Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit

I wonder whether there would have been the exact same rioting and unrest in Ferguson last night if the grand jury had returned an indictment for manslaughter, or even murder, against officer Wilson. In such a case, the ready-riot brigade would have taken it as vindication of their grievances, rather than the fresh grievance that the non-indictment supposedly supplies.

Edward C. Banfield

Edward C. Banfield

This heterodox thought is prompted by Edward C. Banfield’s famous chapter in his classic 1969 book The Unheavenly City entitled “Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit.” Here Banfield reminds us that urban rioting has persisted as long as humans have congregated in cities, and does not depend on race. Banfield details the four main types of rioting: the rampage (such as happens sometimes after Super Bowl wins, etc); the foray for pillage, especially when law and order break down (think the New York city blackout of 1977); the outburst of righteous indignation; and the demonstration.

This latter category best describes Ferguson:

Here the motive is to advance a political principle or ideology or to contribute to the maintenance of an organization. The riot is not a spontaneous, angry response to an incident. Rather, it is the result of prearrangement by persons who are organized, have leaders, and who see it as a means to some end. The word “demonstration” is descriptive, for the event it a kind of show staged to influence opinion.

There is a dreary repetitiveness to the whole scene. At the beginning of the chapter Banfield captures the typical mood, which we can expect to see repeated in an endless loop on CNN for the rest of this week:

On this view it follows that the way to end rioting—the only way to end it—is to stop mistreating the Negro and, so far as possible, to repair the damage already done him. [Here Banfield quotes a recent sociological study:] “Doing such things as punishing police misconduct, providing decent housing and schooling, ending job discrimination and so forth are essential, but the problem goes deeper than that. The ghetto itself, with all the shameful economic, social, political, and psychological deprivation it causes, must be done away with once and for all. The riots have ‘let America know’ that this is what must be done. Now America must do it.”

The fire this time

Watching the Ferguson mob rioting for fun and looting for the traditional reasons live on television last night, I didn’t see much “anger” in evidence. The arson and destruction looked premeditated and deliberate, an orgy of opportunity.

Was it an accident that the orgy commenced as President Obama urged calm? (The White House has posted the text of his remarks and a video of his statement here.) It was either a remarkable coincidence or yet another example of the Obama touch. The man is King Midas in reverse.

Obama was the last man we needed to hear from last night. He could have served a useful purpose if he had asked Al Sharpton to pack it in and stay away from Ferguson, but the racial hustle is the family business.

If anger was not obviously in evidence among the mob in Ferguson, the same could not be said about the mob in Washington. As he read his statement, Obama was seething. He took the failure of reality to conform to the prescribed racial script personally.

As well he might have. Obama had already invoked events in Ferguson in his speech at the United Nations this past September. Mentioning ISIS and its famously non-Islamic “violent extremism,” Obama juxtaposed it with America’s “failure” and “our own racial and ethnic tensions” in “the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri.”

“Failure” is right. “[T]here are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion,” Obama intoned last night. Was the “feeling” warranted in this case?

Obama wasn’t saying. Of course, he’s made a fruitful living on the feeling and the Democratic Party has staked its future on it.

We hear incessantly of racial disparities in law enforcement, school discipline, and everything else down the line. We never hear of the underlying behavioral disparities that are reflected in the numerical racial disparities.

“I’ve instructed Attorney General Holder to work with cities across the country to help build better relations between communities and law enforcement,” Obama said last night. Again, Obama could have served a useful purpose ordering Holder to stay put until his time in office is up. His “work” with cities is all about suppressing “racial disparities” by ignoring behavioral disparities, including the behavioral disparities that the rioters in Ferguson have put on display for all to see.

Speaking of disparities, I return to the disparity between Obama’s words urging calm and his seething anger over the outcome of the state’s grand jury proceedings. It’s not over yet and Obama is not conceding an inch to the reality that has failed to conform to the prescribed script.

In Ferguson, No Indictment [Updated Re Obama's Comments]

The Ferguson, Missouri saga finally winds toward a conclusion with tonight’s announcement that the grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson. The decision seems pretty clearly correct; in any event, the grand jurors are literally the only people who have heard and seen the evidence, including the testimony of Officer Wilson. Michael Brown, high on marijuana and having just robbed a convenience store and bullied the clerk, made the appalling mistake of attacking a police officer. What ensued was a tragedy, but a highly foreseeable one.

Two things about the Ferguson story seem remarkable. The first is that the Brown case became an international cause celebre. Why was it different from similar tragic encounters that happen on nearly a daily basis in a nation of 315 million people? In part, at least, the answer is that the Brown case was selected for publicity by activists, and the news media gladly took up the cudgels. In the end, the news coverage was crazed. I don’t recall any prior case where the world was waiting for a grand jury to return, or not return, an indictment. Drudge was a symptom, not the cause, of the over the top coverage:

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 7.53.35 PM

The second remarkable fact, it seems to me, is that the grand jurors resisted political pressure to do what they believed was the right thing. It would have been easy to satisfy the crowd–both the media mob and the literal mob that has assembled repeatedly in Ferguson–by making Wilson a sacrificial lamb. The physical evidence showed that Brown attacked Wilson and that Wilson was moving toward Brown when he was fatally shot. Tonight’s decision was, I think, a victory for justice and for due process. There is more that can be said, but that is enough for now.

UPDATE: President Obama weighs in–another remarkable event. His comments seem to assume that the grand jury’s decision was wrong. He urges those who are disappointed not to protest violently, and–even-handedly!–tells police officers not to respond violently to protests. He goes on to say that Ferguson illustrates nationwide problems of relations between police and communities, and so on. It all has to do with the need for more progress in race relations.

Also “criminal justice reform.” But what reform, exactly, is that? Is there something wrong with Missouri’s law of self-defense? With its grand jury procedures? If so, what? As usual, Obama just spews BS that has little significance, apart from the political.

Completely absent is any acknowledgement that, regardless of race, attacking a police officer for no reason is a horribly stupid act that rarely will end well.

No indictment in the Michael Brown shooting

A Missouri grand jury has declined to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. The decision will, no doubt, be greeted by much outrage and perhaps some violence.

At this time, I doubt that anyone outside of the grand jury process knows enough about the evidence to say whether Wilson should have been indicted. Unfortunately, this won’t stand in the way of a blizzard of commentary on the merits. Nor is it likely even to stand in the way of mass protests, some of which might well involve violence.

All we can safely say now is that the grand jury apparently was not intimidated by the stream of predictions, and threats, of a violent response to a decision not to indict. Assuming that the grand jury’s decision turns out to fall within the zone of reasonableness, this itself seems like a good thing.

John McCain’s cynical attempt to portray Chuck Hagel as a victim

It’s normal, I suppose, for conservatives to be sympathetic towards any public official who runs afoul of President Obama. But it’s abnormal to do a 180 degree turn about the merits of such an official.

John McCain, though, has executed a full 180 with respect to Chuck Hagel. Today, McCain defended the ousted Secretary of Defense. In response to White House leaks that Hagel was performing poorly, stated, “Believe me, he was up for the job.” But during Hagel’s confirmation fight, McCain said of his old friend, “He will be confirmed. . .I don’t believe he is qualified.”

Apparently, Hagel saw the writing on the wall. Last week, according to McCain, he expressed his frustration to the Senator over the administration’s failure to confront the turmoil that is engulfing important chunks of the world.

But Hagel accepted the Secretary of Defense position with the understanding that under Obama the United States would be in “come home” (i.e., retreat) mode. Indeed, Hagel had been advocating retreat for years. As Daniel Foster correctly noted at the time of Hagel’s nomination, the former Nebraska Senator’s foreign-policy and defense views were clearly to the left of the ones Obama articulated during his first term (though not to the left of Obama’s real views).

It is odd, then, that Hagel would be frustrated by Obama’s lack of assertiveness. By re-entering the Iraq fray — however tepidly — Obama has actually been more assertive than Hagel had any right to expect from his boss.

Perhaps Hagel has seen the light and now understands that, his years of obnoxious wrong-headed rhetoric notwithstanding, the world is a dangerous place from which American should not retreat. If he has, his failure to recognize reality until recently still should disqualify him from further service as Secretary of Defense.

Nor should Hagel be given credit for his statement that ISIS is an “imminent threat to every interest we have” and is “beyond anything we’ve seen.” Hagel said so in late August of this year. I’ve seen no indication that Hagel appreciated the threat posed by ISIS when it first became obvious, i.e., no later than early 2014.

Hagel’s August remark about the great threat posed by ISIS has been juxtaposed with Obama’s comparison of ISIS to “the jayvee team.” But this comparison appeared in a Januray 2014 issue of the New Yorker. Obama’s comment was moronic, but there is no reason to think that Hagel viewed it as such at the time.

John McCain’s attempt to portray Chuck Hagel as a victim won’t wash. Hagel was lucky to have been elevated to Secretary of Defense. The rest of us are lucky that he soon will be leaving that job.

Civil Rights Commissioner Objects to Institutionalized Racism in Minneapolis Public Schools

We wrote here about the Minneapolis public schools imposing a quota system for suspending students. I wrote:

Why does [School Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson] suppose that students, white, black, Asian, Hispanic or whatever, are being suspended? Presumably it is because they were disruptive and were degrading the learning environment for the other students. Does Ms. Johnson seriously believe that teachers and principals are suspending students for no reason? If so, then those teachers and principals should be identified and fired. But of course Ms. Johnson believes no such thing.

Today Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow wrote an excellent letter to Ms. Johnson, questioning both the wisdom and the legality of a racial quota system in the public schools. You can read it in its entirety below. Here are a few key paragraphs:

The Seventh Circuit has addressed the problem of racial quotas in school discipline. In People Who Care v. Rockford Bd. of Educ., Judge Posner wrote, “Racial disciplinary quotas violate equity in its root sense. They entail either systematically overpunishing the innocent or systematically underpunishing the guilty. They place race at war with justice. They teach schoolchildren an unedifying lesson of racial entitlements.” The Seventh Circuit’s criticisms apply as well to Minneapolis’s new quotas for racial discipline. It too exposes students who belong to non-preferred races to a stricter discipline policy than students who belong to preferred races. It teaches them that justice is not colorblind and that we do not stand or fall on our individual merit. In the event of litigation, I expect that the Eighth Circuit will find its sister circuit’s reasoning persuasive.

This profound inequity is the potential constitutional problem with this discipline policy. Achieving a state of affairs where there is no racial disparity in discipline by 2018 means that there will have to be differential treatment of misbehaving students based on their race. There is, to our knowledge, no substantive allegation that black or brown students are being treated more harshly in Minneapolis schools on the basis of their race. If there were such an allegation, this new policy would refer to concrete examples of racially disparate treatment rather than racial disparities in discipline. Racial disparities in school discipline have been common knowledge for years. If it were possible for such disparities to be solved through racially neutral policies, it would have happened by now. The idea that MPS will be able to eliminate the racial disparity in discipline by 2018 without either treating black and brown students more leniently or white students more harshly is unrealistic and absurd.

This is the dark side of disparate impact. In trying to avoid disparate impacts caused by racially neutral policies, entities begin to deliberately discriminate by treating people differently based on race.

Which obviously is what the Minneapolis public schools have in mind. Is that illegal? Sure, but when has the law ever stopped a liberal? Here is Commissioner Kirsanow’s letter:

Minneapolis School Discipline Letter

Is Immigration Lawlessness a Precedent? Obama Is Stumped!

George Stephanopolous asks Barack Obama the question that we posed here: if Obama doesn’t have to enforce the immigration laws, then why can’t a future Republican president decide not to enforce any laws of which he disapproves, like, say, the tax on capital gains?

Amazingly, Obama has no answer. He stumbles and fumbles like a kid who is called on in class and hasn’t done his homework:

Or, to give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe Obama knows the real answer and doesn’t want to say it: Republican presidents obey the Constitution. Unlike him.