Leaving my Manhattan apartment last night, I saw a glow down the street: someone had shoved two large street planters and some garbage cans into the intersection and set them ablaze. People milled around, looking at the scene as fire trucks rolled up. A man started to shove the burned-out waste toward the curb and got into an argument with a fireman. “I just want to get it out of the street so people can move!” he said. The fireman shrugged, and together they pulled the scorched street furniture out of traffic.
Roving groups of youngish black guys walked and biked around, hyped-up, eying the police presence. On 13th Street, I passed the remains of an NYPD van—incongruously parked in its place between two civilian vehicles—that had been torched and burnt to its skeleton. One of the clutches of kids walked by, cooing admiringly, “Oooh, they lit it up. Black lives matter, y’all.”
On 14th Street, a few dozen protesters, all white, blocked traffic while police stood by a paddy wagon and a handful of arrestees sitting on the curb. The protesters desultorily chanted, “How do you spell racist? NYPD,” until the cops moved on them suddenly, clearing the street.
As Mayor Bill de Blasio, to his credit, has acknowledged, an element of organized provocation is at work here, largely driven by anarchists and Antifa types—not the white supremacists or Russian infiltrators of liberal fantasy. The provocateurs are employing aggressive “Black Bloc”-style tactics of integrating themselves into crowds, only to lash out violently, hoping to set off a mob-style chain reaction or a disproportionate show of force from the police. The troublemakers then retreat into the mass in order to disguise themselves.
The Shader sisters exemplify this phenomenon of outside agitation. They appear to have travelled from upstate New York to Brooklyn to take part in the protests; the elder sister now faces federal charges for trying to firebomb an occupied NYPD van. Elsewhere, too, one could see hardcore street-fighting tactics characteristic of practiced radicals, whose goals were not issues-based protest or even “jamming” the system but active violence against the police. In Brooklyn, a mob surrounded two police vans and, using an iron barrier, tried to block their passage. One of the vans did not stop, edging through the crowd anyway; no one was hurt.
Perversely, the sympathies of New York’s political leadership and media went to the mob. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “NYPD officers just drove an SUV into a crowd of human beings. They could’ve killed them, & we don’t know how many they injured. NO ONE gets to slam an SUV through a crowd of human beings. @NYCMayor these officers need to be brought to justice, not dismissed w/‘internal reviews.’” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson denounced the van’s driver. “This is outrageous. Driving police vehicles into crowds of protestors is not deescalation.” Publicly funded protest organization Make the Road fumed, “Simply unbearable and enraging. NYPD continues to unleash deadly violence against members of our community.”
Protest does not include the right to block plainly marked emergency vehicles. None of the elected officials or community groups so enraged by the van driver offer an alternative for how a cop should respond when set upon by a violent mob. Civil disobedience is supposed to mean that, in the face of the state’s overwhelming monopoly on force, the protester responds with passive, nonviolent resistance. But today’s radical Left leaders, like AOC, have inverted that logic: in the face of mob violence, police should go limp, de-escalate the conflict, and hope that they don’t get burned to death.
Most protesters are people of good will who do not seek to destroy lives or livelihoods. They should expel the elements within their ranks—both outside agitators and local criminals—who are set on driving American society to a potentially irreparable fracture.
Photo: Seth Barron