I’m not a believer in the theory, especially popular in certain corners of the left, that there’s an argument to be made for destroying property. Nor am I believer in the argument that violent clashes with police enforcing the law could just be avoided if the police would stop enforcing a lot of laws — particularly relating, say, to destroying property.
The argument for property destruction is most frequently hauled out when dealing with two cities in the Pacific Northwest — Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon — which have seen months of sustained rioting in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody on May 25. The argument is usually the second part of a two-part apologia for the demonstrations.
First, they’re “mostly peaceful.” Second, to the extent they aren’t, the destruction is the result of a small minority of demonstrators that is still justified in its actions.
Leftist commentator and Columbia University Ph.D. R.H. Lossin argued, in a June 10 piece in The Nation titled “In Defense of Destroying Property,” that at least the mainstream media has reached “an understanding that too many lines have been crossed, too many innocent people murdered, too many communities over-policed and otherwise neglected to expect anyone to react ‘reasonably.’”
Of course, to believe the mainstream media was judging correctly, the argument rests upon the idea that demonstrators can’t be trusted to act reasonably with property but can be trusted to act reasonably when human lives are involved. To the extent this argument isn’t already self-defeating, I present how Portland rioters treated 77-year-old Cobey, whose last name was redacted by local media.
According to Portland-based KGW-TV, Cobey was one of two septuagenarians who, fed up with property destruction in and around the Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct on Thursday night, confronted the rioters behind it. She had no power to stop it and represented no threat to the mob.
“I just got heated under the collar and said ‘Hey, this is not OK. This is my neighborhood, you’re not helping my black friends,’” Cobey said, according to KGW. “It’s not OK to destroy property. You can say what you have to say but be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
So members of the mob, identified in tweets as being antifa-affiliated, splashed paint on Coby and tried to drape her in police tape.
WARNING: The following video contains graphic language that some viewers will find offensive.
Antifa splashed paint at an elderly Portland woman and verbally abused her. “This isn’t your world anymore.” pic.twitter.com/lmkbR1fewb
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) August 7, 2020
“This isn’t your world anymore! You ruined it for us,” a demonstrator — apparently a woman — can be heard shouting at Cobey in the moments after she was splashed with paint. “Our black friends are dying!
“Put your mask on, b—-! Put your mask on!” a voice that sounds like another woman can be heard saying, apparently under the misapprehension that the primary threat to human life in this situation came from COVID-19 transmission.
There was a separate unknown woman using a walker outside of East Precinct who attempted to extinguish a fire set by the group. The woman depicted in this photo was not using a walker.
— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) August 7, 2020
Separately, a 73-year-old named Penny tried to put out a fire set by a protester and met with similar treatment.
Antifa punk bullies old woman. pic.twitter.com/O1gsJcSNt4
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) August 7, 2020
Woman with BLM sign on walker is trying to stop Portland protester hitting wooden barricades on east precinct pic.twitter.com/qPjfeX9GVY
— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) August 7, 2020
Penny had a Black Lives Matter sign with her — as well as a walker, but this wasn’t going to deter anyone from bullying her.
“Wednesday night they broke windows, it was a real mess,” she told KGW.
“I’m very, very pro-Black Lives Matter,” she added. “But I just think vandalism sabotages the message.”
The video from Zane Sparling, a reporter with the weekly Portland Tribune, was taken moments after Penny put out the fire. Rioters lit it again, which led to Penny trying to repeat the task.
“There was a young woman and a man and they wouldn’t let me by,” said Penny. “While I was arguing with the young woman, the man grabbed [the fire extinguisher] and ran away. I thought, ‘Shoot, I have no fire extinguisher.’”
What was happening outside the East Precinct Thursday was perpetrated by the ugly portion of Portland’s “mostly peaceful” demonstrators that have required the adverb “mostly” to do a lot of heavy lifting these past few weeks. For this crowd, vandalism is part of the message, as well as a means to an end.
Thursday was Night 70 of the protests and the second night where the Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct was the focus of events. KOIN-TV in Portland reported police officers were pelted with glass bottles, rocks and other projectiles, with one officer sustaining severe injuries after a large rock hit his shoulder.
It’s stomach-churning, but hardly surprising, that these protesters would clash with police. What I have more trouble fathoming are the two separate confrontations with 70-something women.
I don’t expect violent demonstrators to run constant cost-benefit calculations inside their head as they chuck glass bottles at police. That said, at some point the adrenaline has to ease up enough to realize neither of these women had power to arrest or physically harm them and neither were going to have any tangible effect on the mob’s goals, whatever they may have been. There were cameras all over the place. One of these women had a walker. Both were “mostly” powerless.
What’s notable is that, at least in these these short clips, no one among the crowd seems to have the common decency or common sense to restrain their fellow demonstrators as this happened, even knowing that the cameras were running.
Did they think this would play well once it hit social media, as it inevitably would? Was their silence because they agreed that intimidating two elderly women who disagreed with them was the right and proper thing to do? Or was this the Milgram experiment in action among the antifa ranks, with no one willing to challenge the goons who had seized group authority?
After this happened, KGW reported, “both women said there seemed to be a lot of caring people in the crowd, including some who offered to walk them home.” If only they’d have stepped in to stop it from happening. Whatever the case, neither woman will be looking to press charges, KOIN reported.
“Just don’t do the vandalism,” Penny told KGW, addressing the rioters. “I don’t think it helps and I think there is collateral damage.”
But that’s the thing: As per liberals like R.H. Lossin, these are demonstrators who can’t be expected to act “reasonably.” To them, there’s too much rot, the system too infected with evil, to expect any kind of other reaction other than what we saw Thursday — and which we’ve now seen in Portland for the past 72 nights.
The problem with this argument is that it relies on the idea that demonstrators, in their unreason, can still maintain a discrete line between property and human beings. With recent events in Portland, even those who bought that theory in the first place must realize its underpinnings are under heavy strain.
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