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

The Moderate Mr. Biden

Former Vice-President Joe Biden accused federal law enforcement officials of “brutally attacking peaceful protesters” in Portland Oregon. The officers, he said, were operating “without a clearly defined mandate or authority”. He went on to say, without a hint of irony, that the White House was “trying to stoke the fires of division in this country”. This while the “protesters” were setting actual fires, specifically to a federal courthouse. 

It should also be noted that the police found a body of a man who had been burned to death in one of the buildings the “peaceful protesters” set on fire in Minneapolis. 

In case there is any doubt about what is going on here, take look at the video below. It is anything but peaceful. The video was published by Bloomberg, hardly a right wing extremist organization. It is titled “Portland Protesters Set Building on Fire.” That description seems to be reasonably self explanatory. Presumably, Joe Biden has the mental capacity to understand what it means.

We keep hearing that Biden is a moderate who is going to stand up to the radicals who increasingly dominate his party. Attacking federal law enforcement officers who are defending federal property from arsonists is a funny way to demonstrate it. 

Portland Protesters Set Building on Fire

JFB

The Week Trump Lost the Election

When the history books of the 2020 election are written they will most likely say that this was the week that Donald J Trump lost his bid for re-election. Not because of the economy; not because of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police; not because of mass protests and later rioting. 

Donald Trump lost because his deceitful and cowardly nature was laid bare for all to see including those who would prefer not to see. It was laid bare when he was whisked to a bunker in the White House when the crowds outside got unruly. It was there and then that his phony macho rhetoric crashed into the reality of his cowardice. 

Had he been a real leader he would have gone outside to address the crowd, while showing some humility and decency.  But that is not part of his make-up. Instead he ran and hid in his bunker displaying his true nature—that of a coward and a weakling. 

The American people can tolerate a lot in a President. Over the years there have been plenty of opportunities to forgive and forget. But the American public has little tolerance for an amoral sniveling coward in the White House; a narcissist whose primary concern is his own well being rather than that of the nation. Which is why even Mr. Trump’s backers are starting to waiver. Come November, the American public will likely show Mr. Trump the door. 

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