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This year brings the 25th and 50th anniversaries of two of the three deadliest riots in American history, and the 85th anniversary of a tragic German riot. Let’s pray that, as summer approaches, we’re not on track for another.
A Los Angeles riot started on April 29, 1992, and lasted six days: At least 63 people died, and more than 2,000 suffered injuries. Detroit residents rioted for six days beginning on July 23, 1967, and at least 43 died. Nearly 2,000 were injured. More than 2,000 buildings burned down. Tigers left fielder Willie Horton, an African-American who had grown up in the riot area, stood on a car in his baseball uniform amid the rioters and pleaded with them to go home, but to no avail.
A July 17, 1932, riot in what is now Hamburg, Germany, featured 7,000 Nazis and perhaps that many Communists. Left dead on Blutsonntag (“Bloody Sunday”): 18 Germans. Left mostly dead: the Weimar Republic and its free elections, because three days later an emergency decree curtailed liberty in Prussia. That opened the door for the beginning of Hitler’s dictatorship the following year.
Are other cities in the Disunited States ready to explode? The past three years have brought race-based riots in Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, and other states following shootings of African-Americans by white policemen. The recent April 15 riot in Berkeley, Calif., received less attention, but it involved 500 to 1,000 demonstrators, including alt-right and anti-fa (“anti-fascist”) brawlers. Results: six hospitalizations and one stabbing but only 23 arrests, as many police stood by.
Are other cities in the Disunited States ready to explode?
It’s hard to know whether racial or political riots are the greater threat, but they may be like the Allegheny and Monongahela coming together at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River—and that confluence could flood us. Many media outlets have glamorized the racial protests and taken sides on Berkeley’s bashes. Salon from the left headlined, “Pro-Trump rioters got away with beating anti-fascists in Berkeley.” National Review from the right proclaimed, “Berkeley riot: Leftist mob violence undermines rule of law.”
Picking sides in riots isn’t good enough: Berkeley is one shot away from really going crazy, and whether that comes from the right or left, death wins. Los Angeles and Detroit riots grab only the silver and bronze medals for killing because the all-time American leader is the New York City draft riot of 1863, in which at least 119 people died and rioters burned down an orphanage for black children.
That Civil War era yields a model for media action. An explicitly Christian newspaper, the New York World—no relation to this magazine except by theology—suggested in 1860 that Republican celebration over the election of Abraham Lincoln “be tempered with manly generosity.” Southerners said Lincoln’s election made war inevitable, but the World insisted it was not, “if the press and orators of all parties will drop the vituperative style in which they are wont to indulge, and practice a reasonable courtesy and magnanimity.”
The World criticized many Northerners for hating the South and Southern slaveholders for engaging in “the separation of families, the taking of the parent from the child and the child from the parent, ignoring the marriage tie, withholding even that amount of education which would enable the colored man to read God’s oracles.”
The World quoted Matthew 5:9—“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”—and asked Christians on both sides “to humble themselves, and confess before God that they have disparaged our common Lord.” It favorably covered proposals for gradual emancipation and suggestions that the North should pay part of the cost: “That would test the northern conscience, and put us right under a reformed constitution.”
Sadly, in the rapture of the moment, even newspapers that had realistically reported the price of war jumped on the bandwagon. In January 1860 the Richmond Dispatch had offered an accurate prediction: “It is impossible to exaggerate the horrors and sufferings which for years would follow a dissolution of the Union. … It would be war from the start … a line of fire and blood.”
In January 1861, though, the Dispatch strongly called for secession, and did not mention the cost.