In the face of riots, practice empathy

What does one gain by understanding? Love, of course, and a broader, more generous view of the world, one that allows the most enthusiastic protesters to accept that there are scoundrels and opportunists in their midst, that there are decent mayors and governors with humane intentions and even, I daresay, a few good cops. In my own teenaged years there were numerous occasions upon which I experienced the despair that I suspect only the very young can feel when confronted with the knowledge that man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble. Had I been in certain places at certain times, I could easily have smashed cars and windows and buildings. I could perhaps have done far worse. But I also understand — even if I find myself lucky enough not to feel it acutely — the impulse to defend oneself, one’s family, and one’s property, and to welcome the assistance of the public authorities in doing so.

Reading an essay like this one, about an uneasy vigil with a pair of Manhattan doormen on the night of the worst rioting the city has experienced so far, I can only nod along in sympathy with the author’s willingness to do anything within his power to keep his loved ones safe. I can, in other words, see in any number of opposed images — the angry protester and the no-nonsense cop, the desperate looter and the armed store owner, the armchair radical and his practical conservative interlocutor — and the broader panorama formed by millions of these little vignettes scattered across a nation on the verge of an economic depression a perfect tragedy, in which both sides are fully human and not entirely lacking in justification for their actions, even if righteousness is not evenly apportioned. This, I think, is the vantage point we should all be seeking.