The virus cries out as an explanation. Because of the virus, our city centers and retail districts sit largely empty, but the vitality of city life is a huge deterrent to theft and vandalism, while emptiness and abandonment are provocative temptations. The lockdowns have massively disrupted the economy, and beyond the acute need and deprivation that have resulted, they have also disrupted the normal sense of give-and-take of economic life that undergirds the social agreement on the right to property in the first place. People have been cooped up, bored, and anxious, with few traditional sources of pleasure or relief — no churches to worship in, no sports to cheer, no basketball courts to play on, no bars or clubs to socialize at — for weeks and months. It would be shocking if we didn’t see an explosion once the match was lit.
I suspect the lockdowns have played a role in the over-the-top police response as well, which in far too many cases has managed to combine brutality with ineffectiveness. There are deeper causes of course — which is precisely what the protests are about — but the lockdowns have badly exacerbated things. They put the police on edge, since they do a job that puts them at significantly elevated risk of infection, but they have also empowered the police to regulate and control the normal life of the citizenry to an extraordinary and largely unprecedented degree. After a period in which the police have been basically instructed to keep everyone in their homes, it’s not terribly surprising that some have forgotten how to handle people exercising their fundamental rights to free assembly and speech.