A SUMMER OF INSURRECTIONS
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On May 25, 2020, the death of a black American in the custody of Minneapolis police led to one of the greatest eruptions of lawlessness and violence in American history. The violence was provoked by a disturbing video that recorded the last breaths of George Floyd, a Minneapolis citizen who expired with a policeman’s knee pressed firmly on the side of his neck for more than nine minutes. The principal organizer of the protest was a group called Black Lives Matter (BLM), which for seven years had been conducting similar demonstrations against what it called the “systemic racism” and brutality of a “white supremacist” society that targeted black Americans like George Floyd.
The protests and riots that followed Floyd’s death were so large and destructive, involved so many Americans, and involved such powerful elements of the nation’s culture as to reshape its political alignments, affect a presidential election, and inspire the largest exodus from America’s cities ever recorded. An earthquake in the nation’s human landscape had altered its political and social fault lines for good.
Studies by Princeton University and the Wisconsin-based “Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project” revealed that during the first 103 days of the unrest, there were 633 violent protests in approximately 220 locations across the United States, including 48 of the 50largest American cities, and 74 of the top 100. Black Lives Matter activists were involved in about 95 percent of those violent and destructive incidents. According to the studies, there were also approximately 11,400 so-called “peaceful protests”—which advanced the same Black Lives Matter indictment of America as a systemically racist society—at more than 2,400 distinct locations nationwide.
During the riots, Black Lives Matter leaders issued no condemnations of the violence—in direct contrast to the Civil Rights Movement leaders of the 1960s, who insisted on the principle of non-violence and whose demonstrations were not accompanied by attacks on police and the destruction of local businesses. The peaceful protests associated with Black Lives Matter were staged during the daytime and then regularly morphed into riots under cover of night. By illegally blocking traffic on major roadways, the daytime protests created an atmosphere of lawlessness that not only was dangerous in itself but also contributed to the violence that followed. These facts make it difficult to regard the “peaceful protests” as distinct and separate from the violence, rather than as fraternal accessories to it.
The insurrectionary nature of the Black Lives Matter protests was captured in the principal slogan used by both demonstrators and rioters: “No Justice, No Peace!” This could easily be seen as a thinly veiled threat: “Submit to our views and meet our demands, or face destructive chaos.” The chant “No Justice, No Peace!” accompanied by such large-scale violence made clear that the remedy envisaged was not—and could not be—a reform within existing institutions. To make the changes necessary to secure “justice,” the system must be dismantled first, and then “reimagined,” to use the in-vogue radical verb. The message was clear: the only acceptable solutions were extreme measures. Only a revolutionary force outside the “system” could fix it, even though the systems in cities like Minneapolis and all the other major centers of the violence were entirely controlled by liberal Democrats who had endorsed the Black Lives Matter movement. Apparently, those liberals shared the goals of the radicals but lacked the spine to achieve them.
Six years earlier, Black Lives Matter had instigated similar riots over a similar arrest in Ferguson, Missouri. The principal differences between the civil violence in Ferguson and Minne apolis were scope and scale. The Ferguson street battles, arsons, and lootings were mainly confined to one city and lasted roughly one month. But in the intervening years, Black Lives Matter had grown in number and capability to the point where it could now threaten civil order on a national scale. Its increased power was fueled by tens of millions of dollars donated by tax-exempt foundations; major American companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon; and wealthy individuals on the political left, such as George Soros and LeBron James.
During the 2020 sieges, hundreds of millions of additional dollars in donations from corporate America and celebrities in entertainment and sports flowed into the war chest of Black Lives Matter, making it the most powerful radical movement in American history. Thanks to its increased resources, the wave of Black Lives Matter riots engulfed hundreds of municipalities and brought several major cities including Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and New York, to their knees.
The night after George Floyd’s death, thousands of angry demonstrators took to the streets and began a war that would continue throughout the summer and beyond. As in the Ferguson riots, the primary targets were the forces of law and order. It was an insurrectionary movement, directly challenging the civil authority.
Sometime after 6:00 p.m. on the night after George Floyd’s death, rioters in Minneapolis vandalized the local police headquarters, spray-painting squad cars and hurling rocks and other projectiles at law-enforcement officers. At the same time Black Lives Matter operatives organized demonstrations and riots in five other U.S. cities, with participants chanting the names of black Americans whom they portrayed as civil rights martyrs who allegedly had been killed merely because they were black, by police officers who were presumed to be white.
In direct refutation of the central claim of Black Lives Matter—that rampant “white supremacy” in America had led to George Floyd’s murder—the actions of the arresting police officers were universally condemned across the country. The spectacle of a black man’s life slipping away on camera was horrifying to Americans, both black and white. Police chiefs and police unions across the country were as outraged as everyone else about what had happened to George Floyd, describing the incident as “not acceptable,” “deeply disturbing,” and “absolutely reprehensible.” These condemnations came in advance of any autopsy report or formal investigation. Not a single voice was raised in defense of the police, despite the absence of any investigation into the facts. The officers involved were stigmatized as “murderers” and immediately fired from their jobs. Within a few days, the lead officer in the incident was formally indicted for murder and manslaughter while the other three were charged with abetting those crimes.
The consensus over the Floyd killing raised unsettling ques tions. How could there be “systemic racism” throughout America’s criminal justice system if the condemnation was so universal? Many police departments, including Minneapolis’s, were headed by blacks. Why were violent demonstrations and threats of “No Justice, No Peace” the only solutions capable of addressing the death of George Floyd if it was so unanimously deplored? In the prevailing atmosphere of outrage, these questions were never asked. Instead, bowing to the political demands of the rioters, the Minneapolis authorities—all Democrats and supporters of Black Lives Matter—ordered their police department not to suppress the violence of what were, in fact, vigilantes, and therefore not to fulfill their oaths of office to ensure civil order and peace.