On 25 May 2020, a black American, George Floyd, died beneath the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer. Cell phone video taken by passersby recorded what seemed to be a revolting crime, the casual application of wanton cruelty to a helpless human being unto death. The natural and proper — the just — reaction to blatant injustice is anger. And rage immediately swept through the cities of the United States, and even crossed over to Europe and Australia. Many compared this near-revolutionary social unrest to the events of May 1968 in France.
Amidst this whirlwind, it has often felt as though history was accelerating. Therefore, it is important to slow things down and distinguish the various elements in what has been unfolding.
In the first two weeks following Floyd’s death, there were angry yet peaceful protests demanding change. First, there was the demand that the police officers who allegedly killed Floyd should be arrested and charged. They were. Then, after some days, a further measure was demanded: “Defund the police!” There was an elegant simplicity to this demand, akin to the simplicity of the slogan, “Black Lives Matter” (BLM). Minneapolis’s City Council voted unanimously to disband their police department — though what that actually means is not yet clear — and New York and Los Angeles have each announced billion-dollar redirections of police funding into various forms of social services.
In addition to protests, there were also riots. The easiest way to distinguish the two was that protests involving speeches and banners demanding political change occurred during the day, while riots involving burning and looting followed after sunset. There was some overlap between the protesters and the rioters, but it is likely that most of the protesters did not join the rioting, and most of the rioters did not bother with the protests. Commercial blocks in dozens of cities were devastated, with property losses well into the billions of dollars. There is an obvious connection between the ferocity of these riots and the months of Covid-19 lockdown that immediately preceded them. Not only were nerves frayed, but with so many businesses shut down for the pandemic, youth unemployment was extremely high. There was no work or school to get to in the morning. It was a witches’ brew.
A third noteworthy dimension was the reaction of otherwise uninvolved white Americans. As John McWhorter has argued, one of the newest sects spawned in America’s religiously fertile soil is the religion of antiracism. Video taken at a BLM rally in Bethesda, Maryland, a wealthy, highly educated, mostly white suburb of Washington, DC, showed hundreds of white people with hands outstretched in prayerful supplication, reciting a veritable Credo of ‘antiracist’ personal commitment. Of course, there was also ‘taking a knee,’ a ritual of self-abasement solemnly undertaken (with cameras rolling) by the Great and the Good. These genuflections were weirdly liturgical.
After the most intense rioting and arson had died down, the committed activists turned to the toppling of monumental statuary in public squares. This began with monuments to Confederate generals, but the targets quickly became less discriminate. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were targeted. In Philadelphia, the statue of a 19th century gentleman who was the largest financial backer of Abolitionism in the city was toppled. Christopher Columbus was toppled. St. Junipero Serra was toppled. Dante Alighieri was toppled. The intent was to overthrow ‘white supremacy,’ but how exactly Dante was involved in this was obscure.
Fully two months after George Floyd’s death, unrest continues in many American cities. On any given night, a police precinct might come under attack in San Diego or a monument be toppled in Chicago or violence erupt in Austin, Texas, or Provo, Utah. In Louisville, Kentucky, several hundred black militants armed with assault rifles demonstrated opposite several hundred mostly white pro-police demonstrators also armed with assault rifles. Commercial-grade fireworks were routinely shot at police defending monuments and courthouses, while lasers to blind them also came into common use.
Here is the great curiosity of these events of the summer of 2020: in every city, the (Democratic) elected leaders actively accommodated the riots, thus leaving business owners and public monuments undefended, and their own police forces neutered. When police did manage to make arrests, in many cases (Democratic) public prosecutors declined to press charges. Both local and national Democratic office holders heatedly objected to the idea that the federal government might intervene. TV news reporters celebrated the “largely peaceful protests” as a triumph for racial justice, while minority-owned businesses often burned behind them. Corporate America pledged tens of millions of dollars to BLM and ran banners on their websites heralding their solidarity with the movement. There was essentially no push-back against the maximalist claims of the rioters by any leading sector of society. In fact, by the active complicity of elite institutions, the summer of 2020 takes on the character of a revolution from above.
The maximalist claims of this movement were encapsulated in the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which appeared last year. It contended that America was founded upon ‘white supremacy,’ and that ‘white supremacy’ remains central to virtually every American institution. This ‘systemic’ racism is so pervasive that only herculean efforts by a vast Administrative State policing every human relationship and every human thought can hope to overcome it. Civil rights is not enough.
For years, academic theorists of intersectionality have decried ‘systemic’ racism in America. But the evidence they adduced usually consisted of microaggressions. This was hardly convincing. Hence, the elation among the Woke at the video of George Floyd’s death. Here, at last, was (it appeared) outright violence against “black bodies,” the proof of what the Left’s narrative had long contended. It was all that was needed to prove that the ‘system’ must be destroyed by any means necessary. Welcome to the summer of 2020.