|Congressional Committee - Is There Is A Potential Street War Brewing?|
|By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.|
When I was writing articles covering crime during the COVID-19 lockdowns, there were three main themes in mainstream media coverage:
Readers may accuse me of fear-mongering and I really do not know how to put all this into its proper perspective. COIVID is everywhere. Unemployment is universal. The increases in violent crime seem tied to cities, especially those with protests. Whether you can go to the beach or a restaurant or a bar seems everchanging. Sending your kids to school is either in their best interest or a risk to their health.
Most Americans have never experienced government intervention or social or economic upheaval at this level. The loss of freedom, jobs, and businesses after some of the lowest unemployment percentages in the country’s history seems overwhelming. According to The Atlantic, “No national economic shock or downturn in the U.S. has ever happened as fast as this one,”
Add a dramatic increase in violent crime, a contentious presidential election, and the endless protests, riots, and looting and you find that many Americans are expressing anger, anxiety, depression, and dismay often resulting in harsh assessments of people and institutions they disagree with.
With multiple stories about gun sales going through the roof, security sales exploding and endless social media videos showing violence directed towards innocent individuals, a lot of people are concerned about the stability of our society.
Is that concern justified?
What follows are snippets of news coverage regarding our new reality. Most are direct quotes, sometimes rearranged for brevity.
Congressional Hearing-We Are Coming Into Very Dangerous Waters
National Public Radio: At a congressional hearing this month, extremism researcher J.J. MacNab delivered a warning: “There is a potential street war brewing.” MacNab cited the dangerous mix of armed factions squaring off at protests around the United States. Of all the current flashpoints for violence — the pandemic, the election, the economy — she called it the risk that worries her most.
“I am concerned that there will be a shootout at one or more of the Black Lives Matter protests,” MacNab told House members. “There are too many guns at these events, held by too many groups with conflicting goals.”
Nine days later, MacNab’s grim prediction came true. Last weekend, at least five protesters were shot at protests in different cities. In Austin, Texas, police say a protester with a rifle was shot and killed by a man driving through the crowd. A similar scene unfolded in Aurora, Colorado. Local news reports say a protester fired a gun, apparently aiming for a car plowing through the crowd but instead hitting two other protesters.
In Eugene, Ore., a protester and a man driving through the crowd both pulled guns. A viral video shows the men inches apart, each with a gun pointed directly at the other in a tense standoff. It ended without a shot fired, and the crowd cheered as the man in the truck drove away. But next time, extremism researchers fear, they might not be so lucky.
“I think we are coming into very dangerous waters over the next couple of months,” said Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “This has the potential for larger numbers and amounts of street violence between groups and networks on opposing sides. This is serious. I haven’t seen this kind of domestic terrorism threat, really, in my lifetime,” NPR.
Civilian Militias In American Cities
Per a University of Tennessee Law Professor: “When the dawn patrol’s got to tell you twice, they’re gonna do it with a shotgun.” That’s a lyric from Steely Dan, but it also reflects what seems to be a new trend in two of America’s bluest cities: The replacement of police with civilian militias. (The press prefers to call them “neighborhood patrols” since they’re in Democratic cities).
There are some people who might favor this as a step forward for civil rights and racial justice, but the facts to date don’t support such a reading. In two cities where the police have pulled back from urban areas, they’ve been replaced by armed gangs demanding protection money, increased violence and, yes, prejudice against people who “don’t belong.” Anyone with a brain and a bit of historical knowledge could have seen this coming, which is no doubt why it eluded so much of our political class.
The thing to remember is, ultimately, police aren’t there to protect the public from criminals, but to protect criminals from the public. Before the invention of modern police by Robert Peel in London in the early 19th Century, the public dealt with criminals mostly on its own, and usually harshly. Arrest by the police and trial before a court was a big improvement over mob justice.
Now some want to go the other direction. I predict it will end badly, USA Today-Opinion.
The Pandemic Unraveling
Never in our lives have we experienced such a global phenomenon. For the first time in the history of the world, all of humanity, informed by the unprecedented reach of digital technology, has come together, focused on the same existential threat, consumed by the same fears and uncertainties, eagerly anticipating the same, as yet unrealized, promises of medical science, Rolling Stone.
Offering Protection To Anti-Police Demonstrators
Others I have seen in person: on a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, groups of mothers marching in front of a federal courthouse to protect protesters who had been gassed and beaten during previous demonstrations; on a stroll through a neighborhood park in my small hometown of Eugene, Oregon, a dozen masked “security guards” with assault rifles offering protection to anti-police-violence protesters, The Atlantic.
Police in Louisville Are Banning Street Marches
Cops in the Kentucky city said Sunday they are banning all street marches and protest caravans in the wake of a violent weekend clash with police that lead to 12 arrests. The announcement by the Louisville Metro Police Department also comes after more than 70 days of Black Lives Matter demonstrations over the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor on March 13, when she was killed in her bed during a botched raid. “These caravans continue to pose serious safety risks, for protestors and the public,” NY Post.
Calls To Defund The Police Are Becoming A Reality
It might not be happening the way activists imagined, but calls to defund the police are becoming a reality as law enforcement agencies face the dual pressures of coronavirus-related budget shortfalls and nationwide protests. According to a new survey by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), police agencies across the country could be facing some of the deepest cuts in a decade, even worse than during the Great Recession. Roughly half of the 258 police agencies surveyed reported their funding has been cut or they expect it to be cut this year. Most said they are seeing reductions of 5-10% of their budgets. Others reported cuts exceeding 15%.
“It couldn’t come at a worse time,” explained Chuck Wexler, the executive director of Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), an independent think tank based in Washington, D.C., Local21 News.
Massive Looting Of Downtown Chicago Stores
“This put everybody on notice that folks have had enough,” he said. “They are saying this is what it means to be poor, hungry and fed up, and if we’re really not ready to address the foundational issue of housing, health care and employment, this is what we’re going to do.” The brazenness of people openly looting and attacking police officers shows that they feel that they have nothing to lose, he added. “You’re so numb, so disaffected and so disenfranchised, so what could be any worse than that?” “This was no doubt a long time coming,” NBC News.
They’re Nervous, They’re Scared
“We’ve heard loud and clear from people: They’re nervous, they’re scared, they’re worried, they’re thinking about whether or not their life can continue as they expect it to in this great city of Chicago,” Lightfoot said. “So we’ve got to restore confidence, by making sure that the measures that we take are proactive, that we are aggressive, and that when someone dares challenge our resolve that we hold them responsible,” ABC News.
The Fear In The Air Was Palpable
On a return visit this weekend to the Upper West Side neighborhood where I’ve lived for more than a quarter of a century, the fear in the air was palpable. The population seemed to be reduced by about half. New Yorkers steered around each other on the sidewalks, some of them walking in the street to avoid passing near a stranger. A lady declined to ride the elevator with me and my children. People are especially terrified of the subway, whose ridership is down 80 percent from normal levels. Friday night, at a time when there would ordinarily be 50 or more people riding on any given car of the 1 train, there were about seven. Downtown was morose, grim, broken. Graffiti (the anarchists’ symbol and “ACAB,” for “All Cops Are Bastards”) was much in evidence, New York Post.
The Worst Is Yet To Come
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry believes that it was inevitable that violent crime in the U.S. will get worse and warns that given the current state of affairs in cities across the country, the worst is yet to come. “I do believe that there’s a tipping point that’s coming in this country because I believe that every violent crime creates an exponential number of victims.” Pushes to overhaul law enforcement across the country by stripping police department of funds will not help matters either, according to Landry, who is a Republican.“I can tell you that defunding the police is certainly not an answer,” he said, Fox News.
Violent Crime And Fear Increases
Violent crime is up 28 percent since 2015 per the Department of Justice. Per Gallup, violent crime has tripled.
Seventy-seven percent say they are concerned that crime is rising in the nation’s cities per Harvard CAPS/Harris poll.
Post lockdown homicides were up 37 percent, aggravated assaults rose 35 percent, and robberies increased by 27 percent, per a survey by the University of Missouri.
Cities have been especially hard hit by protests, riots, COVID-19, and challenges to law enforcement. Tax revenues have fallen considerably thus cities are not in a fiscal position to deal with increased crime.
Numerous media reports state that people are leaving cities because of COVID and crime, Increasing Crime And Fear.
The world has changed. At the moment, we are a society in partial turmoil.
Do I believe that unchecked violence is coming for the majority of Americans? No, I don’t. We have been through much much tougher times than this. The Great Depression and numerous economic recessions have occurred. This is not our first pandemic.
During troubled times, there was turmoil. We questioned Americanism and democracy. There were protests. But we made it through without massive social upheaval or resorting to violence or looting.
But there are two fundamental principals that we need to remember. The first is that there is a basic right of every American to live free of fear. The second is that the right you give to one group belongs to all.
As to living free of fear, violent crime destroys cities and the basic social fabric that society needs to function. Joe Biden used to boast that if given the crime issue, a political party will never lose. Per the former Vice President, “Give me the crime issue … and you’ll never have trouble with it in an election.”
As to claiming a right for yourself, if you justify looting and violence for one group, you justify it for all. There are millions in rural and urban areas who are struggling and have been for decades. They feel apart from the power brokers. They do not see quick prosperity on the horizon. They feel marginalized by mainstream media. Yet there isn’t a hint of mass disturbances or looting by most.
We have people representing groups that feel disenfranchised who may have members willing to use violence to support their cause. Anti-abortion groups feel that abortions are murder. If so, is it now justifiable to use violence to end violence?
Many on the right feel demeaned by the media and society. Is it now permissible for them to take over television stations and newspapers by force?
You can tear down statues at the Gettysburg battlefield (York Daily) but that simply gives your opposition equal opportunity to destroy symbols near and dear to your heart.
Timothy McVeigh timed his attack to coincide with the second anniversary of the fire that ended the siege at the Branch Davidian compound, Wikipedia. The McVeighs of the world exist. There are people with grievances.
Thus I wouldn’t rush to justify looting or riots or violence because others may feel equally empowered. The right you give to yourself belongs to everyone.
Finally, we within the justice system need to prepare now for the possibility of extreme violence, especially after the election or acquittals in a police-involved shooting. Now is not the time to defund law enforcement. Cops are the only entity willing to stand between you and those embracing extreme measures. At mass or school or church or synagogue shootings, I don’t remember anyone else beyond law enforcement rushing in to end the violence.
No one has quick answers to current problems but I am unaware of anyone who doesn’t want all Americans to prosper. As long as we are committed to equality, we will emerge successfully.
We need to understand that the vast majority of cops are just regular people doing an incredibly difficult job who want nothing more than the right to peacefully return to their families. The vast majority of police officers aren’t the problem. Those who engage in violence and destruction are.
Peacefully protest to your heart’s content. You are free to hold police accountable. Officers expect it. Just don’t demonize a million people who are willing to protect you from violence. If you’re capable of stereotyping a million people (sworn and civilian) in law enforcement, you are capable of any “ism.”
If you defund or demonize cops, don’t expect miracles. If I trash you and your coworkers and if I take a big chunk of your budget, your commitment to your job would be compromised. Why would it be any different with law enforcement?
The pandemic lockdowns are temporary. Our mothers and fathers fought the second world war immediately after the Great Depression. If they got through that with unity and without massive upheaval, violence, and looting, so can we.
Mayor Lightfoot recognizes Chicago is at an inflection point, as violent crime rises and the gulf of suspicion widens between the Black community and her police force. She hopes she can bridge it. “The question is how do we find opportunity out of even these very dark days?” Lightfoot asks. “And what we do to band together because together — it sounds like a cliche — but it is so true, we won’t survive this moment. We will not thrive. We will not move beyond, get stronger, and better if we don’t unite,” Time.Com.
See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.
Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.
US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.
National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.
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Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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