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Indulging in Destruction

I slept through the only riot I was ever sent to cover as a reporter. Having traveled a long way I was very tired, and by the time I woke the riot was almost over. Still, I was able to describe with some vividness the acrid smell of burning rubber in the streets and the smashed glass and emptied shelves of the storefronts, and I did see a few people adding fuel to the flames of a barricade not far from my hotel (I later saw one of the perpetrators in an expensive restaurant). Such was my description that no reader would have guessed that I had slept peacefully through the violent proceedings. Strangely enough, my experience of being a foreign correspondent, if that is what it was, has never caused me to doubt the veracity of what I read in the newspapers, which I swallow as a boa constrictor swallows a goat.

However, I have followed riots around the world vicariously ever since, and it seems to me that the principal precondition of such events in the modern world is clement weather. The association is much stronger than with, say, injustice, partly because there is complete agreement as to what constitutes clement weather, whereas what constitutes justice has been in dispute since at least the time of Plato. We all recognize good rioting weather when we see it, but injustice—well, we could go on arguing about it for days. Everyone can contain his anger in the rain.[amazon asin=1594037256&template=*lrc ad (right)]

The facts of the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, are unlikely ever to be known to everyone’s satisfaction. Leopold von Ranke, the great German historian, said that history is what actually happened, because what happened actually did happen, and surely we can all agree with that; the only fly in the ointment is in the determination of what actually happened. Anyone who has ever had a marital argument will know the difficulties involved. Personally, I should be surprised if any firm believer in civil rights concluded that Michael Brown was trying to grab Officer Darren Wilson’s gun or was otherwise threatening him, and was shot in self-defense—or if any calumniator of American negroes (as they were once known, not necessarily disparagingly) or deplorer of ghetto culture concluded that Michael Brown was an innocent, lovable chap gunned down out of sheer racial malice by said officer. Facts are much more malleable than prejudices.

Fortunately, we don’t have to know everything about the case to reflect a little upon it. Let us, for the sake of argument, take the worst possible case (worst, that is, from the point of view of the local police force), namely that the officer had absolutely no reason whatever to react violently and that he shot the young man dead from sheer, unadulterated vicious feeling towards the blacks of his town. What then?

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