As supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement continue to destroy statues and other property around the country and world, it is a good time to point out a very common, but wrong way of reacting to this destruction.
Many people, even those on the right-hand side of the political spectrum, briefly acknowledge that destruction of property is bad, but then proceed to claim that those who criticize the property destruction are more problematic than those carrying it out, or that no one has a right to criticize the destruction unless he or she is helping to fix the problems that the protesters are protesting about. If the demands of peaceful protesters are not met, goes the argument, then they have no choice but to engage in rioting and destruction to get their point across. Therefore, if you don’t want violent riots to happen, you need to support the Black Lives Matter movement by praising its peaceful protests and advocating for reform of the police, the criminal justice system, the educational system, and the economy. If you don’t take these steps, the argument goes, then you have no right to complain when riots and destruction happen. In the words of one of my acquaintances on Facebook: “Condemn riots. But do so honestly – and prevent them – by doing justice and listening up.”
This way of thinking presumes that the protesters’ cause is correct and that their demands are legitimate. It has become unacceptable to say so in today’s social and political environment, but I disagree with this premise. Yes, racism is bad, and so is police brutality. Yes, what happened to George Floyd was unjust. But I disagree with the claim that systemic racism exists, as well as with the assumption that police brutality has anything to do with race. In my opinion, there are numerous injustices more worthy of protesting against than those that motivate the Black Lives Matter movement – the Durham-Humphrey Amendment, infringements on Second Amendment rights, authoritarian measures designed to slow the spread of Covid-19, and the assault on Confederate iconography, to name just a few. Can you imagine what the reaction of the general public or the media would be if supporters of any of these causes resorted to violence because laws were not changed in response to our protests?
It is false to presume that our society is obligated to meet the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement. I don’t agree with the message of these protests, and I’m not obligated to either agree with it or accept that violent riots are going to happen.
Many people quote Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “A riot is the language of the unheard… And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
With all respect to Dr. King, the cause of riots is people who decide to riot. To suggest that the cause is the issues that the rioters are protesting against is to deny that people are responsible for their own actions. Why should people who have nothing to do with these riots bear the burden of preventing them, while those who are actually rioting are let off the hook? I’m not obligated to help prevent people from destroying property by addressing the issues that they are angry about. People are obligated not to destroy property, period. You know what is an absolute guarantor of riot prevention? Not rioting!