Battleground

The phrase battleground state has taken on a whole new meaning. 

As reports from various urban battlefields come in, the picture of what is happening is becoming clear. Let’s summarize. (1) In a number of American cities protests turn into organized violence once nightfall arrives. The violence does not appear to come from protesters, but appears to come from organized groups intent on stoking and escalating violence.  (2) Federal law enforcement officers have been ordered to some areas by the Trump Administration with orders to protect federal property. It appears that at least some federal law enforcement officers  have engaged in conduct that is clearly illicit. That conduct includes but is not limited to detaining citizens, handcuffing them and then releasing them without any justification or charges. Further, the evidence strongly suggests that some of these detentions were conducted by federal officers without proper identification using unmarked vehicles. Moreover some of these detentions have taken place well beyond perimeters established for protecting federal property. (3) Local authorities have been unable or unwilling to contain the violence. 

For some perspective, it is worth taking a look at what is going on in some (but not all) cities. The You Tube video (below) taken in Portland is an example of the violence; but it is not necessarily generalizable to other cities. On the other hand it is worth noting that the national media has been reluctant to characterize this type of violent behavior as violent as … violent.

Protest in Portland Oregon

Further complicating matters is the legal situation.  The extent of federal authority to intervene  to establish order absent a request from local authorities is unclear. Certainly the federal government may use federal law enforcement to protect federal property. But that authority is  narrow. It seems reasonably clear that federal law enforcement lacks the authority to free-lance and expand its mission beyond the narrow one of protecting specific federal properties. It certainly does not empower law enforcement to go searching for alleged miscreants outside of narrow perimeters established to protect lives and federal property. 

It is also clear that local law enforcement is not enforcing state and local laws. And the reason for it is that they have been instructed not to do so by locally elected officials. In the U.S. system it is elected officials, not police who are charged with determining the extent to which the laws will be enforced. Moreover the police have no legal obligation to protect lives or property, which is to say they are not vulnerable to a civil lawsuit for a willful refusal to protect lives or property. This is further complicated by the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity” which makes it virtually impossible for police officers to be sued individually for their behavior, no matter how outrageous. 

Let’s also note that it is highly probable that the Trump Administration has escalated the situation simply for political advantage in the upcoming election. It is also the case that  Democratic office holders are fairly silent about the violence because (1) they see no need to comment while Trump is busy committing political suicide and (2) they see no profit in antagonizing the party’s left wing, which they need to prevail in November. 

So what is to be done?

The simple answer is that the remedy lies at the ballot box. Local officials are for the most part responsible for managing police and setting policy. They have the legal authority to determine the extent to which public resources will be deployed to enforce state and local laws. The line of both authority and accountability runs straight from the citizenry to the ballot box to elected officials. The same logic applies to federal elections. 

Citizens, who are sovereign, have a democratic choice to make. They can elect federal, state and local officials who promise to enforce the laws on the books to protect lives and property when they are threatened. Or they can elect officials who think it is more important to deploy public resources in other ways they deem to be more important. Citizens can also choose to elect local public officials who will take responsibility for the management of public agencies like police departments and education bureaucracies, or they can continue to vote for officials beholden to public sector unions. Citizens who don’t like the results can leave. 

Those are the harsh realities; but they are realities. To govern is to choose. Unless citizens hold elected officials accountable for conditions on the ground over which they have control, results will not change. We will simply have more of the same until the next explosion. That seems to be where we are headed. 

JFB

A Failure of Governance

“The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.”

Mao Zedong

“It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.”

Edmund Burke

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Two months after the killing of George Floyd in police custody, cities in America are still besieged by unrest, often violent, that civil authorities are either unwilling or unable to contain. 

From the Washington Post.

“[The Seattle Police declared a riot…] after protesters set fire to a construction site for a juvenile detention facility and as the police department reported that one person had breached the fencing surrounding the East Precinct, the site of nightly clashes in June that led to a nearly month-long protest occupation, and officers saw smoke in the lobby.” July 26, 2020.

From the New York Times.

“Carrying signs such as “Feds Go Home” and shouting chants of “No justice, no peace,” some among the crowd of about 5,000 protesters stopped at the site of a future youth detention center and lit buildings there on fire. Some smashed windows of nearby businesses, ignited a fire in a coffee shop and blew an eight-inch hole through the wall of the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct building, the police said.” July 26,2020.

Since May 25, 2020 when George Floyd was killed in police custody, America has been roiled by protests. And rightly so. But in short order citizen protests against police misconduct were hijacked by violent revolutionaries with an entirely different agenda. 

The use of violence, torching buildings and tossing fireworks at police officers is not protest. It is thuggery. The radicals among the protesters are obviously trying to get law enforcement officers to over react. “Worse is better” is the battle cry of all revolutionaries. And so local police departments, for the most part, have backed off. Partly as a result there has been a spike in violent crime in America’s large cities. 

As arrest rates have fallen violence has risen, sometimes dramatically. In Atlanta 93 people were shot from May 31 to June 27 of this year. That compares with 46 in the same period 1 year ago. In Minneapolis activations of ShotSpotter and 911 gunshot calls have more than doubled from a year ago. While overall crime is down in Chicago and New York from the year ago period, there has been a rise in gun violence. 

Much of the June spike in New York’s gun violence occurred in 10 precincts. According to NYPD Chief of Crime Control Strategies Michael Li Petri, “Those communities are being overrun by the small percentage of gang members who have no regard for their own life and absolutely zero regard for the community.” See stories here and here in National Review.

We should be clear what is going on here. Radicals have hijacked the movement to reform policing and have shifting it toward “defunding the police” and a whole host of left wing causes. In response, police departments have retreated and effectively abandoned some neighborhoods. The result has been a spike in violent crime. And that spike is not taking place on Park Avenue. 

In the meantime, the largely Democratic political machines that have mismanaged city governments for decades have cynically joined the cry against “institutional racism” as if they were not the people in charge of those institutions to begin with. Moreover they have pointedly refused to make a distinction between  peaceful protestors exercising their constitutional rights and the radicals who have fomented violence.  But plenty of them, like Mayor Bill DeBlasio, are plenty eager to shut down religious services. 

Come to think of it, using the coercive force of government to attack political enemies, while refusing to protect the constitutional rights of citizens is exactly how the Jim Crow South worked, with the KKK as its enforcer.  

Kind of makes you wonder. 

JFB

Defunding the Police

People misunderstand what “activists” mean by “defund the police”. It doesn’t mean the abolition of policing. It does mean moving the jurisdiction of policing to another larger political entity—for instance moving the jurisdiction (and management responsibility) from the city to the county. It also means that the taxing locus will be the county. But the city will not reduce its spending by the amount its police budget has been reduced. It will use that money for more “social services” which is to say income transfers and vote buying. 

So the Minneapolis city council, which for eons has been one of the most liberal cities in the country, has now voted to disband its police department by a veto-proof majority. 

They have, in effect, conceded that they are incapable of managing their own police department. The same is largely true of its public school system; they just haven’t gotten around to admitting it yet. 

This raises several rather obvious questions that Progressive cheerleaders in the press have thus far been reluctant to ask. 

  1. Is Minneapolis somehow significantly different from other big U.S. cities, and if so, how?
  2. Does the Minneapolis experience represent a failure of governance and government? If not, why not?
  3. How can it be that in Minneapolis (and everywhere else) the same one-party political machines that have consistently produced the same failures in policing and schools have been continuously re-elected for 50 years or so?
  4. How can it be that Progressives, who claim to represent the interests of minorities and the poor, and who have presided over this disaster, have any credibility left at all? 

JFB

While America Burns

Perhaps it was inevitable; it’s starting to look like 1968 again. According to press reports, at least 15 of America’s large cities have recently experienced what we decorously refer to as “civil unrest”. Needless to say, politicians—the people who are supposed to be passing laws and administering them—are confronting the situation by engaging in Twitter wars. 

The proximate cause of the unrest (we’ll return to definitions later) was the death of a 46 year old African-American male named George Floyd, while in police custody. The encounter between Mr. Floyd and police officers was captured on camera. In the video it seems reasonably clear that, at the every least, the police officers at the scene used excessive force that resulted in his death. 

The officers at the scene were quickly fired by Minneapolis Mayor Jeffrey Frey; Officer Derek Chauvin was charged with third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. The difference between the two charges is that third degree murder requires that the prosecution prove that the  officer’s behavior caused the death and that he acted with depraved indifference. On the other hand, the lesser manslaughter charge involves “culpable negligence creating an unreasonable risk of serious bodily harm”. The difference in the two charges is the potential sentence. The more serious murder charge carries a maximum sentence of 25 years; the homicide charge 10 years. It will be up to a jury to determine which (if either) charge fits the facts of the case. (More detail on the legal aspects of the case can be found in an article by Andrew McCarthy here). 

Let’s return to definitions, because the slippery among us will use deliberately sloppy language as they attempt to frame the “narrative” via Twitter, the press and other types of media.

There are thousands of people across America who have taken to the streets to protest the way George Floyd, a fellow human being, was treated. Good for them. They have exercised their first amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition their government for a redress of grievances. Another group, in all probability a small minority, has taken to the streets to commit violence. They are not protesters. They are simply thugs and should not be lumped in with protesters. 

It is clear that this case encapsulates long-held grievances within the African-American community. In a narrow sense the grievances center around how they are treated and how they perceive they are treated by police. More broadly it touches on how African-Americans believe they are treated generally. Moreover there is a wide and persistent gap between how whites and blacks perceive how fairly black people are treated by police, courts and other institutions relative to white people. See some typical survey data by Pew Research and Gallup here and here

With compelling evidence at hand, both with respect to polling data and behavior on the ground, it is hard to avoid coming to a rather straightforward conclusion. We are facing a massive failure of governance and government. Why government failure? Let us not forget that the purpose of government as conceived at the American Founding is to secure unalienable natural rights. Differential treatment of citizens as a result of race is a pretty strange way to do it. So is turning over control of the streets to mob violence.

Is there actually differential treatment or is it “merely” a question of perception? Well, it is hard to imagine an upper middle class white man from Scarsdale being treated the same way. Admittedly the evidence of this case is anecdotal; but mysteriously enough the vast majority of anecdotes of this sort seem to involve African-Americans being victimized. On the other hand it also seems safe to say that the vast majority of Americans were appalled at the behavior of the Minneapolis police.

Let’s go beyond the police and take city school systems for a moment.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 85% of blacks in elementary and secondary public schools were in either large or midsized cities. And, according to a 2017 report published by search firm Advocate Staffing, in the 50 largest cities in America only about 53% of the students graduate from high school. Another study published in 2020 by the NCES reported that the national cohort adjusted graduation rate for black students was 79%, which suggests that the graduation rate falls off sharply in city schools. 

The graduation rate is only the tip of the iceberg. There has been a persistent black-white school achievement gap. While this is certainly not monocausal, it is hard to argue that the scores are not related to the quality of the schools these students attend. 

What do big city public schools and police departments have in common? First, they are two of the biggest responsibilities of city governments. Second, they (police and teachers) are highly organized and powerful political interest groups. Third, those interest groups exert a tremendous amount of pressure on city hall. They do so by turning out the votes in return for privileged treatment of their members. That is why machine politicians fight charter schools and vouchers. It is one reason why police officers are shown deference in investigations that civilians don’t enjoy.

In one sense it almost doesn’t matter if the perception of unfairness by a large group of citizens is accurate or not. The mere fact of its existence represents a failure of governance. And at the end of the day, it is hard to conclude that African-Americans are getting a fair shake when it comes to schools and other social services. 

The obvious question is: Where does responsibility for this lie?

The answer is equally obvious, although it isn’t one the majority of people wish to hear. It is the failure of a progressive, collectivist ideology that privileges groups and ignores individuals. Consider: of the 50 largest cities in the United States, 35 or 70% are run by political machines with liberal or progressive Mayors. And for the most part it has been that way for the better part of 50 years, and in some places, longer. 

The last time Chicago elected a Republican as Mayor it was William H. Thompson. That was in 1927. Milwaukee last elected a non-Democrat as Mayor in 1948. He was a socialist.  Washington DC has had a Democratic Mayor since 1956. New York City’s last nominally Republican Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, ran for the Democratic nomination for President. The one before him, Rudy Giuliani, in 1994 supported incumbent Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo for reelection over Republican George Pataki. And the one before him (John Lindsay) also ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 1972. 

When it comes right down to it, a few facts stand out that are indisputable. First, America’s large cities have been run by Democratic political machines for at least 50 years. The Mayors perched on top of those machines have been (for their time) liberals or progressives.  Second, they have failed to provide decent schools for at least a large minority, if not a majority of their citizens. Third, at least a large minority of the citizenry is distrustful that the police will protect their rights, and many believe that they are especially vulnerable to abuse by police. About that they may very well be correct. 

Liberal Administrations run by Democrats have presided over virtually all of this for at least a half century. But they always blame the results on somebody or something else.

This is the very definition of failure. Progressive governments–and that is what big city governments mostly are–have failed to provide essential services to large proportions of their populations. They have also failed to protect citizens’ lives and property. And so while the cities burn, the failed ideology that produced the fires continues to make the same tired arguments undaunted by the destruction it has unleashed.

JFB