We are now approaching the two-month mark since the riots that erupted across the United States in late May and early June. There is a reasonable argument to be made that these riots were unprecedented in U.S. history — or at the very least, since the 1960s. Yet if one surveyed the national media today, you’d barely even know anything happened. Nor would you likely be aware that those who bore the brunt of the destruction — largely minorities whose sensibilities don’t fit into any neatly-delineated ideological category — are still acutely suffering from the fallout.

Yes, civil unrest has of course occurred before. But the riots of 2020 exhibited features which belie any easy historical parallel. For one thing, consider their enormous geographic scope.

While the most extreme riots in cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and particularly Minneapolis did receive considerable attention — however fleeting, incomplete, and unnecessarily inflected with knee-jerk partisanship — there were also smaller-scale riots in surprisingly far-flung places that you hardly would’ve known about unless you lived in the area, happened to visit, or intentionally sought out what remains of the bare-bones local media coverage.

To take just a small sampling: Atlantic City, NJ, Fort Wayne, IN, Green Bay, WI, and Olympia, WA all underwent significant riots, at least per the normal expectations of life in these relatively low-key cities. Did you hear anything about them? Because I hadn’t, and I’m abnormally attuned to daily media coverage. Only because I personally visited did I learn of the damage.

These riots exploded with such intensity, across so many jurisdictions, and within such a contained period of time — roughly speaking, a one-week stretch beginning May 28, the day the chaos in Minneapolis/St. Paul reached a grisly apex — that no other instance of past civil unrest seems quite analogous. Complicating matters is that the riots occurred in tandem with a protest movement now believed to be the largest ever in U.S. history — one which saw demonstrations, vigils, and general rancor extend even into the most unassuming expanses of suburban and rural America.

 

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