Few things in politics are predictable, but one thing is certain: Any police shooting of a fleeing black man, even if he is carrying a gun, will likely trigger a demonstration, if not a riot.
Our reactions to events are dependent on their social definition. The movement known as Black Lives Matter defines the world as a place where American police systematically hunt down black men. Each police shooting of a black man, even before the facts are known and irrespective of the circumstances, is confirmation of this point of view.
To say there have been no unjustified police shootings would be as irresponsible as it is false; but the idea that every police shooting of a black man is part of a systematic campaign of genocide is equally false.
The latest shooting, which took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, erupted into a frenzy of flames and violence, with calls for dragging white people from their cars and killing them.
The event itself, like other BLM demonstrations, is less important than its social definition of the situation, a definition compounded by President Barack Obama’s mindless embrace of Black Lives Matter.
Amid the calls for murdering white people at random, Alderman Khalif Rainey made plenty of excuses for the violence, arson, and calls for murdering whites, stopping just short of directly condoning the violence.
The alderman said Milwaukee is “the absolute worst place in America for African-Americans to live in the entire country.”
Echoing the mantras and ideology of the 1960s, Rainey spoke of black people living under oppression and connected Milwaukee’s racial problems to the violence, which he described as a “warning cry,” alluding to the 1960s refrain, “fire next time.”
Since the urban riots of the 1960s and 1970s, spokespersons in the black community have seized on the riots as the fault of the larger society and not those who ran into the streets burning gas stations, looting stores, and shooting at the police and even the firefighters who were trying to save black communities from being burned to the ground.
Of course, these rationales are nonsense; hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on riot studies and social programs, and when the inevitable next riot occurs there is an equally predictable demand for more investigations and more money to be thrown at problems liberals created in the first place.
Different people riot for different reasons at different times. The idea of riots as a form of social protest is largely, albeit not exclusively, a liberal myth based on biased data interpretation and predictions that proved wrong.
The famous—one should say infamous—Kerner Commission Report, for example, not only appeared to exonerate the rioters but it also predicted a blighted future for race relations, a prediction belied by real events and dramatic changes in racial attitudes.
Rioters get caught up in riots the same way college students of another era got caught up in panty raids or the way British soccer rioters have created a social movement out of having an “aggro” and busting someone’s head.
Most rioters are young males who are having an adventure: burning cars, looting stores, and now shooting guns.
In the Rodney King riots, the thugs who pulled white truck driver Reginald Denny from his truck and beat him nearly to death were hardly revolutionary heroes. They were just beating up a truck driver because he happened to be white and happened to be in a riot zone.
The motivations and interests of those who lead riots and those who follow them are different. Leaders use the incitement for political motivation while the masses who follow them have a different agenda.
As much as they try, liberals reinterpreting urban riots will not transform them into the Kronstadt rebellion. Even so, the most common crimes during the Russian Revolution were rape, drunkenness and pillaging. These had as much to do with the creation of the socialist workers’ paradise as burning a gas station and shooting at firefighters have to do with social justice.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center (@salomoncenter), a news and public policy nonprofit.