Strong, Principled Local Leadership Needed to Quell Civil Unrest

The summer of 2020 has been a summer of discontent in many American cities.

Since the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, civil unrest has roiled urban areas across the nation. While many Americans have engaged in lawful, peaceful protests condemning police abuse and racial discrimination, others have damaged property, attacked police stations and other government buildings, looted stores, injured police officers, and beaten innocent people. The rioting has subsided in some areas of the country, in others, however, it has continued for weeks.

One of many examples of this summer’s civil unrest occurred in Madison, Wisconsin on June 24. According to the New York Post, Democratic Wisconsin State Sen. Tim Carpenter was attacked while he took a picture of a group of rioters that had torn down two statues on Capitol grounds. Sen. Carpenter was allegedly assailed by a group of 10 people who hit him from behind, knocked him to the ground, and kicked him in the head. Chillingly, the Senator attempted to tell his attackers that he was on their side, but they continued to batter him. After the Senator lost consciousness, reporters called an ambulance. He later required surgery for his injuries. To date, two of the Senator’s alleged attackers have been taken into custody.

This summer’s events require local elected officials to respond with both kindness and firmness. Persons who have been harmed by abusive police officers deserve to see justice done. Peaceful protesters who are outraged and frightened by experiences of racism or by abuses of lawful authority deserve to be heard and to be treated with respect. Rioters and looters are a different story. Rioters should be dispersed or arrested by law enforcement in a proportionate, effective manner. Rioters and looters that cause harm to persons or property should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and their offenses—whether committed because of an anarchist political agenda, because of greed, or because of some other reason—should not be ignored, downplayed, or excused.

Unfortunately, many American mayors seem unwilling or unable to distinguish between peaceful protesters and rioters. Instead of treating rioters as a threat and dealing with them accordingly, some mayors (particularly Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler) pander to them and attempt to placate them. This approach doesn’t work, and it fails to protect law-abiding Americans from having their communities and businesses destroyed by the mob.