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The End Of The World As We Know It?

By Greg L | 14 July 2017 | Patriotism, Crime | No Comments

A lot of folks I know are quite concerned about large-scale civil disturbances after watching events unfold such as happened in DC, Ferguson and Baltimore, along with the re-emergence of violent anarchists such as AntiFa. Commercial property is set ablaze, cars are firebombed, cops get shot and wide swaths of the community are vandalized, looted and burned. When these happen our social media feeds get clobbered with posts displaying in real time the shocking violence perpetrated by rioters who seem rather insane, and ineffective law enforcement responses to this violence which only seems to make the problem worse. The question of how safe our families and communities are, and what we can do to address this threat inevitably rises.

Those aren’t easy question to definitively answer, but it certainly is a lot easier to get close when you consider that large-scale, violent civil disturbances aren’t anything new in this country. We just haven’t had a whole lot of them in most people’s memory, and the earlier ones happened before everyone was carrying around a mobile phone with a camera.

First, let’s narrow down the threat a bit. Some riots are planned. They happen because some event, like a summit of world leaders or a political party’s national convention is scheduled that the left wants to disrupt. Peaceful protests are planned well in advance, and the troublemakers have a long lead-time to figure out how to use those protests as an opportunity to turn a protest into a riot. So too does law enforcement have an opportunity to prepare. You as well have a lot of advance warning when these events happen, so figuring out how you respond isn’t that challenging. I’m not going to cover those.

What we want to focus on here are the unexpected events. The sort of events where one day everything is peaceful and normal and the next is chaos and danger.

All of the unexpected riots in the US during the past 20 years follow a strikingly consistent pattern. In almost every case, a “person of color” is harmed, the local community - which is always heavily minority-majority - feels the event represents an intolerable injustice, and peaceful protests give way to riots that last for several days. Let’s walk through some of the more significant unexpected riots that we’ve experienced:

Charlotte, NC, September 2016: A black man is shot by police in the parking lot of an apartment complex at around 4:00 PM. Peaceful protests give way to rioting by about 8:00 PM that evening, and again the next evening. One civilian is shot by another, rioters engage in significant vandalism and looting both where the officer-involved shooting occurred and downtown.

Milwaukee, WI, August 2016: A black man is shot by police in a semi-urban residential neighborhood at about 4:00 in the afternoon. By about 9:00 PM peaceful protests turn to rioting that last for three days. Several businesses are looted and burned, numerous cars are set ablaze and five police officers are injured.

Baltimore, MD, April 2015: A black man is injured post-arrest and later dies. Six days later protests begin after the arrested suspect dies. On the seventh day protests turn to rioting which lasts for eight days and sees widespread destruction across the city, but generally is focused in the neighborhood where the initial incident happened. 350 businesses are damaged, 150 vehicles are set on fire, sixty buildings are burned. Reports of gunfire are widespread. Law enforcement response and city management of the incident is widely criticized. The National Guard is activated.

Ferguson, MO, August 2014: A black man is shot and killed by police at about noon. Peaceful protests begin that evening and quickly turn to riots that last for about two weeks and sporadically continue for months afterwards. Riots are generally confined to the area where the initial event happened and to a nearby business district. Reports of gunfire are widespread. Over the course of the riots 70 businesses are damaged, 17 are destroyed, 10 people are injured, 1 is killed and 321 are arrested.

You can probably see the pattern developing here, and it’s pretty consistent as you go farther back in time, such as the Mount Pleasant riot in DC in 1991 and the Rodney King riot in LA in 1992. If you do not live in an area that is heavily majority-minority, your chances of having a riot of this sort affect you personally is pretty slim. If you have business interests in these communities, you at least are going to have several hours notice that the situation is getting dangerous and if you evacuate during daylight hours your chances of escaping harm are very high. As troubling as these incidents most certainly are, they tend to be geographically contained and usually last only a few days.

So is this some sort of new danger that we’re facing? Not by a longshot. Even though what we face today can be pretty disturbing, what has happened in the past is by far much, much more destructive. If you look back into the 1960’s you’ll see two instances where the term “riot” seems profoundly inadequate to describe the scope and scale of violence and destruction. Let’s take a quick look at those.

The “long hot summer of 1967” saw 159 race riots erupt across the country in June and July, most notable of which were in Cincinnati, Chicago, Birmingham, Buffalo, Newark, Plainfield, NJ, Cairo Il, Detroit, Cambridge, MD and Milwaukee. The triggering event for most of these were arrests of black men accompanied by allegations of police misconduct, but this all happened in the context of the civil rights era which had just passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and ended state bans on interracial marriage. The largest-scale of these was Detroit, where 1,700 stores were looted, 1,400 buildings were burned, 43 people were killed and 5,000 were left homeless.

Not even a year later, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, which precipitated riots in Detroit, New York City, Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Wilmington, Louisville, and Trenton. Whole neighborhoods were burned to the ground, scores of people were killed, and occupations by federal troops in one case lasted more than nine months. Violence and destruction was largely confined to minority communities, and the long-term effects on those communities were utterly devastating.

Let me go off on a quick tangent here about these two outbreaks. It is very important to note that the hostility blacks felt towards law enforcement and government was rather justified and utterly universal. While it isn’t that difficult to smirk at the claims that modern-day civil disturbances are caused by racism and injustice given how ridiculous those claims seem to be, racism and injustice was absolutely a massive and undeniable problem back in the 1960’s. That sets an enduring context that leads up to modern day civil disturbances with entities like “Black Lives Matter.” Regardless of the validity of their claims today, they lead from a very robust historical record of shocking abuses that most haven’t learned much about and that disconnect between their viewpoint and the viewpoint of the white community is a continuing cause for tension which can potentially flash over.

While we can be very thankful that the likelihood of civil disorder on the scale of the events of 1967-68 is very remote, largely because of societal changes, improvements in law enforcement and their approaches to handling disorder, and economic improvements, it would be unwise to rule out the possibility of this sort of massive unrest. The ignition formula of a widespread grievance held by a minority community which feels their concerns are not being addressed coupled with a high-profile triggering event such as the murder of a national leader of that minority group is still possible today, even if (we would hope) the depth and scope of such grievances are now much less significant.

What has remained consistent throughout all of this is that unexpected events (excluding disturbances caused by electric power blackouts, which is a whole different scenario) all tend to follow the same patterns, and the scope and duration of the events depend on largely the same factors.

  1. These happen in urban and semi-urban areas with high minority populations, and tend to be geographically focused. The location of a triggering event, nearby business districts and nearby government buildings are where almost all of the violence and destruction occurs.
  2. There is a delay of at least several hours between the triggering event and the outbreak of violence. Even evacuating just a few blocks within that time to get away from likely areas of rioting should be sufficient in the short-term, as triggering event location location will tend to draw and concentrate those prone to violence.
  3. Nighttime is by far the most dangerous time within a riot area, but larger riots can turn into nearly-continuous events if crowds become large enough to fuel continuous activity. At no time should a riot area ever be considered safe.
  4. The typical duration of a riot is three days, but this depends in great deal on how law enforcement reacts. Too heavy a response can inflame a situation, and too light a response can encourage more disorder. Disturbances can be pretty easily re-ignited by news announcements related to the triggering event, such as announcements of police officers involved and whether they will be subject to investigation.
  5. “Protest tourism” - people flocking to a riot in order to participate in it becomes more prevalent the more the event captures media attention, and such “tourism” seriously complicates law enforcement efforts to quell the riots. These “protest tourists” are frequently more dangerous than the initial rioters, and are more common in the age of social media. Some “protest tourists” may be ideologically opposed to the protesters and seek to confront them.
  6. The likelihood of protests turning to violence is greatly enhanced by the presence of anarchists using “black block” tactics. These folks will show up as “protest tourists” within 24 hours of a disturbance, use the protesters as “cover” and deliberately incite violence in hopes the general crowd will follow their lead. They will attempt to arm themselves with incendiary devices and improvised chemical weapons if possible.
  7. Radicals are continuously experimenting with new tactics and techniques to counter law enforcement responses making this a very dynamic environment, although these innovations usually show up first in planned events. This adjust-readjust cycle involves cyber-espionage, communications signal intercepts, chemical warfare, counter-mobility operations, psychological warfare and a host of other techniques. Just as in the history of warfare, anyone thinking they know what is coming next is fooling themselves.
  8. Gunfire is not now common in the immediate vicinity of law enforcement, but is almost always present just outside of law enforcement’s immediate area of control. The usual victims of gunfire are fellow protesters. Larger disturbances will be subject to a near-constant rate of gunfire while police are fully engaged in crowd control and unable to effectively and safely investigate other matters, suggesting these are more crimes of opportunity than deliberate attacks. Law enforcement is rarely engaged by gunfire from civilians, despite some recent high-profile occurrences.
  9. Businesses can effectively defend their properties if they can work together and have multiple people visibly armed, such as the Korean merchants during the Rodney King riots. Access to rooftops, which prevents physical contact with rioters seems to help ensure the safety of these protective details.
  10. After-action reports almost universally report issues with law enforcement effectively utilizing ICS, the Incident Command System which is the national template for incident command and control. Command and control breakdowns can severely limit the effectiveness of law enforcement response to rioting. Police Departments who haven’t been through a difficult large-scale event in the recent past are more prone to problems, as most of them have to learn about their shortcomings and fix them through experience since ICS is one of those “not invented here” ideas that came from the fire and rescue community.
  11. The quality of local political leadership and the relationship they have with law enforcement has an enormous impact on the size, scale and duration of a riot. This has nothing to do with political affiliation, as there are numerous examples of riots being quelled by the arrival of a political leader who the protesters respect and who will listen to them. Poor municipal leadership – such as seen in Baltimore – can turn a three day problem into a three week nightmare.

As for how to address the threat, that depends on where you live. Obviously for people living in urban or semi-urban areas (areas with high-density residential developments, such as apartment buildings) the risk is fairly significant, and being ready to evacuate is a good idea. For those in rural areas, the risk is so low as to be negligible. For the bulk of the folks likely reading this who live in suburban areas, there’s still a risk proportionate to the demographic characteristics of our own neighborhood and a “shelter in place” plan with some defensive capability is warranted.

Most of the impact of a disturbance within a suburban area isn’t much different than what one would see during a severe storm event, so maintaining food, water and other essentials to manage for three days is a good start. Add to this a reasonable capability for self-defense, some ability to maintain situational awareness with a battery operated radio and the resources to evacuate if absolutely necessary and you in all likelihood are going to weather the storm just fine. As long as you can be self-sufficient and “hunker down” until it all is expected to blow over, you’re way ahead of the game.

The concern here is that given that the nature of the threat are thinking, adaptive, reacting human beings who are creative and imaginative, these basic precautions will only be adequate if what we see in the future is pretty close to what we’ve experienced in the recent past. If the threat doesn’t think, if they don’t adapt, don’t imagine and don’t react, you’re good doing just the minimum. If they do, well, the game has changed and you might not be ready to play. Beefing up the planning and preparations gives you the ability to think, adapt, react and create to adjust to whatever happens and the resources you have on hand defines the limits of just how much of that you can do.

Here are some ways to “plus up” on resources and capabilities so if you have a snoozer of an event, you can easily bore your way through it, but of you have something unexpected happen you’ll have a lot of options.

This is a pretty long post, so I’ll end it here. If you’ve got a question or need more info, drop it in the comments section below and if I can’t answer it there I can use that as fodder for a follow-up post.

In the meantime stay safe, be good, and pray for each other.



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