August 20, 2014
When people argue over the optics of police in military gear in the middle of a volatile protest, it is something that hits very close to my home. You see, the lives of my family dramatically changed one hot summer night in 1977 when my father’s store in Brooklyn was looted and burned to the ground by an uncontrolled mob. Oh, for my father’s sake, I wish we had police with hummers and riot gear to push back those crowds feasting on anarchy.
Many of the rioters were seeking to express their frustrations with the system, and oh yea, to get some free stuff while they were at it. Everything my dad worked for, built up and sacrificed for, was gone faster than you could say Blackout.
Over the past few weeks we’ve witnessed unrest on the streets of Missouri after the killing of a black youth by a white police officer. Some witnesses say he was struck down in cold blood while others say he was a belligerent bully who refused to cooperate with the officer and actually initiated the confrontation.
Those not wishing to jump to conclusions are waiting for all the facts to come out. But early on it was only the first narrative that took root, which led to hundreds flooding the street demanding justice. Most protesters were simply looking to peacefully exercise their constitutional right to express their disapproval.
It seemed in the early hours that the local police in their military gear were over reacting and actually inflaming the already tense atmosphere. They heard the criticism and backed off — perhaps too far. The next day bands of thugs smashed garbage cans into store windows and emptied the contents of someone else’s dream.
A day later calm-inducing clergy members leading some marchers were joined by out of town race hucksters like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. And jumping into the mix thereafter were the non local professional anarchists, communists and Black Panthers, who sought to provoke police action by starting a melee.
The purveyors of political correctness were now pounding the police for looking like a standing army. Police were stuck in a no-win situation. Confront the agitators and be labelled oppressors. Lay low and fail the citizens you were sworn to protect.
We’ve heard a lot from Sharpton and the TV sociologists about police abuse, but hardly anything from the store owners who saw their life savings evaporate as thugs smashed their stores to rubble. Ask them if they have a problem with cops wearing helmets and vests and driving armored vehicles. But what good is having the equipment if they don’t use it as a deterrent to protect our families and our property.
Many pundits will claim the way to diffuse these situations from happening again is to just give people in the area more stuff. But is giving more stuff an antidote for a deficiency of a moral compass? Most folks in that community don’t have a lot of stuff, but they didn’t loot. Their parents taught them it was wrong. For those who did not receive such parental guidance, getting more stuff won’t make much of a difference.
Steve Levy is President of Common Sense Strategies, a political and business consulting firm. He served as Suffolk County Executive 2004-2011, and as a NYS Assemblyman