Why are the protests so much more intense?

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Atlanta george floyd protest
Atlanta police detain demonstrators on May 30, 2020, in Atlanta. Associated Press/Mike Stewart

Why now? Why everywhere? And why so much more intense?

The peaceful protests over George Floyd’s death have spread with amazing speed, as has the violence. Police have escalated tense encounters by meeting mild resistance with rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas. Chaos agents among the protesters are setting fires, breaking windows, spraying graffiti, and looting.

Why are these protests so much more intense than protests after earlier episodes of police brutality?

Here are nine reasons, starting with the most important.

  1. Floyd’s murder was a tragic horror. The fact that it was captured on video compelled all Americans to face that horror directly. Black Americans saw themselves or their loved ones in that video. In that and other videos, many white Americans finally saw the racism, brutality, unfairness, and fear black Americans have had to live with forever.
  2. The pandemic has hit urban black America harder than anywhere else. Death rates and job losses are highest there, so it’s no surprise that sorrow, desperation, and economic anxiety are surging. As Princeton professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor told The New York Times: “Where people are broke, and there doesn’t appear to be any assistance, there’s no leadership, there’s no clarity about what is going to happen, this creates the conditions for anger, rage, desperation and hopelessness, which can be a very volatile combination.”
  3. The Trump administration has encouraged militarised policing, and rolled back Obama-era reforms aimed at deescalating conflict between cops and citizens. For example, Trump’s DOJ reversed policies restricting sales of military equipment to police departments, even though research shows militarised cops are more violent cops. The phalanxes of body-armoured, helmeted, “RoboCop”-ish, heavily armed police heighten tensions on the street and lower the threshold for violence.
  4. A climate of political extremism emboldens people who want to use mayhem to their own ends. It’s clear that most protesters are peaceful, but also that there’s a minority of people who want to cause disorder. That chaos-seeking minority is significant enough and aggressive enough that the peaceful protesters can’t restrain them.
  5. The mask-wearing required by the pandemic actually makes things worse. It gives impunity to the mischief makers. When everyone is wearing a mask, you can easily blend into the anonymous crowd before and after vandalizing or looting.
  6. Cops and protesters are rarely best friends, but the political divide between these cops and these protesters is stark. Law enforcement has become increasingly conservative in recent years, and pro Trump. Many police officers are antagonistic to the protesters and the media covering the protests, and that intensifies conflict. (This also may be one reason there are so many reports of police knowingly firing on or assaulting reporters covering the protests. By contrast, none of the anti-lockdown protests degenerated into violence, in part because police were so respectful toward the protesters, and willing to engage in dialogue.)
  7. Relatedly, urban cops don’t live in the communities they police. They don’t know the protesters. They are not neighbours.This stunning chart made by FiveThirtyEight back in 2014, which resurfaced this weekend, shows how few cops – especially white cops – live in the cities where they work.
  8. The internet and social media enable decentralized, often leaderless protests, which reduces the opportunity for productive dialogue between authorities and protesters. In most cities it is not obvious how a mayor or police chief could stop these protests even if they agreed with the goals of the protesters, because there’s no particular person who speaks for the crowd.
  9. Curfews paradoxically probably heighten conflict.The mischief makers are undeterred by curfews, and curfews increase the number of encounters police have with “law-breaking” citizens, which increases the number of opportunities for escalation and violence. -DP

What can be done to reduce the kind of police violence that killed George Floyd? A lot.

Protest new york
An NYPD officer sprays protesters as they clash during a march in Brooklyn on May 30. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Police violence isn’t necessary and it isn’t inevitable. Plenty of countries have none of it, and there are lots of practical ways to reduce it.

Here, for example, is a great twitter 2019 thread from Samuel Sinyangwe, one of the founders of the anti-police-violence group Campaign Zero, about effective methods for cutting police violence.

Among the most useful measures, he says, are demilitarization, more restrictive state and local policies about use of force, union contracts that don’t shield violent cops, and diverting calls about mentally ill people away from 911. (Not effective: body cams and implicit-bias training.)

Sinyangwe has another thread from this weekend listing recent local and state legislation (some passed) to reduce police violence, including laws banning choke holds, requiring drug/alcohol testing for officers who shoot suspects, barring the hiring of officers previously fired for using excessive force, and a lot more. Former Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro similarly has proposed a national database of decertified police officers, which would keep bad apples from moving around.

Libertarians also have plenty of compelling ideas for restraining police violence. Rep. Justin Amash announced last night that he’s introducing a bill to end “qualified immunity” for police officers, a protection that essentially prevents them from ever being held liable in a lawsuit for anything they do on the job, even something heinous.-DP

We are anti-fascism

The moment the protests began, some Americans – including President Trump – started blaming them on “Antifa.”

There’s no actual organisation called “Antifa.” But the term “Antifa” is used to describe some left-wing groups and individuals who believe they are justified in using violence to advance their causes and regard those who disagree as part of the problem. Antifa, in other words, is a collection of extreme left “militia”-style advocacy groups, similar to such groups on the extreme right.

We do not support “Antifa.” We are against using violence to advance causes. We believe violence should always be a last resort.

But we are certainly anti-fascism.

And we would like to hear our president make clear that he, too, is anti-fascism. Because sometimes these days, it’s hard to tell.

What is anti-fascism?

Well, it’s being against authoritarianism, and the hyper-nationalist, domineering government behaviour that often goes with it.

Also, because we would rather be for things than against things, here are some of the things that we are for:

We are for democracy.

We are for the rule of law.

We are for respect.

We are for dignity.

We are for civility.

We are for diversity.

We are for fairness.

We are for truth.

We are for humanity.

We are for the environment.

We are for science.

We are for tolerance.

We are for freedom.

We are for a better future.

We are for America as it aspires to be and can be.

That’s anti-fascism. That’s what we’re for.

Facebook employees speak out about Zuckerberg’s decision to let Trump’s posts stand …

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Getty

Facebook’s hands-off stance on political speech has often frustrated observers, including some who work for the company. Now, with Twitter having finally taken steps to rein in the president while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has reaffirmed his commitment not to do so, some Facebook employees are speaking out.

One of many Facebook employees who took their frustrations to Twitter put it this way:

“I’m a FB employee that completely disagrees with Mark’s decision to do nothing about Trump’s recent posts, which clearly incite violence. I’m not alone inside of FB. There isn’t a neutral position on racism.”

Zuckerberg is in a tough place here. He’s trying to have his cake and eat it, too. He’s trying to create a neutral platform in which anyone can share anything while also being a force for good in the world. And he is learning that it is sometimes impossible to be both at the same time.

The goals of “free speech,” political neutrality, and civil discourse, after all, often collide with one another.

Facebook desperately wants to avoid being viewed as a “publisher,” an organisation that makes decisions about what is and isn’t appropriate and OK as a core part of its mission and business. But as the ever-increasing scrutiny is making clear, from within and without, that’s what Facebook is.

Facebook long ago began doing its duty as a publisher on the easier end of the spectrum – banning pornography, violence, weapons and drug sales, and other forms of speech.

Now it is going to have to make harder decisions. -HB


Doctors in Italy report that the coronavirus is weakening. File this under “let us hope.” Viruses do mutate, sometimes into more deadly and less deadly forms. A couple of doctors in Italy believe the coronavirus has become less deadly than it was a few months ago.


One strategist believes the ongoing stock rally is setting up a “classic bear-market trap.”

Many observers have been mystified by the market’s behaviour since mid-March. Despite a crippling blow to the economy, 40 million unemployment claims, the near shutdown of major industries, and increasing civil unrest, stocks have recovered almost all their losses.


The bulls believe the market is just looking forward from the current carnage to the recovery, which they believe will be stronger than many people think. They point to the massive emergency measures that the Federal Reserve and Congress have thrown at the crisis, which have helped cushion the blow and reduce the worst-case scenario risks. And they believe that, although things are terrible now, the news will get better from here.

One of Wall Street’s top strategists, however, thinks this optimism is just delusion. David Rosenberg, of Rosenberg Research, says investors are falling into a “classic bear market trap.”

Most bear markets, Rosenberg observes, go through distinct phases. There’s the sharp, initial plunge, which scares the bejesus out of everyone, and triggers panic selling. Then there’s a strong recovery in the face of this fear, which deludes people into thinking the worst is over and a new bull market has begun. And then there’s a long, brutal decline that lasts for a year or more and takes the market far below the depths of the initial plunge.

Rosenberg bear markets

Rosenberg believes we’re in the second phase – a “bear-market rally” that is calming fears and deluding people into thinking that the storm is over before resuming a more painful decline.

Having worked as a professional analyst and journalist during two of the bear markets Rosenberg describes (2000 to 2002 and 2008 to 2009) – and having studied the “Great Crash of 1929” – I can confirm that these patterns are real.

By September 2000, for example, in the early months of the “dot-com bust,” the Nasdaq had recovered most of the gut-wrenching losses it had suffered that spring, and most of the “smart money” (including, unfortunately, me) believed that the worst was over. But then stocks rolled over again and began a more sustained, devastating, and demoralising decline. Two years later, the Nasdaq finally bottomed down more than 80% from its peak.

The same thing happened in 1929. By the spring of 1930, the market had recovered much of the ground it had lost on “Black Monday” and other dark days the prior fall, and some investors thought stocks were off to the races again. Then the crash resumed, and the economy headed into the Great Depression. Two years later, in 1932, the major index closed down more than 80% from the top.

As David Rosenberg says, we saw a similar pattern in 2008. And we could certainly see a similar pattern here.

I will also note, however, that moments of greatest fear and scepticism are often the best buying opportunities. Back in mid-March, for example, the market was plummeting hundreds of points a day, and it seemed like the world was ending. Since then, though, the economy and pandemic, despite being horrific, have not suffered the worst-case scenarios that some investors envisioned, and investors who bought in March have been rewarded. If the economy continues to recover, and we have some medical breakthroughs or good luck and do not experience a major “second wave” of the pandemic, the market could well climb the “wall of worry” back to new highs.

So, in other words, as always with the stock market, there are smart investors and persuasive logic on both sides.

How should a normal person invest in the face of this uncertainty?

The answer is different for each of us and depends on our individual risk tolerance and time horizon. No one knows the future, so we should build our portfolio so that we will be and feel OK no matter what happens.

For most of us – including me – that means diversification. Enough “safe” investments (cash) that if stocks drop 50% to 80% over the next 18 months, I won’t panic at the “loss of my retirement” and sell. Enough “growth” investments (stocks) that if the market continues to rise, I’ll offset the inexorable bleed of inflation and earn an acceptable rate of return. -HB


On our essay about the tragedies of Minneapolis …

With respect, and as a white woman, I think you could have done a better job with this. I understand you tried to address the injustice that sparked the violence and very much appreciate that you called out the difference in treatment between white and black protesters, but I think you could have done a lot more to underscore the hurt, anger, and injustice that the black community is rightfully feeling. I think it is your duty, with what I assume is your mostly white audience, to address this more strongly. To me, it seems like you understand but are afraid to do more than dip your toe in that water.

-Nescett Wright

Such a tragedy … but really, are you surprised? Look at the photo. We see a wall of white faces in dark glasses and uniforms. No diversity, no understanding of standing in another man’s shoes.

I fear for your country.

-Colin McDonald

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