A riot isn’t always the language of the unheard

Minneapolis experienced another day of mayhem yesterday.

In the afternoon, a man was shot dead in downtown. A little later, the suspect was located by police on Nicollet Mall between 8th Street and 9th Street and, as officers approached, he shot himself dead.

As word spread on social media the story got out that police had, in fact, killed the guy, and people quickly took to the streets.

To protest? Perhaps, but ransacking Target is a funny way to do that.

We saw again that there are few social ills in the United States which cannot, seemingly, be ameliorated by helping yourself to some free stuff.

Small, family owned businesses were destroyed:

Civilians were assaulted. So were police:


There were some who tried to justify this. A former DFL state Rep.:

A current DFL member of Minneapolis’ city council:

It is, in fact, possible to talk about people ransacking stores, torching small businesses, and attacking civilians and cops without a history lesson. It is also true that the people who assumed the police had killed the suspect had jumped to conclusions before knowing the facts. But that is a commonplace now. On Monday, Gov. Walz tweeted:

After a couple of days of investigating, we now know that Blake was not unarmed:


What Gov. Walz said was wrong, he didn’t bother to wait for the facts, and, along with others who made similar uninformed statements, he poured fuel on the flames in Kenosha.

Gov. Walz took to Twitter again last night:

But, as my colleague Tom Steward and I recounted in the current issue of our magazine, Thinking Minnesota, “Dangerous, unlawful behavior” was tolerated in the Twin Cities for four nights in May. The people who looted the Target on Midway then were not stopped or arrested. Why should anyone considering looting another Target expect to be treated anymore harshly?

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances[Emphasis added]

As I wrote in June:

Right there is the guarantee of the right to peaceful protest… That constitutional right should be protected with as much doggedness as any other. It is an indispensable part of a free country.

That, clearly, does not cover what we saw in Minneapolis last night.

There are two lessons from this.

One, is that we need to stop dignifying what is, in reality, just large scale shoplifting and vandalism by portraying it as some noble fight for justice. We often hear the old quote that “a riot is the language of the unheard”. Sometimes, maybe. Sometimes it is just the language of thieves and vandals.

Second, going soft on these things doesn’t buy you any goodwill. If you stand by and let hooligans have the run of the place, as the city and state authorities did in May, people do not ‘get it out of their system’. Rather, they see weakness and do it again. The deployment of the National Guard last night was admirably swift. Perhaps Gov. Walz has learned a lesson.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.