Take Back the Streets

June 25, 2020 Updated: June 29, 2020

Commentary

Mob “justice” is threatening the law and order that is essential for the survival of democracy. It’s time to take back the streets.

The death of George Floyd set off a firestorm. What began as a demand to address police brutality and racism has morphed into something else. Statues are being toppled and extreme demands, such as “defund the police,” are being heard. Corporate leaders and politicians desperately signal their willingness to do almost anything to appease the mob, but the demands become ever more extreme.

It seems clear that Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifa are the main organizers of the protests and riots, but there also appear to be a bunch of other strange radical groups emerging from the shadows—such as Boogaloo. Some of the anarchist groups are so extreme in their aims that it’s not even clear that terms such as “left-wing” or “right-wing” even make sense to describe them.

Solving “systemic racism,” “dismantling white supremacy,” or addressing any of the many other revolutionary demands aren’t the subject of this article. Instead, I will focus on the more modest goal of examining the policing standard that appears to have been established by the Floyd case—namely that whenever a black man is killed by the police, it’s acceptable—and even expected—for an unelected mob to take control of the streets and riot, loot, and burn.

I will suggest that this is an impossible standard that will lead only to a total breakdown of law and order. Instead, I will suggest that a realistic standard must be set, and responsible elected leaders must regain control of the streets.

Officer Rolfe

First, consider the case of police officer Garrett Rolfe of Atlanta. Most people have seen the main video of this famous encounter by now. Rolfe and another officer approached a man, Rayshard Brooks, who was sleeping in his car. The car was parked in a Wendy’s drive-thru lane. Initially, Brooks cooperated, but when he was advised that he was being arrested for impaired driving and the officer tried to cuff him, Brooks became violent. Brooks was obviously a strong man, and he overcame both officers and grabbed one of their Tasers. When he threw both officers to the ground and ran away, he turned and attempted to fire the weapon at the pursuing Rolfe. Rolfe then fatally shot him.

What should have happened then was to place Rolfe on leave, while the facts surrounding the shooting were calmly analyzed. Was the shooting justified under the circumstances? Was Brooks—who had a bad record, was on probation, and would certainly have gone back to prison—committing “death by cop” when he turned and attempted to fire the Taser at an officer he knew was armed with a gun? Was Rolfe following police policy when he shot at the fleeing Brooks? Did Rolfe have other options available to him?

All of these questions and others could have been asked in a calm and reasonable atmosphere with lawyers and other trained police experts involved.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, Rolfe was immediately fired, and is now charged with murder and other serious crimes—the murder charge carries the possibility of a life sentence.

The official responsible for treating Rolfe in such a hurried and unfair manner was probably panicked by a mob that had already torched a Wendy’s. That official then attempted to convince the frightened second officer to testify against Rolfe. One imagines that this official would have been willing to go to almost any lengths to satisfy the mob that was demanding its pound of flesh.

He threw Rolfe to the wolves.

False Narrative

So is this the new standard in American justice? Every encounter with police that results in the death of a black man must immediately result in the firing of the police officer, charging him with murder, and submitting to any other mob demands?

Because if that is the new standard, American cities can no longer function. The fact is that there are thousands of police encounters with black men every year on American streets, and too many people—like Brooks—resist arrest. This has little to do with racism, or “systemic” or “institutional” racism. It’s simply a fact that American black men are statistically far more likely to come into contact with police than any other group, for the simple reason that they commit more crimes.

Or, to be more specific, American-born black men. Because, other ethnic groups—including black men from Nigeria and other countries—don’t have this problem. In fact, people of color from all ethnic groups other than American-born black men are less likely than the mainstream to come into contact with the police. This is an issue for American-born black men only—it appears to be a very undesirable part of “ghetto culture.”

Although accounting for about 15 percent of the population in the 75 largest U.S. counties, African Americans are responsible for more than 50 percent of the violent crime in those counties. Again, that isn’t because of the “black” part—Nigerian blacks, who esteem intact families and education, are less likely to be involved in crime than the mainstream attests to that fact—it’s “ghetto culture” and a victim mentality that’s the problem.

But that’s not how the mob sees it. Facts don’t matter. If a black man dies at the hands of a white police officer, it’s a sign to the BLM/Antifa mob that all police and all society is “racist.” And it makes sense to the mob to loot and torch buildings if it doesn’t get its way. This can’t stand.

Last year, about 8,000 black men died in homicides in America. Ten of those deaths involved unarmed men who were killed by the police. In six of those cases, the men were killed while attacking police. The overwhelming number of the killings involved other black men as the perpetrator.

The media/BLM/Antifa/Democrat narrative that police are slaughtering unarmed black men is false. The entire protest/rioting narrative is based on a false premise. Police are being made scapegoats for those who insist that black men must be regarded as victims, no matter what the facts say.

The other thing that can be taken from these figures is the certainty that there will be more fatal police encounters with black men in the future.

Likely Acquittal

Even in cases in which a police officer is criminally charged in connection with a death, it’s quite likely that an acquittal will result. That’s almost certainly what will happen in the Atlanta case. It seems extremely unlikely to me that Rolfe will be convicted of murder. By resisting arrest, fighting with the police, and stealing the Taser, Brooks placed both officers in a life-and-death situation. At the point when Brooks pointed the weapon at Rolfe, I expect that any properly instructed jury will conclude that Rolfe was justified in shooting Brooks.

It’s unreasonable to expect a police officer to wait until he’s injured to shoot. That officer didn’t know if Brooks would take his gun if he, the officer, was downed by the Taser. He didn’t know what else Brooks would have done. The fact is that he had already seen what Brooks was capable of doing, and he didn’t have to wait to be disabled to find out. An acquittal on the murder charge is likely in the Rolfe case.

But even in the George Floyd case, it seems extremely unlikely that all four officers will be convicted as charged. Two of the officers were rookies. Is it likely that a jury will convict them? What other evidence that wasn’t on the famous video will emerge? We don’t know. What actually caused the death?—there are conflicting autopsy reports. Perhaps, it wasn’t the knee on the neck, but the officer with the knee on the back.

Perhaps, the fentanyl and methamphetamine found in Floyd’s system played a part. Perhaps, the knee on the neck technique was being used as a response to the COVID-19 situation. (Floyd tested positive for the coronavirus.) Was the “knee on the neck” technique that officer Derek Chauvin used on Floyd an approved Minneapolis police procedure? The charge against Chauvin was raised to second-degree murder from third-degree. Will that decision make a conviction even more unlikely?

These are examples of only some of the questions that might be raised at trial. We know the answers to none of them. The fact is that a short video tells only a small part of a story—and perhaps a misleading one. It seems unlikely to me that the officers charged in connection with Floyd’s death will all be convicted as charged.

So, will protests result if the officers in the Minneapolis and Atlanta cases aren’t convicted exactly as charged? Almost certainly. Or if another black man is killed during a police encounter—again, almost a certainty? Then what should the standard be for the protests that will inevitably break out? Is it considered permissible for protesters to loot, burn, and cause mayhem on the streets every time people become upset?

Take Back the Streets

I suggest that if political leaders do what they did in the Floyd or the Brooks cases—namely, give in to the mob and let it take over the streets—the country is doomed.

The only realistic standard is to allow peaceful protests to take place—the constitutional right of peaceful assembly—but to take strong action at the first sight of criminal behavior. The first brick-thrower or the first window-breaker should immediately see the inside of a paddy wagon. Craven leaders who encourage mob violence and fail to maintain law and order should be shown the door. Leaders who provide law and order and public safety should be elected. Law and order isn’t optional in a functioning democracy—it’s essential to its survival.

There’s no doubt that there are both racists and brutal cops in the system, and they should be rooted out and fired. But they are a tiny minority in police forces that are far better trained—both technically and culturally—than police forces of the past.

Yes, there’s a need for better training and more sensitivity. But to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and “defund,” or get rid of police, simply places law-abiding poor and already marginalized groups—particularly poor black people—at the mercy of criminals. Scapegoating the police serves no useful purpose. Already, murder rates in the inner city have skyrocketed. Police are human and will simply stay in their cars in any no-win situation in which black people are involved.

That means more black homicides. And more innocent black victims. The cynical groups promoting this mass police hatred know all of this. But they don’t care. They have bigger fish to fry. These thugs must not be permitted to undermine the fundamental pillars of democracy.

It’s time to take back the streets.

Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.