police have abused those demonstrators too. Who can forget the video of New York officers shoving 75-year-old Martin Gugino to the ground, his head gushing blood as the gang calmly walked past his limp body? After two officers were charged for it, the entire fifty-seven-member unit resigned in protest. That’s not unionism; that’s brotherhood, and the abuses are not far and few between. USAToday found that “at least” 85,000 American police officers have been investigated over the past decade. To repeat myself: For many of us – no matter if we have black skin or white skin – these things are anything but shocking.
To someone like Patrick Lynch, head of New York’s largest police union, reform advocates are “pro-criminal.” What Lynch will never admit is that when police beat civilians, use their badge to pressure women into performing sexual acts, plant evidence on suspects, and lie on reports – they are also criminals. And the public is right to say as much.
Ammon Bundy might wish for “unity” and “coming together,” but he should know that many of the activists he now aligns with will continue to see him as a privileged white man who was allowed to take over a federal institution without being killed for it.
Such ideological fault lines are ready to burst, and so it’s time for Americans to start doing their own seismology – to try and measure the hatred and find out where the cracks are at. Social media provides an opportunity to conduct small, private polls. I can think of a few questions to get us all started.
For example: Is it not generally true that those now raging against police abuse were just recently praising the police as they arrested hairstylists who defied the lockdown? Did they not also praise the St. Louis prosecutors when they charged the McCloskeys with felonies, this for brandishing weapons at a horde of protesters that came through their property? Amend the poll: Do you really not think the couple had reason to fear for their lives and home? Could you honestly tell the McCloskeys that they had no reason to fear that the mob might destroy their property, especially since that mob falsely believed that the Mayor lived at the address?
If you try to argue that police also murder white people – a la Duncan Lemp or, more recently, Ryan Whitaker – will their deaths be downplayed as rare exceptions? What if you aren’t checking your white privilege as compulsively as an impatient man checks his watch? Moreover, will those who post any story about a white person being racist neglect to post when a young white woman is murdered by Black Lives Matter activists (her name was Jesse Whitaker)? What about a white 5-year old boy? Not a peep, I imagine. Ditto for CNN and MSNBC.
It’s our right to assemble peacefully, they assert correctly, so was that right granted for the white nationalists who went to Charlottesville? Were they screaming about how the rates of COVID-19 would skyrocket because of the anti-lockdown protests, only then to change their tune once these protests took off?
Will you or I still be an “ally” if we were to say something totally outlandish, like “woman don’t have penises,” or “the doctrine of Islam is not one of peace”? Such truthful claims will seem controversial whenever there exists a market for mistruth.
And then for the rightists on your friend list, another series of inquiries: When a civilian is killed by the police, are they quick to smear their character while ignoring the record of the officers responsible for the killing? Do they ever discuss any mysterious death at the hands of law enforcement, such as Elijah McClain and Breonna Taylor? After all, conservatives insist that it’s “only a few bad apples”. Then why should they have a problem discussing those apples and bringing their abuses to light? If they had done so, they probably could have prevented some of this chaos.
We should not be forced to choose between America’s overpowered police and those cosplaying as Che Guevara. If the latter ever got in control, they’d become just like the former, and so it’s possible to take another position: The one that refuses to side with anybody’s violence.
While I try to be realistic in my analysis, I’m unrealistic in my objectives, because I want nothing more than a world that cherishes reason, nonviolence, and peace – and, in my view, that won’t be happening anytime soon. I am a misanthrope before a libertarian. I’m not fetched by any talk of “liberty in our lifetime.” Such rhetoric is just plain silly to me. Human beings are many hundreds if not thousands of years away from that point. In short, a lot more evolving has to take place, and neither cops nor rioters are going to help us get there.
Unfortunately, the natural evolution of humans will likely be cut short by unnaturally evolved humans, those who have upgraded with technology. What these metahumans will do to our kin will leave us begging to be choked to death on the street, if only to spare us the horror of it. Assuming we stand any chance against that grim scenario, I will continue to help evolution progress. My “tactic” is to advocate for dialogue, voluntarism, and nonviolence: Dialogue with those I strongly disagree with; voluntarism not only in the sense of coming together, but also going apart; and nonviolence where it matters the most – the next generation, who are the only ones capable of creating a world with little need for these violent gangs.
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