By Rev. Ben Johnson*
In Minneapolis, members of the clergy and Congress alike spent the weeks before Derek Chauvin’s conviction on all charges pouring gasoline on the fire of rioters’ rage. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., told rioters to become even “more confrontational” unless the jury convicted Chauvin of murder – ideally “first-degree murder,” a crime with which he was not charged. Meanwhile, Pastor Runney Patterson, standing alongside Al Sharpton, told Minneapolis’ Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church last month that if jurors didn’t return a guilty verdict, “Let the whole damn city burn if that’s what it takes … burn, baby, burn.”
Listening to the voices of destruction and division could harm Minneapolis residents – among whose ranks Waters and Sharpton are conspicuously absent – for generations. Riots and threats of lawlessness (a sin according to both the Old and New Testaments) threaten to inflict a panoply of damages on the city, especially among the poor and marginalized. Here are a few of them:
Letting Derek Chauvin skate. In the most proximate instance, threats of mass violence could still let Chauvin escape justice by winning a mistrial. The presiding judge, Peter Cahill, said Waters’ words “may result in this whole trial being overturned.” (President Joe Biden, too, said the jury must return “the right verdict,” recalling Richard Nixon’s faux pas during the Charles Manson trial.)
Undermining justice. Mob violence perverts the thing protesters say they want most: justice. Jurors rightly fear for their safety if their identities are doxxed – a process already begun by CBS and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. They felt intense pressure from above and below to return the popular verdict rather than the proper one, to distort justice at the roar of inflamed masses and craven politicians.
Creating anarchy. The pre-Chauvin trial/Daunte Wright riots threaten justice longer-term, as well: They discourage anyone from joining the police force. Some 200 officers have quit the Minneapolis Police Department or taken extended leave due to last year’s BLM riots. Who wants a modest-paying, potentially deadly job where you are regularly accused of genocidally “hunting” black people? (Anyone familiar with incentives and disincentives would have foreseen this.) Already, a black paramilitary group known as the “Minnesota Freedom Fighters” has taken to policing the streets of Minneapolis (reportedly unarmed, for now) – much as similar groups did last summer in Seattle’s CHOP/CHAZ zone.
… And spreading it nationwide. The violence has already metastasized into war and rumors of wars from coast to coast. Last Tuesday, rioters tried to break into the police station in Columbus, Ohio – a move, history shows, that’s often a prelude to arson. In a moment of déjà vu, police erected barricades in downtown Grand Rapids, home of the Acton Institute, in anticipation of the Chauvin verdict.
Destroying minority businesses. There is as yet no estimate of the damage caused by this year’s rioting and looting. However, last year’s riots damaged more than 1,500 businesses, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Many minority businesses were among their ranks. In the name of “equity,” Minneapolis rioters burned down Bolé Ethiopian Cuisine last May 28, forcing owners Solomon Hailie and Rekik Meratsion to leave the Midway neighborhood. How does it help BIPOC to attempt to burn down the Century Plaza owned by Gloria Wong – whose family fled Communist persecution by walking 14 days from Laos into Thailand – then continue to vandalize her building for months? “I’m very depressed. I can’t sleep at night,” Wong said nearly a year after the last round of riots.
Causing businesses to flee, exacerbating poverty. Riots and looting – especially when followed by a mayor’s stand-down order to the police – convince business owners their private property is at risk. Minneapolis businesses internalized this truth last summer. Today, nearly a quarter (22%) of the city’s “core business district’s 28.4 million square feet of office space is vacant,” the Star-Tribune reports. The city’s most high-profile businesses are still, quietly leaving town. Target has tendered notice that it will not bring 3,500 employees back to City Center from remote working. Religious entities, too, are fleeing. Portico Benefit Services, which administers health benefits and pensions for beneficiaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), will move its 200 employees from downtown Minneapolis to the tony suburb of Edina. And the trend is not over. Steve Cramer, CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, has admitted that it “will not be shocking to me if we hear about a few other companies … deciding to also move to a different location.”
Inflicting damages that last for decades. The economic impact of rioting does not simply harm one generation. By driving out businesses – and any neighbor wealthy enough to move away – riots decrease the property value – the real wealth – of black neighborhoods. In 2007, researchers William J. Collins and Robert A. Margo examined neighborhoods torn by riots in the 1960s. They found that “the riots depressed the median value of black-owned property between 1960 and 1970, with little or no rebound in the 1970s.” Affected neighborhoods still suffered population loss and lower property values in the 1980s. This is particularly troubling for Minneapolis, where the number of high-poverty counties more than doubled between 1980 and 2018, according to the Economic Innovation Group.
Burning churches. Of course, it’s not merely businesses that pay the price of Antifa riots; social capital is also destroyed. On Monday night, a Minneapolis church – Sacred Heart of Jesus Polish National Catholic parish – burned to the ground … in partial fulfillment of Pastor Runny Patterson’s wish. This, too, echoes the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer, when rioters tried to burn down historic St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. As desperate as a community becomes without work, spiritual poverty is far worse. As Christopher Rufo, now of the Manhattan Institute, documented in his film America Lost, it was “the old churches and civic associations” that gave distressed neighborhoods the faith to persevere and the strength to rebuild. “What the soul is in the body, Christians are in the world,” said the apostolic-era Epistle to Diognetus. Nunc et semper, et secula seculorum.
Political leaders and pulpit-pounding demagogues dictating the proper verdict to jurors, and threatening mob violence should jurors fail to comply, never ends well. However, the evidence shows it ends worst for those who are already suffering – including those whom the rioters claim “matter” the most.
*About the author: Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute’s flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.
Source: This article was published by the Acton Institute