It’s time, again, to cite the work of political scientist Edward Banfield, whose seminal book about urban life, The Unheavenly City, includes a chapter, both relevant and prescient, entitled, “Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit.” In the wake of the 1960s’ riots—43 people died in the deadliest, in Detroit in 1967—Banfield asserted that it is “naïve to think that efforts to end racial injustice and to eliminate poverty, slums, and unemployment will have an appreciable effect upon the amount of rioting that will be done in the next decade or so.” This before the full rollout of the Great Society—and, long afterward, the riots in Los Angeles, Baltimore, and now Minneapolis, where a $30 million affordable-housing project was just destroyed. Banfield’s lesson was plain: Young men, not stopped swiftly and sternly by police, will be emboldened to loot and set buildings afire, simple for the anarchic thrill of doing so. The failure to distinguish between protest with purpose and lawlessness would fan the flames.
Banfield would likely judge Mayor Frey harshly, not least for withdrawing police from the city’s Third Precinct and permitting rioting to go on in order to avoid confrontation. Yes, investigate the incident; yes, take stock of the Minneapolis police department. But don’t dignify violence by calling it a protest, and don’t abdicate your responsibility as a public official to uphold the rule of law and civil order.