About "whataboutism": When turnabout is never fair play

The briefs filed by the whataboutism prosecutors fail to satisfy any reasonable burden of proof that the many rationalizations of the BLM riots have no place whatsoever in any discussion of the MAGA riot. To a considerable degree, they simply reiterate the regrettable-but-understandable framing from last summer: the BLM riots were not justified, but neither were they really unjustified. “Violence against businesses and police stations is wrong,” writes Graham, but “Black Lives Matter demonstrators were protesting about a real problem.” Perry does the same thing: “Property destruction and violence should never be tolerated no matter who’s involved. But what we break and why we break it is important.”

Both contrast BLM’s genuine and urgent grievances with the spurious ones about vote fraud that fueled the MAGA riot. Even if one stipulates the point, however, the problem with saying “but these are not reasonable times,” as Hannah-Jones does, remains. Because there is no injustice-validation tribunal to predetermine whose complaints merit suspending the ordinary strictures against rioting, the question is crowdsourced. People will decide for themselves about taking it to the streets. And once they do, there is no guarantee that MAGA will be unique in abusing this prerogative. Looters tore apart Chicago’s North Michigan Avenue shopping district in August, resulting in 13 police officers being injured and the arrest of more than 100 people, because of rumors spread on social media that police had shot an unarmed 15-year-old on the South Side. What actually occurred was that a 20-year-old convicted felon, subsequently charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, was wounded after he fired on police officers.

In any case, debating which rioters are more aggrieved only compounds the underlying problem: contending that any grievance qualifies the otherwise categorical rejection of rioting puts us on a slippery slope to a dangerous place.

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