Riots Only Help Fuel Urban Impoverishment
In a recent interview Black Lives Matter (BLM) organizer Ariel Atkins argued that lootings are reparations for African Americans. Atkins denounced the suggestion that anything can be gained from peaceful protests. “Winning has come through revolts, winning has come through riots, ‘’ she said. Unfortunately, the belligerence of people like Atkins has been nurtured by mainstream intellectuals, who originally downplayed the malevolent intentions of dangerous activists. Therefore, as adults, we have no alternative but to remind these youngsters that sparking riots is an ineffective strategy to advance the cause of African Americans.
A striking case against riots is clearly expressed in the findings of Professor Mary C. King, whose research demonstrates “little relationship between regional progress for African Americans and relatively proximate race riots.” Riotous behavior often results in businesses fleeing minority communities, thus depriving residents of employment and income. Racism is an extremely sensitive matter; however, sensitivity must be tempered by logic. African Americans have experienced substantial progress over the past century. Eroding these gains is a possibility if rational adults refrain from correcting misguided activists. Such was the impact of the race riots of the 1960s. Examining the effects of civil disorder on small businesses in inner cities, sociologists Howard Aldrich and Albert Reiss found that riots not only inflicted serious property damages but in the long term they made it prohibitive to operate in inner cities, driving up insurance costs. As a result, businesses migrated to more nurturing environments. Low-income residents are the major beneficiaries of entrepreneurship in the inner city, so when emotions trump logic and businesses exit these communities, the losers are poor black people.
Current agitators also seem oblivious to the impact of riots on black property owners. Eminent economists Robert Margo and William Collins in their assessment of the effects of the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. argue that “the riots depressed the median value of black-owned property between 1960 and 1970, with little or no rebound in the 1970s. Analysis of household-level data suggests that the racial gap in the value of property widened in the riot inflicted cities during the 1970s.” Housing is a contributor to the racial wealth gap, therefore if properties depreciate due to the risk of riots, how can African Americans make headway in closing the wealth gap? The long-term implication of riots is that they stigmatize African American communities as hotbeds of social unrest. Homes in such neighborhoods will not be purchased by progressive people interested in building wealth. What this means is that African Americans are deprived of the social capital and networks required to succeed in a competitive environment.
In another study, the authors indicate that riots reduced earnings for black employees in impacted cities; they write: “the findings suggest that the riots had negative effects on blacks’ income and employment that were economically significant and that may have been larger in the long run (1960–1980) than in the short run (1960–1970).” Their results are unsurprising. Inner-city businesses provide poor blacks with an opportunity to obtain employment and build relevant skills. Employment in a small business is a stepping stone to greater opportunities. When low-skilled citizens are robbed of these options, it becomes harder for them to establish themselves in a dynamic environment.
Another negative effect of riots is that they move public opinion to favor oppressive social control measures as a crime-fighting strategy, thereby establishing Republican hardliners as attractive candidates. As Princeton’s Omar Wasow notes in a recent study:
Evaluating black-led protests between 1960 and 1972, I find that nonviolent activism, particularly when met with a state of vigilante repression, drove media coverage, framing, Congressional speech, and public opinion on civil rights. Counties proximate to nonviolent protests saw presidential Democratic vote share among whites increase 1.3–1.6%. Protester-initiated violence, by contrast, helped move news agenda, frames, elite discourse, and public concern toward social control….In 1968, I find that violent protests likely caused a 1.6–7.9% shift among whites towards Republicans and tipped the election.
Kelly Anne Conway beautifully illustrated this point when she told Fox News that “the more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and order.”
Evidently, the effects of riots on African Americans are destructive. Therefore, adults in the room must speak the truth—riots never redound to their benefit and neither does it make sense to enable the unrealistic demands of the BLM movement and its naïve supporters. It would be irresponsible for the American people to nurture the desires of activists seeking to destroy the fabric of their republic. We must reject not only vandalism, but also the radicalism of the BLM movement