Riots after the Election?

A reader of my “Burn, Baby, Burn: Small Business in the Urban Riots of the 1960s” (The Independent Review) asked whether there might be riots on or after election night? Frankly, I don’t know but here are a few thoughts:

Riots have many causes, including celebration of sports victories, annual “rituals” (“devil’s night” in Detroit), anger at the “wrong” outcome in a jury trial (“Rodney King” riot), righteous indignation over an unsettling event (riots following assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.), hunger (“bread riots”), “rioting mainly for fun and profit” (1977 blackout in NYC), and mob hysteria (a complex phenomenon). Riots occur worldwide and involve people of all races, political factions, etc.

Will there be riots? Or will there be peace and quiet, as there was during the NYC blackout of a few years ago? Regardless, there will be riots in the future and what plans do the police have to deal with them? Should we rely upon the police for “law and order?” As I noted in the closing of “Burn, Baby, Burn”:

“The persistent failure of such policymaking responses suggests the need for new
approaches to riot control. First, policymakers must delegitimize “political” violence
by refusing to romanticize the actions of a lawless mob. Second, the police have his-
torically proven themselves unwilling or unable to contain large riots. City govern-
ments might consider establishing civilian auxiliaries, volunteer police reservists who
can quickly respond to civil disturbances (National Center for Policy Analysis 1995).”

Let’s hope and pray that “no news is good news” on or after election night.

For more on the subject of private policing, see Bruce Benson’s To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice (Independent Institute, 1998).

Jonathan Bean is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of History at Southern Illinois University, and editor of the Independent book, Race & Liberty in America: The Essential Reader.
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