Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Thus the kindling accumulates until it is ignited by some incident at the interface between the urban public sector and the urban poor. Usually a police killing or beating triggers an eruption of protest in a hub city. Even if the protest is peaceful at first, it is often hijacked by criminal gangs for whom it is an opportunity for looting. This was the story of major U.S. urban riots between WWII and the 21st century. (Most so-called “race riots” in the United States between the Civil War and WWII were different; they were violent pogroms by working-class whites against black competitors for jobs and neighborhoods, who were sometimes brought up from the South by industrial corporations as strikebreakers.)
Beginning in the 1960s and the ’70s, with the Weather Underground terrorists, and continuing in the 1990s, with “black bloc” vandals traveling around the world to smash office and hotel windows at global financial meetings, there has been a violent subculture on the radical left in the United States and Europe. For the most part, the members of groups like Antifa, the latest incarnation of the violent left, have always been the pampered children of the white overclass. Twenty-somethings who are poor and working class lack the money to buy fancy black ninja outfits and the leisure to spend time plotting in advance of demonstrations. This is nothing new; as a veteran ’60s leftist told me, “Your Mom and Dad had to have a lot of money, for you to take part in the Summer of Love.”
What is new about the nationwide riots of the last week that have followed the death of George Floyd is the convergence of these two previously separate streams—traditional urban riots in poor neighborhoods triggered by police-related incidents, and the ideologically motivated vandalism by young white members of the overclass in downtown districts. This convergence is the result of hub city gentrification.