How much do black lives matter to @BlackLivesMatter, anyway? (Pt. 3)

The economic damage of political violence and follow-on crime will disproportionately impact black Americans.

The thesis of this series of articles is that @BlackLivesMatter knowingly embarked on a course of action that they had every reason to believe would cost more black lives than what they were protesting against.

In Part One, I argued that @BlackLivesMatter had every reason to believe that mass protest gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic would cost far more lives of black Americans than those that are taken by the wrongful actions of the police.

In Part Two, I argued that @BlackLivesMatter failed to organize protests in a way that minimized political violence and the enduring crime wave that followed.

Here in Part Three we will look at the economic effects of all this and how they are likely to affect the lives of black Americans.

In the “long, hot summer of 1967”, 159 race riots erupted in the United States. There were riots in Atlanta, Birmingham, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Britain, New York City, Plainfield, Rochester, Tampa, and Toledo. The worst were in July, in Detroit and Newark. Though 1967 was the banner year for race riots, overall there were 750 riots between 1964 and 1971. In all, 228 people were killed. Many black neighborhoods were destroyed.

In 2004 Virginia Postrel wrote in the New York Times:

In cities with major riots, the economists find that the median black family income dropped by about 9 percent from 1960 to 1970, compared with similar cities without severe riots. This impact on the labor market may have actually been more severe in the long run.

Why did riots affect the labor market? Easy. Companies and wealthier individuals leave, to avoid the risk that riots bring. Also, after they leave the municipal tax base is diminished, which leads to more jobs being lost. The riots set off a feedback loop that continues long after the rioting stops: “long” meaning at least a generation and possibly several.

@BlackLivesMatter, officially, does not condone looting, according to Amika Tendaji, Executive Director of Black Lives Matter Chicago. But this claim is at odds with the actions of many of their organizers. In August of 2000, Ariel Atkins — an organizer working for Tendaji — called for the looting of stores in downtown Chicago, calling this “reparations”. Vicky Osterweil published a book titled “In Defense of Looting”, the thesis of which not even The Atlantic could swallow.

Supporters of @BlackLivesMatter have availed themselves of a kaleidoscope of denials, dismissals, and deflections in regard to their riots, including:

  • Riots are not actually happening: that they are concoctions of the right-wing media.

  • Riots are an outlier: “most protests are peaceful”.

  • Riots are not that bad actually: “most of these stores have insurance”.

  • Riots are justified: “The language of the unheard.”

  • Riots are actually the work of “white supremacists” or “right wing extremists” in our midst.

Each of these tactics is absurd enough in it own right; that many people have been deploying them in mutually incompatible combination, even more so.

As I said in Part II, @BlackLivesMatter has done very, very little to discourage violence or to organize events in a way that reduces the chance of violence or mitigates its effects.

The reason this is relevant is that it effects the decision-making calculus of those businesses and affluent individuals that are trying to figure out whether to keep their assets and operations in the cities affected by riots. Leadership like that of Martin Luther King, Jr. would be more stabilizing and reassuring than the leadership that #BlackLivesMatter actually has. At this point it is not at all clear in fact that there is any leader or set of leaders that is capable of restraining violence, even if the organization wanted to — which is in doubt.

So what are the business owners and the affluent going to do? They are going to bail. In fact they have already started. In March, Minnesota-based retailer Target announced its decision to close its City Center operation in downtown Minneapolis. That means 3,500 Target employees will no longer be downtown and spending their money at various support businesses: restaurants, stores, gyms, and hairdressers.

A Minneapolis manufacturing company, 7-Sigma Inc., is also leaving the city. The president and owner stated that he no longer trusts public officials to protect his business and his people. (A 7-sigma factory was burned down in the riots.)

According to a survey by the Downtown Council, as of August of last year another 45 business owners were considering leaving downtown.

These kinds of departures don’t happen overnight, because of leasing contracts and logistical considerations. By the time Minneapolis knows how many of its businesses are leaving, it will be too late to do anything about it. It’s probably already too late to do much about it.

And that’s just Minneapolis. The same logic will play out in every American city that had major rioting. Businesses run on the numbers. Contrary to what #BlackLivesMatter apologists might say, most standard insurance polices for businesses do not cover damage for riots. If you can find someone to insure you in an area deemed a risk, the premiums on that insurance are likely to be much higher (perhaps four times higher) than insurance that doesn’t afford this coverage.

If the amortized cost of moving is less than the ongoing cost of the insurance (plus the unrecoverable costs of being shut down), the rational thing to do is to move out of the high-risk area.

Consequently, we will see a new round of capital flight from the cities, similar to the “white flight” of the 1960s, except . . . more “diverse”.

The people that will bear the brunt of this capital flight, of course, are the people who are left behind: the people who live in the areas — typically inner city areas — where the riots are taking place. The negative economic effects these residents suffer will include:

  • fewer employment opportunities for residents;

  • longer (hence, more expensive) commutes for many of those residents that are employed;

  • fewer local options in regard to grocery stores, big-box stores, pharmacies, and stores of all kinds. (You think “food deserts” were a problem before?);

  • longer (hence, more expensive) trips to more distant stores;

  • falling property values;

  • reduced municipal support services, owing to the collapse of the tax base;

  • costs of being victimized by crime or of prevention of victimization by crime.

All of this of course is massively exacerbated by (and to some extent, hard to tease apart from) the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its breathtaking acceleration of trends toward remote white-collar work. Simply put, it is easier for capital to flee cities than ever before. There was probably going to be a certain amount of capital flight even without riots. With riots? Assuredly.

Black residential segregation has long been declining in the United States; nevertheless, most of the places where major riots have occurred are fairly called African-American neighborhoods, or at least places where a lot of Black people live. They certainly are not the places where the rich and powerful tend to live. So I think it is safe to say that millions of Black Americans are going to feel the economic effects listed above, and that many of them will continue to feel the effects for a generation or more to come.

The leaders of @BlackLivesMatter are in the best possible position to predict the consequences of riots, because of what happened to Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of their 2014 protests over the shooting death of Michael Brown. Five years later, in 2019, the neighborhoods in which there was rioting were still full of boarded-up, damaged stores that never got rebuilt. (And presumably there has been not much progress since.)

So, the leaders of @BlackLivesMatter know that this is what results from riots; and the leaders of @BlackLivesMatter know that Black Americans will be hit the hardest. And yet they do not take reasonable steps, like Martin Luther King, Jr. did, to minimize the violence at their protests.

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

How much do Black Lives matter to @BlackLivesMatter, anyway?

Be seeing you!

Gideon Fell

Author’s Notes:

This installment was a long time coming. Sorry about that. First, there was the Capitol Invasion/Riot — which, have no doubt, I condemn in the strongest terms even if I didn’t happen to write about it here. That whole thing was kind of distracting, and honestly I didn’t want to release this article just to be accused of “whataboutism” or of trying to deflect attention from that idiotic “Q” insurrection. I didn’t intend to wait this long, but life happens and I finally got a new job so I have been busy adjusting to that.

Thanks to a couple of friends who have been leaning on me to finish it up. I agree with them that it’s good to do so before the verdict in the Chauvin case sets off another big round of rioting. Which it will, because the prosecution hasn’t even been trying to convince the jury of the Second Degree Murder charge, and anything less will not satisfy the mob.

Will there be a Part Four? I’m not sure. I’m confident I will have more to say about the riots as the situation develops. But I might do it in shorter newsletters.