Monday, June 01, 2020

In the End, it Always Comes Down to Leadership

Given we’ve touched on similar issues a bit over the years, I would not be a good blog host if we did not offer at least one opportunity to discuss the protests and riots spreading across the nation after the killing of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.


First I want to separate out those who are protesting his killing. These protests are peaceful, needed, justified, and probably the most American of American things. That is not the issue. We have a legitimate problem of long standing with police abuse of power, especially towards African Americans. We’ve covered this topic before, regular readers know my opinion about the warping of police culture, excessive militarization, and its secondary effects.

No, I want to talk about the riots – those who are taking advantage of this situation to promote chaos, enjoy a little violence laden LARPing … or just generally steal and destroy.


This was mostly avoidable – at least on a national level. Why? As with most things that go wrong, it has to do with bad leadership making bad decisions early on, compounding dangers until they create a critical mass and become self-sustaining.

The cop in Minneapolis was a known bad cop. Look it up yourself, but he had over a dozen complaints against him. His fellow cops, the local police union and the local prosecutors – including my favorite (D) presidential candidate, now-Senator Klobuchar (D-MN) - they all failed to hold him to account and to get him away from the power he so clearly enjoyed abusing.

In all areas where the police power of the state is given to people, you have to be aggressive in weeding out bad players. Politics, union policies, and misguided “loyalty” stops this from happening. If you have good strong leadership, you can burn through those barriers. The law enforcement leadership before, during, and after the killing of Floyd hopefully will be studied in detail as a latent cause of all that followed.

Next the mayor of Minneapolis and governor of Minnesota. From the start, especially the mayor, you had two men exceptionally unsuited for high office.

In democratic systems, you get the government you vote for. Will there be a change? Hard to see. Minneapolis has a single party system. Democrats have run the city for 46 of the last 47 years. (D) or (R), single party systems inevitably become incompetent and corrupt. There are exceptions, but not many. Weak people rise to the top. Q.E.D.

As for the governor, he seems to simply be a man out of his depth. He seemed poorly advised and not self-ashured enough to know when he needed to step in the vacuum created when the mayor in his major city curled up in a fetal position. Yes, both the governor and the mayor were both weakened by a rather rigid reliance on questionable ideology, but that was a secondary factor. The primary factor was simply they were not up to the job.

Because the law enforcement leadership in Minneapolis, the mayor and the governor failed to act appropriately, bad actors were able to throw gasoline on the righteous anger responding to this senseless death. From there it spread, and you’ve see the results for yourself. If they had responded properly early, the contagion of violence could have been largely contained in Minneapolis, but they failed and now we have to deal with the rest.

Some places, Atlanta, Baton Rouge, and Flint are a few examples, you saw better leadership. They stepped in – leaders to the front – early and stopped things from getting out of control. In other places another method best when used with up-front leadership, 6pm-8pm curfews followed by serious enforcement also tamped down on back actors. In some places like Louisville and even in DC and NYC, you had valid protesters, turn on bad actors trying to turn protests in to riots, even turning them over to police.

What we have now is a great laboratory nation wide on who has good leaders working with institutions with high social capital, and which cities will suffer without either or both.


Now to our Black Block; ANTIFA. The fact these are a problem should not be a surprise. They showed up in 2016 and were there for everyone to see after Trump’s inauguration. In summary, they will use any legitimate protest and an opportunity to bring violence for the sake of violence. They want to radicalize the people. They deserve the full weight of the State on their head. I wish all of them ill.

Of course, in the background we still have the COVID-19 outbreak going on. I remember reading a few weeks ago, the author(s) names escape me, a concern that having so many people in isolation while their jobs and lives waste away in front of them, was creating a pile of tinder waiting for a spark. Well, this was it. I don’t think you can discount this in trying to understand why the protests spread so fast.


In the knowledge that a virus does not care why we do what we do, you have to wonder if there is any thing more handy for COVID-19 than a bunch of people running round in packs at night yelling and spitting on each other? We will find out in 2-weeks what COVID-19 thinks. An interesting accidental experiment we are running here.


We may be past the peek of new urbanism. The last 30-yrs has seen the slow drive to revive big city living from the nadir of the late 60s to late 80s. Remarkable progress has been made in bringing back retail and residential. I’ve seen it. I remember what NYC, DC, Norfolk etc was like in the late-70s to mid-80s. I’ve seen what they became in the last decade. How do they pick up after the 1-2 punch of COVID-19 and the looting and burning? I have no idea, but I don’t think the smart money is going to invest there any time soon.


That leads to the larger economy. COVID-19’s devastation still is not fully understood by the public, but it is there. Economies do not like uncertainty – civil unrest does not help at all – especially compounding on top of a pandemic.

Where to from here? Many more cards need to come out of the deck, but so far 2020 is not giving us a good hand.

Help where you can and be careful who you listen to and who you ignore. Layered on top of this is the fact this is an election year – the absolute worst time to try to keep people together.

All we can do is talk with well meaning people of all stripes, and focus together on the bad actors – those who loot, burn, and vandalize. Listen to each others concerns. Listen to their worries. Hold police, politicians, and self-appointed community leader to account if they don’t do the same.

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