In Defense of Rioters

By now we all know what happened: a white police officer knelt on the neck of a black man, George Floyd, for minutes on end while George begged for air and a watching crowd pleaded for his life. Eventually, George stopped moving. He stopped begging for air. They called for an ambulance, but the officer didn’t take his knee off of George’s neck until the medics arrived. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The next day, this is how a police spokesman described the event to reporters: “Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and officers noticed that the man was going into medical distress.”

Here are some things you may not know. Knee-on-the-neck restraint is banned by several major police departments because of the high risk of injury. Minneapolis only allows it when the suspect is resisting arrest, which, based on the video we’ve all seen, George was not.

The officer who killed George Floyd, Derek Chauvin, had 18 prior complaints filed against him. Eighteen. Of those, two were “closed with discipline.” The discipline he received? Letters of reprimand. One of the other officers was the subject of an excessive force lawsuit in 2017 which the city settled. The lawsuit alleged that two officers had punched, kicked, and kneed the plaintiff in the face and body while he was handcuffed and defenseless.

Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd in the street, on camera, in front of witnesses. He was fired, but as I write this five days later, he is still a free man. I’m no law expert, but I have to wonder: if his actions which killed a man were so clearly wrong that he could be quickly fired, why hasn’t he been arrested? The mayor of Minneapolis has asked the same question, but Chauvin is still walking around free.

On Tuesday night, hundreds of protestors marched to the police precinct to demand justice for George Floyd—whose killer, I will remind you, was a free man more than 24 hours later. Some protestors damaged windows and a squad car, and sprayed graffiti on the building. The department responded by sending a line of police in riot gear to shoot tear gas and rubber bullets at them.

“So far, I have been unable to prevent the police from firing indiscriminately into the crowd,” city council member Jeremiah Ellison said. “Moments ago, I held a towel to a teenage girl’s head as blood poured from it.”

Since then, the riots have worsened and spread, with many fires set and businesses looted. Let me say here for the record that I don’t condone looting, nor damaging private property. It’s counterproductive, violates the rights of private citizens, and gives ammunition to those who would prefer for police to never be held accountable.

But.

What else do we expect?

I noticed this paradox in conservatives several years ago. Yes, we believe in law and order, but first and foremost we believe in limited government and individual liberty. We passionately defend the second amendment, not because we believe we have a sacred right to hunt, and not even primarily to defend ourselves against individuals trying to harm us. We have always believed that the founders intended our right to bear arms to protect us from an oppressive or tyrannical government—indeed, this right was meant to keep the government from ever becoming oppressive or tyrannical. We believe our government should have a healthy fear of angering us. That’s why citizens showed up like this at Michigan’s capitol to protest lockdowns they see as infringing on their liberty:

Conservatives care deeply about keeping the government limited, and preserving individual liberty.

Yet when government power is wearing blue, many of them seem to think it should be unlimited.

What greater expansion of government power can there be than the power to kill American citizens with impunity? What greater infringement of individual liberty can there be than being killed in the street by one’s own government, deprived of any due process?

When American colonists got fed up with their government infringing on their freedoms, they destroyed state property. They vandalized stores. They formed militias. They rioted. They fought back.

Most conservatives I know don’t have a problem with any of that. They’re big fans, actually.

But based on what I’m seeing now, many of today’s conservatives have a bigger problem with frustrated and infuriated citizens fighting back in the only ways they feel they can than with agents of the state getting away with murdering citizens in the street.

Fellow conservatives: let me suggest we reevaluate our priorities.

If we don’t want to see riots, if we don’t want citizens to resort to violence and property damage in defense of their rights to life and liberty, we should demand that our government do better. We must demand our police do better. We must hold them to a high standard and stop making excuses for the bad ones in order to protect the good ones. Otherwise, what do we expect? How long do we expect American citizens to passively accept government oppression?

An officer of the state deprived George Floyd of due process, deprived him of dignity, and deprived him of his most foundational right as a human being: his right to life. The state did not hold their officer accountable, so George Floyd’s fellow citizens burned that police precinct to the ground.

What could be more American than that?

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