The Cop Disease: How Protests Become Riots | Connor Tomlinson

As Black Lives Matter protests occur across the world, many have spiralled into violence. More black Americans have died in the last week of riots than did, unarmed, to police in 2019. Thirty-five police officers were injured and forty-one protesters arrested in London this past weekend. Both the Prime Minister and President Trump have condemned the widespread criminal activity as the actions of ‘rioters, looters, and anarchists’ whose ‘thuggery’ has ‘dishonoured the memory of George Floyd’.

As scholar of European totalitarianism Hannah Arendt wrote, mobs are born of collectivised resentment and disenfranchisement, and become violent doppelgangers of history’s ‘great revolutions’. Mobs absolve their members of individual responsibility. Morality becomes relative, and violence justified, by an action’s role in furthering the aims of the mob’s transcendent ideal: an ethno-state, theocracy, or communist utopia among history’s examples[i]. The indiscriminate violence exhibited by rioters worldwide is incommensurate with peaceful protestors’ goal of furthering accountability for law enforcement. Peaceful demonstrators would do—and some have done—well to distance themselves from the arson, looting, and murder performed by Antifa, black supremacists, and impartial criminal opportunists alike.

But what is the underlying divide that dichotomises these demonstrations into peaceful protest and violent insurrection?

As renowned psychologist Dr. Jordan B. Peterson characterised in his book Maps of Meaning[ii], the human brain’s hemispheric divide corresponds with our response to expected and unexpected stimuli. Our left hemispheres govern the realm of understanding—order—and our right hemispheres mediate emergent, unknown entities—chaos. Positive affect—confidence, enthusiasm—is generated when we operate within the domain of ‘Known’; when our expectations are met. Negative affect—anger, anxiety, disgust—is generated when encountering the ‘Unknown’; when preconceptions are refuted, or betrayed.

[Aside: this hemispheric divide seems to contravene our political divide of the left and right. The right conserves societal hierarchies—the ‘Known’—whilst the left favours revolutionary abolition of them—the ‘Unknown’. This may be a source of contention over which attributes contribute left or right political identification.]

Peaceful demonstration is fear-based. Police are characterised as harbingers of chaos; an upset to protesters’ conception of society as providing equal rights and opportunities. Society, for protesters, is ‘explored territory’; a region mapped adequately enough for operation within. Police violence—either as individual recorded instances, or media’s sensationalised narrative of state-sanctioned ethnic genocide—threatens the integrity of protestors’ mapped territory; their understanding of society. Therefore, peaceful demonstration is an act of transforming the ‘chaos’ of police brutality, which has made law enforcement incongruent with social order, into a non-threatening, orderly, and reformed entity worthy of reintegration into social order. 

Violent insurrection, however, is disgust-based. Disgust sensitivity is the primary indicator of totalitarian inclination. According to the ‘Parasite Stress Hypothesis’[iii], citizens of nations affected by infectious diseases highly favour authoritarian social policies. Disease-avoidant behaviours become culturally inculcated in said societies, reinforced by punitive measures for non-abidance for fear of widespread infection. Every action against established order becomes a sin against the collective, just as a violation of disease-avoidant behaviour risks the health of others. This phenomena was demonstrated by both left and right-wing manifestations of authoritarianism, and occurs outside nations with colonial histories (which could cause cultural wariness of outsiders as “disease bringers”).

The timeliness of these riots following a global pandemic is no mistake. Rioters’ in-group preference and out-group hostility—exacerbated by Antifa’s ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’, virtue-signalling saviour complex,  and “white guilt”—is characteristic of disease-preventative authoritarianism’s ‘nepotism and ethnocentrism’.  The vitriol directed at opponents to widespread lockdown, through ‘institutionalized emphasis on social conformity’ and  ‘intolerance of dissent’, created the perfect conditions for these street-level ideological battles.

To rioters, a police uniform is emblematises ‘otherness’. Policer become emissaries of disruption to their crimeless, equitable, utopian vision; a world without the capacity for depravity which resides in all human hearts. Rioters don’t fear police: they hate them, as if police were a disease which would rob them of their lives.

The solution to pestilence? Cleansing, by fire.

Peterson illustrated the dangers of disgust-sensitivity causing characterisation of political opposition as plague or parasite in his University of Toronto course lectures. Nazi propaganda characterised Jews as ‘world parasite’, and used the same pesticide—Zyklon B—in gas chambers as was employed to fumigate German factories, during Hitler’s public health and ‘beautify and purify Germany’ campaigns. As Arendt documented, pernicious anti-Semitism was uniform across all forms of twentieth-century totalitarianism[iv].

This should be of particular concern to those attentive to our contemporary zeitgeist, as militant black supremacists have a recorded history of tension with America’s Jewish community. Black Americans were perpetrators of seventy-one percent of New York’s rising rate of anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2018. The New York Times admitted to refusing to cover these anti-Semitic hate crimes due to their conflict with building an intersectional coalition against white supremacy. Leader of the Nation of Islam—and friend of Barak Obama, Snoop Dogg, and former Women’s March leaders— Louis Farrakhan, has called Jews ‘termites’, a ‘race of Devils’, declared Hitler ‘a very great man’. Black Hebrew Israelites committed an anti-Semitic mass shooting at a New Jersey kosher market last year. During the ongoing protests against George Floyd’s death, Ice Cube tweeted an anti-Semitic mural, and a self-proclaimed protest leader threatened to put ‘fire to property’ in New York’s historically Jewish Diamond District if city officials didn’t meet BLM demands. This correlative inter-community tension makes it concerning that Black Lives Matter doesn’t list Jewish ‘Black folks’ among its intersectional groups whom they ‘affirm the lives’ of.

Thus, we are provided with the answer to why revolutionary activists glorify cop-killer Assata Shakur; why protesters in New York demanded ‘Dead cops’ after Eric Garner’s death; why 2016 protests culminated in the shooting of five Dallas police officers; and why Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was ousted from a local protest after refusing to commit to abolishing the city’s police department. It’s why Black Lives Matter call for a complete defunding of the police. To the ideologically possessed among the protesters, cops are the disease, and extermination—either institutional or individual—is the cure.

To those who rightfully fear the misuse of state power; who rightfully abhor racism; who believe in donating to organisations who claim to be acting in the interest of ethnic minorities worldwide: beware your good intentions being used as fodder for the murderous rage of an effective, destructive portion of your self-identified movement. Beware those who would kill black cops, destroy black businesses, and still claim to defend black lives.

In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

[i] Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (St Ives: Penguin, 2017), p. 138-140, 184.

[ii] Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 57-67.

[iii] Damian R. Murray, Mark Schaller, Peter Suedfeld, ‘Pathogens and Politics: Further Evidence That Parasite Prevalence Predicts Authoritarianism’, PLOS One, 8(2013) 1-8.

[iv] Arendt, 40.

Photo by George Kuttner on Flickr.

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