Monday, August 18, 2014

Two Americas

Not the John Edwards kind, wherein the U.S. is divided into the poor and John Edwards. It’s the divide between liberal and conservative.

One of the more amazing parts of the Ferguson, Missouri story is how, in the first days of coverage, both liberals and conservatives agreed that the behavior of the police was unacceptable. Unarmed man shot in the back, heavy-handed tactics to handle protests, police officers without badges or other identification, harassment of the press, and so on. What was so remarkable was that I often found myself double-checking which Twitter account a particular tweet or retweet came from, because all sides seemed united. (I’ll admit to being puzzled by one comment, that “Second Amendment supporters” should have handled the situation. I wasn’t sure what the author was saying, but he seemed to imply that supporting an individual’s right to own firearms obligated one to travel to Ferguson and blast away, which to me was both wrong-headed and poor advice.)

As more facts came to light, however, old positions reasserted themselves. The Right wants to make a big deal of the (apparent) facts that Brown robbed a store shortly before his fatal confrontation and that he was shot in the front, not the back, as a witness initially claimed. Yes, the first fact cuts against the “he was a good kid who just wanted to go to college” narrative, and the second fact undermined the “gun-happy police just shot someone in the back when the suspect couldn’t have been a threat to the cop” meme, but neither necessarily justifies the shooting, and certainly does nothing to resurrect the reputation of the police department for its subsequent behavior.

But the Left wants the story to be solely about the shooting, ignoring the rioting and looting that have taken place in the aftermath of the shooting. Protest all you want; march with others with your hands in the air to show solidarity with the victim; and demand that the incident be investigated fully by outside officials – all of those things are both within individuals’ rights and perfectly understandable. Heck, if you like, even invite racial huckster Al Sharpton to come and stir things up. It’s a free country. But no amount of bad behavior on the part of the police justifies individuals burning buildings, smashing windows, and stealing things. (I hasten to add that the protesters and looters are not necessarily one and the same, and, indeed, reports suggest that the looters are coming from elsewhere to take advantage of the situation.) The idea that righteous anger justifies taking someone else’s stuff is thoroughly misguided.

I keep reading stories by the self-aggrandizing press that night after night of looting is a result of unnecessarily heavy police tactics. But it’s become increasingly clear that some people are using the cover of protests to enrich themselves. Protesting is fine; stealing is not. This doesn’t seem to be a difficult narrative, and the distinction is not subtle – swiping hair extensions and sneakers is not protected speech – and yet I’m not seeing the tweets and blog posts from the Left that decries the thieves. In fact, if one wants to complain about police tactics, Rich Lowry points out that the police have utterly abdicated their role as protectors of property. This may seem to be unimportant in the larger picture right now, but business owners are less likely to locate in a spot when they have to worry about their investments going up in flames. If one wonders why the poor have fewer, lower-quality choices in shopping yet higher prices, this is one reason.

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