Many riot skeptics, including the great Edward Banfield, have questioned the logic of protesting injustice by destroying your local grocery store, or fighting police brutality by stealing microwave ovens. The riot apologists who nominate inadequate social spending as a “root cause” should wonder what “message” the Cincinnati rioters were sending when they torched poverty agencies. One group that provided financial assistance and job training, for example, lost about $50,000 from fire and theft.
No one likes alarm clocks, but we all acknowledge their usefulness. So too with riots, according to the true believers. CAN’s Ross Love told me that the “unrest” was a “wake-up call that the city needed.” Kenneth Lawson, the inflammatory anti-police attorney, explained that the beatings of whites provided their recipients a lesson in what the “brothers” experience daily from the police, and that presumably the white establishment would take notice.
The Los Angeles Times oozed: ‘While no one wants to say that the riots were good, there was on Friday an undeniable sense of relief that the mayhem . . . had laid bare Cincinnati’s fissures. Now, perhaps, there could be progress.”
Try telling Chris Schoonover how useful rioting is. Schoonover is part of a still small movement of white residents and business owners back into Over-the-Rhine. On the first day of violence, as she was driving back to her apartment, a brick flew through the car’s open window and struck her. “Man, you hit her in the head!” one brick thrower admiringly exclaimed to his buddy. At the hospital, Schoonover recognized an acquaintance among the dozens of bloodied people waiting for care: a rioter had jumped into her acquaintance’s car and beaten her viciously with a brick.
Since the attack, which left five staples in her scalp, Schoonover’s world has changed completely. Once exquisitely sensitive to racial political correctness, she now sees the world in black and white. For days after the attack she was terrified to return to her largely black neighborhood and university. The sight of white girls jogging alone filled her with dread that they would be attacked by a black person.
This heightened racial mistrust runs both ways. Schoonover’s black colleagues at the bar where she works were clearly uncomfortable around her after the riots. “The black community had put out a call to arms: ‘We need to be strong and united,”‘ she says. The call translated into greater separatism.
After a couple of postriot incidents in which white friends were threatened, Schoonover has blacked out her window so people on the street won’t see a white girl alone in her apartment. She recalls that, after the brick attack, “I was crying, because this was my neighborhood” – “her” neighborhood, despite the crack whores and the young men hustling drugs. Now she’s not so sure.
Here is the hidden logic of race riots: supposedly a cry against racial oppression, their implicit threat to destroy the city merely guarantees full employment for race hustlers and sensitivity trainers by driving the races further apart. If whites flee Over-the-Rhine, expect plenty of breast-beating in the future from the press and civil rights advocates about Cincinnati’s enduring racial segregation. No one will recall why the integrators left.
Riot apologists even deny the economic damage they cause. “No one has lost property value because of the riots,” Ross Love told me. “Property values have gone up since the 1960s riots; there’s no reason to believe values are down because of last April.”
“Is he crazy? What is he talking about?” sputtered Marlene Vonderhaar, an Over-the-Rhine merchant, when I told her of Love’s claims. In all of May, Vonderhaar made two sales from her antique store. “My shop is dead,” she pronounces. Suburban customers refuse to come downtown now; business in the area has dropped some 60 percent. Vonderhaar lost up to $50,000 in merchandise when vandals, enraged that her store was already boarded up, hurled tires and bricks against the plywood, sending mirrors and ceramics shattering to the floor.
Vonderhaar’s antique store typifies the “gentrification” that some media critics blame for the riots. So what will be lost if her store and others like it fold? The new Over-the-Rhine entrepreneurs offer jobs to those local residents who have the work ethic to take advantage of them. They provide entree to the world of work beyond Over-the-Rhine. And sometimes they may try on a very personal level to free someone from the ghetto. For several years Vonderhaar has been struggling to save from the streets a charming homosexual youth with a crack-addicted mother. After he stole money from her, Vonderhaar gave him a second chance and tried hard to help. But when he continued to steal from her and others, she finally gave up. “He broke my heart and broke me,” she says.
According to the riot ideology, the most authentic black leaders are angry black leaders, and the Reverend Damon Lynch, ever since his appointment as the city’s Number One racial healer, has taken on the role with a vengeance. He drove out an annual rock festival from Over-the-Rhine by threatening boycotts and protests, and he tried to shut down one of Cincinnati’s most moneymaking tourist attractions, its food festival. During a noisy sit-in at a down-town restaurant, he promised to “let people know that Cincinnati is not a place to bring your conventions or your business. Until there is justice, there will be no business as usual, no lunch as usual.” (Lynch carefully refrained from defining the “justice” that would buy peace.) His choice of protest symbolism was fanciful, since no one has ever alleged that blacks cannot get service at downtown restaurants-but no more fanciful than his comparison of Cincinnati to South Africa in its “economic apartheid.”
Lynch’s rhetorical extremism guarantees his ongoing relevance as anointed black leader. Liberal whites need black anger to prove the persistence of racism among their unenlightened neighbors, which they alone can atone for by the noblesse oblige of liberal paternalism. Thus, to reinforce their own sense of moral superiority, they confer racial authenticity only on blacks like Damon Lynch, self-proclaimed angry victims of American bigotry. Lynch’s ever more rash protests make a mockery of his mediator position on Community Action Now; if he wants to continue playing firebrand, he should resign from CAN. But no one dares suggest he leave, even though his boycotts are killing the very neighborhood he purports to represent. Ross Love’s support of his co-chair reflects his grasp of the underlying dialectic: “Lynch’s protests increase his authority,” he told me. “They give him more credibility in the eyes of the people we need at the table.”
And here, in a nutshell, is the tragedy of moral leadership in black America. Love merely states received wisdom in claiming that black moral authority derives from protesting white racism, and that the alienated youth who most respond to such protests are the most authentic representatives of the black community.
This logic consigns to silence many many black Americans – law abiding citizens who see crime, not racism, as the biggest threat in their lives. Over-the-Rhine resident Sheila Randle, for example, doesn’t buy Love’s and Lynch’s charges. A former manager of Salvation Army stores, the fifty-year-old Randle is a prisoner in her own home. Young people smoke marijuana and crack on the street outside her apartment all night; they jeer at her husband when he asks them to get off his car. Addicts have started breaking into her building’s entryway. “You never know who’s going to be on the landing in the morning,” she says. Randle is desperate to move, but her options are limited.
What about these stories of police racism? I ask her. “I have no problem with the police; they treat me respectfully,” she answers. “It’s the young people who are the problem.” And the thesis that the police only care about white yuppies? “The police are there to protect all the people, not just the whites,” she asserts. What about societal racism generally? “I’ve never experienced it.”
Randle wanted to support the police in their time of trouble by attending the annual police memorial this May, The anti-police demonstrators frightened her off, however-demonstrators allegedly representing her interests as an oppressed black woman. As for the claim that the Timothy Thomas shooting is a sign of police racism, Randle will have none of it. “Thomas brought it on himself,” she says. “He had [warrants] on him; if he had halted like they told him to, it wouldn’t have happened.”
This is no fringe view. In early May a letter writer named Loretta Blackburn wrote to the Cincinnati Enquirer: “If I were in pursuit of a black youth and had cornered him in an alley, after what happened to Officer Kevin Crayon [dragged to death last year by a twelve-year-old joyrider], the first thing in my mind would be, ‘Someone is coming out of this alley; now who do you think it will be?’ We as black people need to get back to the basics and help the police to police our neighborhoods … When you are in the streets hollering how unfair black people are being treated, what are you teaching your children about respect for authority? If you don’t like the job that [the police] are doing, then give them a helping hand, not a shot in the back.”
Damon Lynch, Al Sharpton, and Kweisi Mfume have no interest in representing the Sheila Randles and Loretta Blackburns. Far more responsible leaders who do speak for such citizens are out there, though – but the opinion elites are not about to give them a platform.
Read the previous parts of the series here: