NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE
August 16, 2014 4:00 AM
Much to liberals’ chagrin, race riots are not noble “happenings.”
By Jonah Goldberg
I have to confess I am very late to the Ferguson story. I tend not to follow these kinds of events too closely when they break, because they always seem to go the same way. What am I supposed to say? If the cop did something wrong, he should be punished for it. If he didn’t, he shouldn’t be.
But even if he did something wrong, rioting is almost never justified. It can be more or less understandable depending on the circumstances, even forgivable I suppose. But never justifiable, never mind permissible. Why should the crime — real or alleged — committed by person X make it okay for person Y to do harm to person(s) Z? No one has ever been able to explain that to me.
And I grew up in New York City in the 1970s, when race riots were a thing — though not as much of a thing as they were in the 1960s. And that’s part of the problem. In the 1960s, you could see the point of race riots (though less so in the North where they were quite common). But by the 1970s, liberals had incorporated race riots into their mythology as noble “happenings” even though the romance of rebellion had lost its plausibility. And by the 1980s, tragedy had been fully swamped by farce. It is an axiomatic truth going back to Socrates: Nothing can be wholly noble if Al Sharpton is involved. Nonetheless, it was amazing to watch New York liberals act like battered spouses as they tried to explain why blacks are right to loot while at the same time they shouldn’t do it.
I haven’t followed the details well enough to have an informed opinion on what actually happened. But, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the easy part. I’m wholly with my NR colleagues on this. There should be an honest investigation. If the officer unlawfully shot an unarmed man, he should face the consequences. If he didn’t, there should be no (criminal) consequences. How this is a complicated issue intellectually is a mystery to me. How this has become a complicated political problem, sadly, is not.
This Is Different
All of that said, I think the Ferguson story has become more interesting and significant than the usual spectacle of this kind. The timing coincides with the ripening of an argument on the right against the militarization of U.S. police forces (led by Radley Balko as far as I can tell). It’s funny how unaware so many liberals are that this conversation was even taking place on the right. Liberals have been mocking libertarians for years as paranoid lunatics. Oh you want to live without government? Move to Somalia! Oh wait, when did the cops get tanks? (Some wag on Twitter made this point but I can’t find it now.)
It looks like the Missouri Governor made the right call bringing in the state police and Captain Ron Johnson, an African American from Ferguson. I’m sure the guy is qualified and he seemed pretty impressive from what I’ve seen and his decision to demilitarize things as quickly as possible was inspired. But part of his success stems from the fact he’s black. And that’s okay.
I think this should be an educational data point for those who think any nods towards racial diversity are ideologically suspect. I am as against racial quotas as anyone, but the idea that police forces shouldn’t take into account the racial or ethnic make-up of their communities when it comes to hiring has always struck me as bizarre. A Chinese-American cop will probably have an easier time in Chinatown than a Norwegian-American cop. A bilingual Hispanic cop will have similar advantages in a mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhood. When my dad was a kid in the Bronx, it was not uncommon for a cop to give a teenager a well-intentioned smack as a warning and leave it at that. But forget the smack. Today, in many neighborhoods, if a white cop even talks harshly to a black kid, it might immediately be seen as a racial thing. If a black cop said the exact same things, it might be received differently.
One last thought. While some uncharitable folks might find a way to blame Obama somehow for the chaos in Missouri, I don’t think that would be fair. This sounds like a local issue. But it has become nationalized by the media, and that’s not good for Obama. Chaos at the border, tear gas in the streets, crucifixions in the Middle East, ebola scandals, a “booming” economy where no one feels the boom: These all contribute mightily to the sense the planet is going ass over tea kettle and are not the sorts of things that incline people to be happy with the status quo.