I confess that I was surprised when the Harvey Weinstein scandal lit the #MeToo movement and led to the exposure of numerous tales of sexual abuse in corporate and media suites. I was less surprised that in the wake of the power of the movement that less egregious abuses were given equal weight. I may not agree with Al Franken politically, but I thought his offense was minor compared to Weinstein and did not merit his removal as Senator. Movements and mobs are hard to control, and momentum often sacrifices clarity. Mobs will turn on you; Robespierre died at the hands of the mob he created.
I was also surprised by the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement and the momentum that exploded after the death of George Floyd. It is futile to reconcile the data of police abuse of Black Americans with the narratives, perceptions, and personal experiences. Movements and mobs are not moved by analysis and understanding and after struggling with this for the past few weeks, I realized it doesn’t matter.
Even if you accept the premises of ‘systemic’ racism, white privilege, the 1619 Project and any other explanation of why 50 years of legislation, court rulings and permanent bureaucracies focused on problems of racial inequality have not erased the legacy of centuries; or how these narratives are sufficient explanation for the failure of urban government under the control of a single party of woke liberals for decades to eradicate this ‘systemic’ racism, it doesn’t matter. It does not matter what elements of the ‘system’ are dysfunctional and who should be held accountable.
It does not matter how many acts of contrition are made to the woke inquisition, what punishment is executed on the nonbelievers of woke orthodoxy, or how loud you proclaim your virtue signaling. Even if we never understand the depth of the problem, the only question that matters is how to we improve the lives of the poor and disenfranchised.
Toleration and appeasement of the lawless mob will only make the divisions worse. The inability or unwillingness to stop destruction of property and uphold the law, the justification and rationalization of this by sympathetic hearts and minds will only make it worse and the dismissal as only a swing of the pendulum will greatly damage the urban areas that are home to the abused. It does not matter that most protests were peaceful; when enough violence is unchecked people and their capital will leave.
With that capital goes jobs and tax revenue. Capital is amoral; it goes where it is welcomed and leaves where it is not. There was already an exodus from decaying urban areas before Covid and before the Floyd protests and riots. Failure to control homeless populations drove residents and tourists away. The Covid pandemic and shelter in place demonstrated that it was possible for more workers work from home, often with increasing productivity. The combination of technology and crisis has led to a permanent shift in how we work and the necessity and desirability of urban environments. The restrictions on dining, entertainment and sporting venues further erodes the attraction of urban centers.
Almost 20% of the real estate listings in Minneapolis were added in the last few weeks. Demand for suburban, resort properties and country properties have increased sharply; the exodus is accelerating. The unrest is also driving record high gun sales, including urban Black residents who can no longer count on police protection.
This is more a class flight than a white flight, but the results are the same; those with money have more options and personal safety is a very strong motivator to use them. Declining property tax revenue, declining sales tax revenue from the virus and now the civil unrest threatens to make the urban reckoning more permanent. Job opportunities for urban dwellers will decline; inequality and segregation will increase. Funds for schools and police will decline. Raising taxes to compensate for this loss will only drive more capital away and discourage new capital from arriving.
The primary function of local government is public safety. When this is sacrificed to any cause no matter how justified, rationalized, or tolerated the city and its residents will suffer, and some will suffer more than others. Once mobs recognize their power they are never satiated and never appeased.