A riot may begin as the language of the unheard. But it quickly enables nihilists and sadists to inflict pain with unusual impunity. The victims might include protesters, bystanders, and journalists struck with a needless baton strike or stream of pepper spray, elderly people who mourn the destruction of the only pharmacy in their neighborhood, and terrified immigrants who lament the burning of their livelihood. As fires are set, as chaos spreads, people on the sidelines grow scared, and outraged. Support rises for tough “law and order” tactics, curfews, and even martial law.
The way to successfully change the system is not to shrug off the harms of rioting, let alone praise it, as some have done on social media—as if what’s burning is “late capitalism” or “a corrupt system” rather than the hopes, dreams, and sense of safety of innocent Americans. And it doesn’t help to set up a false binary that “the story” is either “violent protesters” or “police violence.”
The results of a poll conducted May 29 and May 30 by YouGov and Yahoo News do suggest, though, that police-reform advocates can win huge victories quickly if they choose the right battles.