National media have carried photos and videos of the rioting in Berkeley over the weekend in response to the police brutality cases in Missouri and New York City. The protests were initially peaceful, well within what is protected by the First Amendment, and a reasonable response by a community that has grievances which should be addressed in the political process. But in the course of the protests, gangs of anarchists became the face of the occasion by destroying public and private property. They smashed store windows, looted stores like Trader Joe’s and Radio Shack, set fires in the streets, and tried to deface city hall and the police station. They attacked police officers and tried to destroy police vehicles. They stopped traffic on major streets and highways.
There is a terrible irony here. The activist left protesting the city government of Berkeley, Calif. is like communists holding a demonstration in front of the Kremlin or the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. If there is a left-wing paradise in the U.S., it is the People’s Republic of Berkeley. Just the other day, the city voted to tax sugar in sodas (to take a stand against “Big Soda”). It requires free marijuana for the homeless (don’t ask me about what we would call implementation problems). It has its own higher minimum wage. It thinks it is a nuclear-free zone. And so on. And then there was the 1960s.
But all of this silly posturing pales in comparison to the failure of the city authorities to maintain basic law and order. Berkeley no doubt attracts anarchists seeking to make trouble. But the city’s lax attitudes must contribute to the lawlessness on the streets. City administrators and the city council members who would rather spend time issuing resolutions on U.S. foreign policy are incapable of taking a responsible line on the anarchists who are destroying our downtown. Police may arrest them, but they must question whether the city’s political leaders will back them up. I’ve been told that prosecutors are reluctant to bring cases against protesters who destroy property because they feel that they will get no political support and juries may not convict.
So if you wants to see the result of progressive theories of law enforcement and urban policy, you need look no further than the smashed up Berkeley downtown. It makes me wonder why anyone would run a business there, which will only lead to a further downward spiral of the city. If it were not for the University of California flagship campus here, the greatest public university in the world, Berkeley would soon be assuming the status of a sad suburb of a sad city (Oakland).