A Response to "Democracy and Crisis Response"
On October 16th, The Enquiry released an article by Walker Cummins entitled “Democracy and Crisis Response”. This article was an attempt to understand this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests under a framework of democratic theory; in reality, however, the piece is a bizarre, incoherent collection of assumptions made from baseless logic. According to Cummins, the decision that district attorneys in Portland and Seattle made “to not prosecute any protestors arrested for non-violent and non-destructive offences” is emblematic of ideological public officials placing “politics over public safety”- in other words, elected officials ignored their duty to protect the public in favor of, as Cummins puts it, letting “the rabid dogs run loose”. The article then proceeds to make a wide variety of claims about so-called “anarcho-tyranny” and “the democratic process”, none of which follow from the preceding information.*
Although The Monitor is largely an opinion and editorial publication, and therefore affords its writers a great degree of subjectivity in the content they write, there is still a basic level of academic and journalistic standards that we require of our writers. Even in the most provocative Op-Eds on politics or current events, writers are expected to directly reference or cite the claims they make. Vague claims and disingenuous conjecture about the subject of an article is considered bad journalism at best, a deliberate effort to mislead at worst. Throughout the recent article, “Democracy and Crisis,” the author does not once reference specific occurrences or statistics to back up his claims that Black Lives Matter protesters are largely responsible for “loss of life and serious injury” in Portland and Seattle; these are outstanding claims that require outstanding evidence. Furthermore, the author does not attempt to address why these protests are happening or even reference them by name, a profound omission considering they are the topic of his article. For The Enquiry, a think tank publication with paid staff writers to not uphold these standards is, least to say, disconcerting. Ideological disagreements aside, the irresponsibility of publishing such an obfuscative, poorly sourced article about such a serious and pressing topic reflects negatively on The Enquiry as whole.
“Democracy and Crisis Response” pretends to be a case study of the BLM protests. The first step to writing a case study is to make sure you’ve described the case itself correctly; if you fail to provide an evidenced and accurate picture of what you’re attempting to derive conclusions from, you’re just making assumptions out of thin air. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the article does. It appears that rather than using the BLM protests to better understand democracy, Cummins used his preconceived understanding of the protests to justify his preconceived beliefs that liberal politicians are bad and that liberal voters don’t know what’s good for them. The core assumption of the piece is that protesters are inherently dangerous and that the protests are generally violent. No evidence is provided for this assumption, so it falls to us to find out if this is true.
It’s not true. A study conducted by Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project found that 93% of protests over this past summer have been peaceful. A subsequent study led by the Washington Post found that “96.3 percent of events involved no property damage or police injuries, and in 97.7 percent of events, no injuries were reported”. What possible good could come from prosecuting non-violent protesters during overwhelmingly peaceful protests? Wouldn’t it be the more dangerous decision for district attorneys in Portland and Seattle to start prosecuting peaceful protestors, seeing as peaceful protest is protected under the First Amendment? Wouldn’t doing something so brutal and nonsensical cause even more protests, among people who rightfully see this action as a violation of civil rights? If you are advocating for this course of action, are you genuinely interested in public safety, or are you more interested in punishing what you see as a “organized, predatory mob” who dare to protest state violence?
Cummins further argues that because of the actions of elected officials, “the police could not provide an effective deterrent against, or punishment for” violent protests. Again, no evidence is provided for the claim that police serve as a deterrent against protest; if someone was to look for evidence, they would find that “50 years of research on violence at protests (found that)… escalating force by police leads to more violence, not less”. This was evident during the Seattle and Portland protests that Cummins himself mentions, where protesters and bystanders noted that protests became more contentious when state forces became involved. On June 1st, one of the largest protests in Seattle escalated when police officers repeatedly grabbed at a protester’s umbrella which they were using to protect themselves from tear gas. The officers pulled the protester into their line, causing the other officers to push into the crowd of protestors while deploying massive amounts of tear gas and flash-bang grenades. Of course, this is just one isolated example (though to be fair, “Democracy and Crisis Response” provided no evidence or examples for its claims); however, it fits into a larger trend of evidence that suggests that police force and presence increases the chances of chaos at protests. The federal agents sent into Portland also caused protests to spike, particularly after they tear-gassed a group of unarmed and peaceful “Moms Against Police Brutality”. Furthermore, victims of police brutality at Black Lives Matter protests are not limited to protesters alone. Press Freedom Tracker has recorded over 825 assaults, arrests, and other violations against journalists covering the protests.
The assumptions made about the Black Lives Matter protests in this article are not consistent with reality; however, neither are the conclusions made about democratic decline. Cummins asserts that the fact that public opinion “appears” to support BLM protests is evidence that voters might no longer be trusted to know what is best for them: “That voters understand what good and bad situations look like… seem(s) like a questionable assumption in an age of… contradictory media”. The fact that Cummins assumes, baselessly, that his understanding of the protests is more valid and factual than the understanding “the public” has speaks less to the fact that the public is misinformed, and more to the fact that Cummins is wrong. Again, no injuries were reported in 97.7% of protests; anyone who believes that the protests were an “explosion of criminality and disorder” may actually be suffering from the influence of the “contradictory media” that Cummins describes. Even putting aside the fact that there is no evidence for these claims, this is an article that openly questions the value of democracy. It should not have been published.
This article is written in a deliberately vague and matter-of-fact manner, and I can see why. It allows the author to make sweeping assertions about “predatory mobs” and “democracy in crisis” without actually providing any evidence or reasoning to back these claims. The article never explicitly tells the reader why the supposed “riots” were happening, perhaps because describing the people protesting the police-sanctioned murder of an innocent Black man as “rabid dogs” could then be seen as a deeply racist dog-whistle. If the article were to mention that the protests were because of police violence, it would have to contend with the possibility that people support the protests because they agree that racial discrimination among the police is a serious problem, not because they are naively influenced by “contradictory media”. It’s a lot easier to defend your radical and arrogant argument that voters can no longer make coherent decisions based on the fact that they do not agree with your opinion when you present it as a curious piece of political science. Cummins attempts to write above, as he calls it, “the political weeds”, but ends up providing such little evidence, background, or reasoning so as to make the piece functionally meaningless.
“Democracy and Crisis Response” is a confused and baseless piece of journalism that attempts to present radical ideas about free speech, racial discrimination and democracy as fact. It is dishonest to the reader to present your beliefs as political science when they have not been properly vetted. For a paper that purports to promote “free thought and discourse”, publishing an article that, without evidence, claims that voters may no longer be trusted to make decisions for themselves is, to put it lightly, dangerous.
* The term “anarcho-tyranny” is a strange one to include in this essay. Cummins states that the term “has been thrown around to describe the situation across the country”, but the only mentions of it to be found on the internet are from far right commentators like Michelle Malkin or from op-eds in The Chronicles. The term was itself coined by Samuel Francis, a white nationalist writer, notable for quotations like “[W]hites did not descend to their present pitiable condition because their racial purity was somehow diluted, but because they conceptually surrendered their will and identity” and "Whites must formulate a white racial consciousness that identifies racial and biological endowments as important and relevant to social behavior”. Cummins later states that “anarcho-tyranny” doesn’t even accurately describe the protests; why this term was included in the first place is unclear.