Not a thing you expect to see happen in Columbia

A police car burns in downtown Columbia.

A police car burns in downtown Columbia.

Two weeks ago, my church started having live masses again. I continued to watch them online, but they were happening. Now, they’ve been stopped again — by a curfew, in response to violence.

I didn’t post about this yesterday, because I was hoping to know a lot more if I waited. I still can’t say I know a lot. Local media seem to be trying hard, but there are more questions than answers.

So I’m still where I was when I saw the first reports of violence and gunshots near the police station downtown. My reaction then was, Hold on. Something is really, really off here. Things like this don’t happen in Columbia.

And they don’t. Normally, public demonstrations — particularly those having to do with issues touching on racial tension — are very much in the dignified, MLK tradition of civil witness. I’ve certainly been to plenty of them, with regard to the flag and other matters. And there are certain things you expect — things that make you proud to live in a community such as this one.

Columbia has a long tradition of this. In the early and mid-’60s, both black and white leaders in the community looked around the country, and they began talking to each other to try to get us through desegregation without the strife seen elsewhere. This was harder than it looks from today’s perspective. There was no venue for such conversations — black and white folks coming together as equals — to take place. Then-president Tom Jones offered to let them meet on campus at USC. These conversations led, among other things, to a relatively peaceful desegregation of downtown businesses.

Out of those conversations grew the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council, whose board I felt honored to serve on for several years (until just a few months ago). We didn’t accomplish anything so dramatic during my time, but the spirit that those meetings in the ’60s represented — let’s get together and figure out how to solve this — seemed reflected in how we talked about difficult issues in Columbia.

Even when horrible, evil things happened in South Carolina — such as the murders of those nine good people in Charleston in 2015 — I remember seeing comments from people wondering why South Carolina didn’t explode violently the way other places had with less provocation. Instead, leaders came together to mourn, and then to take action, together, to get rid of the flag. Yep, all they did was something that should have been done decades earlier — which means that yes, we still have plenty to be ashamed of in South Carolina — but they did it.

So when I saw that there would be a demonstration in Columbia about the death of George Floyd, I figured it would be a demonstration that would show other places how this kind of thing is done — sober witness, a sharing of grief, an airing of frustration that would demand respect.

And, from what I have heard, that’s what happened. There was such a demonstration at the State House.

But then later, several blocks away, all hell broke loose. Violence. Police cars — and a U.S. flag — set on fire. Rocks thrown. Shots fired. Fifteen cops injured. It’s probably happened before, but I can’t remember when one cop has been injured in a riot in Columbia. Certainly nothing like this.

I’m not seeing these comments in the paper this morning, but yesterday I kept hearing from family members (as y’all know, I’m not much of a TV news watcher) that local leaders such as Mayor Steve Benjamin and Sheriff Leon Lott were saying (if you can help me with a link, it would be appreciated) the violence was the work of people from out of town.

In other words, their reaction sounds like it was the same as mine: Things like this don’t happen in Columbia.

Mind you, these are leaders who themselves had expressed their outrage at what happened to George Floyd. But they weren’t going to let people tear this town apart with pointless violence.

In Columbia, people protest. But they do it in a civilized manner, as we saw at the State House.

This was something else. And thus far, local officials are reacting appropriately to calm things down: Honoring those who express their grief and concerns in a rational manner. Stopping those who do things that don’t help any cause.

There’s a lot more to be done, locally and especially nationally. There are a lot of conversations to be had, and action to be taken. But for a community that’s unaccustomed to this kind of violence, we seem to be responding to it pretty well so far…

54 thoughts on “Not a thing you expect to see happen in Columbia

  1. Bob Amundson

    I am a proud, active member of the Columbia Luncheon Club. “The Columbia Luncheon Club (CLC) precluded the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council. In fact, the CLC actually facilitated the creation of the Community Relations Council.”

    Following are the thoughts I am sharing with other “influencers” that work in the trenches of inequality, the trenches where a disproportionate share of non-whites live.

    There was violence on the streets in Columbia SC yesterday, and as I posted on Facebook, it was breaking my heart. Wife Joan and I listened to the news coverage with incredulity, watching police cars and businesses burn.

    I am concerned that the media and the politicians they interview are to some extent “tone deaf.” Several years ago I read a book, written by Michelle Alexander (a civil rights litigator and legal scholar), “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” The book discusses race-related issues specific to African-American males and mass incarceration in the United States, but as Alexander noted, discrimination faced by African-American males is prevalent among other minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged populations.

    Much of my career has been “in the trenches” dealing with child abuse and family homelessness, and the people (so many children; 100’s if not thousands. I cannot even begin to count …) I assisted were disproportionately non-white. I believe this anger is not just about inequality in the justice system, not just about how “walking while black” is dangerous; that is clearly the “flash point.” It is about inequality in opportunity: education, affordable housing, health (a disproportionate share of people dying from Covid-19 are non-white), and on and on. The “New Jim Crow” is implicit bias (please read the below link for more information).

    “[I]mplicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.”

    We only become aware of biases when we acknowledge they exist. Implicit bias exists. Wake up America, especially our politicians and the media. Much work needs to be done before we are truly an EQUAL “Land of Opportunity.” See:

    1. Bob Amundson

      I just heard Carl Bernstein and David Gergen make the same point(s) I am making. I stayed out of the obvious politics, but they didn’t. I found it very interesting that Lush Rimbaugh (love spoonerisms) said, “Trump is just throwing gasoline on a fire here, and he’s having fun watching the flames.” Bernstein and Gergen were of course saying that is the problem with our current President.

      Bill will appreciate this; others go to the end of this song: Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three – The Roof Is On Fire. “We don’t need no water let the motherf***er burn. Burn motherf***er burn.

      1. Barry

        Trump will throw gas on any situation if he thinks it will help him.

        Remember when he bragged about His mistress saying he was the best in bed? It’s always about him.

        Does this sound familiar?

        “The Donald Show continued with Maples, the Georgia model whom he met in New York and took to Aspen. But Marla soon made the same mistake as Ivana. Ivana, an engaging Czech immigrant and the mother of Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric, believed they were equal partners. Donald got her a job at The Plaza, which kept her busy. But he wanted a cheerleader, not a co-host. There could be only one star.

        Complicating matters, Ivana wanted to conquer New York society, dragging him to parties he detested. He preferred to stay home, eat burgers and watch TV.”

  2. Barry

    This is very surprising in Columbia given how active police have been in listening to the community and taking proactive steps for decades.

    Both city of Columbia and richland sheriff’s dept have been intentional for years in community policing, citizen advisory committees, firing out of line officers, hiring a large number of minority officers, promoting minority officers to positions of authority, etc.

    The deputy police chief of columbia was On tv Yesterday begging people to come share their concerns with him. I’ve seen him do that for years.

    Leon Lott is constantly out in the community, Appears regularly on black owned radio stations asking for help from the community and letting them know he wants to hear opinions and all issues with officers. He’s famously fired quite a number who have stepped over the line.

  3. Barry

    I suspect most of the people causing hard were people looking for any reason to cause damage. I saw video of one white guy from Lexington who was busting out windows. From what I can tell, he was doing it for fun, not for any political message,

  4. bud

    There is a huge difference between an entirely symbolic piece of cloth flying harmlessly beside a confederate soldier statue and the ongoing, nationwide slaughter of unarmed black citizens at the hands of agents of the government (the police). Suggesting the two are similar entirely misses the point. When Colin Kaepernick tried to peacefully protest these violent cop thugs he was shamelessly met with derision from the right wing scolds, especially POTUS. With the most vile, racist president in history fanning the flames of racial tension this is what you get.

    To be clear, it’s still unknown why the peaceful protests suddenly turned violent. Was it ANTIFA or did white nationalists infiltrate the protests to diabolically change the narrative? The fact that we don’t know the truth nevertheless doesn’t stop Bill Barr and Trump from leveling blame at ANTIFA. Since Trump has earned four “Pants on Fires” from Politifact in just the last week should give us all pause as to his true motivation. He is, of course, playing to his sycophant base.

  5. Larry Slaughter

    “. . .the violence was the work of people from out of town.”

    I have some anecdotal insight on this. I am the father of two sons, ages 31 and 28. Both are military vets. One has lived locally most all of his life and works now in a factory; one got his degree, is a musician who has moved back here temporarily during the pandemic. One is increasingly liberal; one is increasingly trumpish/libertarian. I spent part of my day Saturday talking both out of heading downtown.

    I can tell you that my liberal/radical son was all lathered up the day before on stories from his friend in Minneapolis sharing social media accounts of the violent rages there. When he heard things were firing up in Columbia, he wanted to be there. At length we discussed and debated the appropriateness of destroying public, private and government property in response to institutional racism and the murder of people of color by police. I would have joined him, if asked, in the daytime protest; thank goodness, he didn’t go downtown for the later violence.

    My liberal son could say to me, “nothing has changed” by non-violent protests. Wow! The difference between seeing history in the span of his 28 years versus my 68! I suspect none of us want to be on the wrong side of history. In his mind, this could be THE start of the revolution.

    I found this very thoughtful exchange between my two son’s on social media: “To all the privileged white folk out there saying ‘looting isn’t protesting’ just a reminder that murder isn’t policing.” My other son replied, “So is it impossible to disagree with both. Cops killing people without cause is wrong regardless of race and looting establishments owned by people who are angry at the same thing you are is surprisingly also wrong. What if dad’s store was hit, would that be justified?”

    Paradoxically, I suppose, is that it is my trumpish son that has had brushes with the law, been jailed, garnishments, suspended licenses. He gets all ramped up about government intrusion in our lives. I’ve called him out for how he could so hate our government. His responses are something like not hating the government, just hating what it has not become, or not the government he fought for.

    Yeah, our Thanksgiving dinner table can get interesting.

    1. Bob Amundson

      I love your insight, provided by the “wisdom of youth.” Some of the comments I read make this 66 year old want to yell “OK BOOMER!” Both of your boys make understandable points, but we need to listen most closely to those directly affected by long-term, systemic racism (what I called “implicit bias”).

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Thanks, Scout.

      Actually, I did find a quote from Leon on the point about troublemakers being from out of town. It was in this story on WIS:

      Lott said peaceful protesters left around that time and “outside forces” who were “bent on doing damage” took over.

      Interestingly, not long after that I ran into a quote from the mayor of Atlanta who said some of the protesters kept getting lost in the city. In other words, not from around there…

  6. bud

    I find it interesting that folks are putting so much stock in whether the rioters are from out of town or not. It doesn’t matter whether they’re from the Eau Clair section of Columbia or Eau Clair, WI. What SHOULD matter is what is motivating those intent on violence. I still haven’t seen any evidence that these folks actually are Antifa. That seems to be accepted as an article of faith by the Trump administration. Perhaps one of the classes taught at Trump University was Dog Whistles 101.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, Bud, the point is related to my headline, and to my initial reaction when I heard what had happened Saturday.

      I have extensive experience in this community, specifically with things like political protests, and immediately I found it disorienting that this had happened here. Something was off. Other places, yes. Columbia, no.

      This is one way that some people have explained that. I don’t know if they’re right or not. Maybe we’ll find out as things progress, as we learn the names and addresses of people arrested.

      Basically, one or more of three things are happening:

      1. The violence is being instigated by people who are from elsewhere, and are not grounded in the traditions of protest in Columbia.
      2. It’s coming from the fact that everything in our lives is now nationalized. Increasingly, politics is becoming like McDonald’s — everywhere you go, it’s the same. Local distinctions disappear. This started with partisan politics out of Washington. It’s become more equal-opportunity with regular folks who respond to modern media from elsewhere as though it were happening on their doorsteps — whether it’s from CNN or viral amateur videos, things that used to be local no longer are. In other words, it’s ideas and events from elsewhere, not people from elsewhere.
      3. What’s happened in Minneapolis hits such a chord of response in local people, it speaks so compellingly to things they have experienced in their own lives, that it leads to responses unlike anything we’ve seen before locally.

      Protesters, including peaceful ones, would likely say it’s option 3. Frankly, I think 2 comes closer to the mark. But it’s probably a combination of all these things…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I’m probably not going to have time to do a separate post about this today, so I’m just going to go ahead and say it….

        I’m very pessimistic. I don’t see any way that this pattern stops happening.

        There is always, ALWAYS, going to be a bad cop. And there are always cameras around. Eventually, a bad cop is going to do something horrible that gets captured on video and goes viral. And that will be accepted everywhere among aggrieved people as somehow the norm, even in their own communities, and they will explode with indignation.

        OK, now, before you explode yourself with “That’s what the right-wingers say! That these are just bad apples and protesters are overreacting!”… read it again, and think about it.

        I’m not placing blame or dismissing blame. The bad cops are bad, and the earnest protesters are earnest. Let’s set blame and culpability aside.

        I’m saying that I don’t see a way for the pattern to stop. I honestly can’t imagine how — as heated and physical as police work gets — there aren’t going to be outrageous incidents where a bad cop, or even simply a flawed cop, doesn’t do something horrific and get caught on video doing it.

        We can work toward reform — every ranking cop and policymaker in the country can pour his or her whole soul into it — and somewhere, there’s going to be a case where someone does something horrific. It’s going to happen, and at some point it’s going to be on video.

        And decent, concerned people are going to respond with outrage. It’s going to happen.

        I’m just not optimistic enough to see it NOT happening.

        Talk me out of this, because I’d like to be more optimistic…

        1. Norm Ivey

          I’m not talking you out of it. I think you’re right. But that same pattern makes me optimistic.

          I’m thankful that cameras have become so ubiquitous. These same tragic cop-citizen events were happening before, but they weren’t being caught on video, and many people dismissed them. At least now we’re beginning to get some measure of accountability. Maybe police forces will begin to screen some of their officers more carefully or rethink some of their training and procedures. They’re getting feedback from outside sources now, which should lead to better decision making in the long term.

          So yes, this pattern will continue. We’ll know we’ve made progress when those events happen less frequently.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            But don’t you see, there’s no such thing as “less frequently.”

            One incident out of a million gets even more play than one incident out of a thousand. Few incidents, with the standard lowered so that they get just as much play.

            Do you remember a few days ago, when the Minneapolis thing had happened but the incident in Central Park — which wasn’t even violent, much less deadly — was getting all the attention?

            Which was weird, although the Central Park thing had a lot to it that made it interesting — and newsworthy. But I remember thinking, “But wait — in Minnesota, a guy DIED…”

            And here’s the thing. You really don’t have to “lower the standard” to nonlethal incidents. Lethal ones will happen, too.

            There are 275 million smartphones in this country. And there are 800,000 cops. If 5 of those cops get out of hand and kill somebody, that’s way more than enough to keep serious unrest going for quite a while.

            This does not make me feel safer.

            But I guess it’s because I actually believe there are a lot of police officials out there who are seriously committed to stopping and preventing violent crimes committed by their officers. A lot of them have built entire, long careers on that — including, apparently, the chief in Minneapolis.

            They can try even harder, and then try even harder than that. And I don’t think, given the nature of police work and the fallibility of human beings, they can possibly be 100 percent successful.

            And to convince everyone they’re successful, it’s got to be 100 percent, with all those cameras out there…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Another way to look at it — when there are 1,000 incidents, you’ll see video of the 10 worst in the country.

              When there are 100, you’ll still see 10.

              Where there are 50, you’ll still see 10. And they’ll be horrible enough to outrage you.

              I don’t see how “events happening less frequently” helps until perfection is achieved. Because of the phones…

              1. bud

                Brad you’re speaking from a position of white privilege with this nonsense. The cameras aren’t the problem. No. The problem is an inordinate amount of police abuse against unarmed black people who are committing either minor or no crimes at all. Let’s not confuse the important issue with a bunch of made up numbers to illustrate some phantom problem. Actual statistics show this as a bonafide problem. Significantly more black people are victims of police abuse that white. Blacks are targeted for police stops more than whites. So if you want to use numbers to illustrate a point do so in a responsible manner and not insult our intelligence with numeric crap.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Bud, I didn’t say “cameras are the problem.”

                  I was quite specific in saying this isn’t a blame thing. It’s a matter of facts. The facts I was citing were:

                  1. There will always be incidents in which things get out of hand, which will include some cops, somewhere, doing something horrific. This will be the case no matter HOW hard society tries to prevent it. Officials have been trying most of my lifetime, and I THINK they’ve made a lot of progress. But we don’t know that, because back when things were way worse, we didn’t have the video (or realistic stats, which would be more meaningful).
                  2. However many or however few the incidents are in the future, with all the cameras out there, the ones that happen WILL go viral.

                  Consequently, the response will be — from decent, caring people — “It hasn’t stopped! We have to stop it!”

                  This is the extremely fatalistic thing I was saying.

                  Norm has responded the best way you can respond positively to that: By suggesting (and tell me if I’m wrong about what you’re saying, Norm) that the protesters aren’t really responding to the videos. They’re responding to the smaller racist aggressions they actually see in their own lives, and when there are fewer of THOSE, things will be calmer.

                  That’s a more optimistic way of looking at it. Sort of. It suggests a way out, although changing all the milder racists out there may in its way be way harder than stopping incidents of police violence.

                  Now, if you want to accuse ol’ Brad of “speaking from a position of white privilege,” that’s the area to do it. Say, “Brad doesn’t have the daily experiences of the average black person.”

                  That would be true. Of course, I’ve got a pretty good idea of how much of that lower-grade racism there is out there, especially after watching Donald Trump get elected in 2016.

                  But I’ve always known it was out there — more than most white people of my generation, because I’m a newspaperman, and more specifically, someone who has been an editorial page editor. I had to deal with the phone calls and letters and emails from out-and-out racists, particularly when I was working to get the flag down. (That issue Bud cares less about, I know.)

                  I also had the chance to see how much worse it was for a black man to advocate the same things I was advocating, after Warren came on board and starting saying the same things I was saying about the flag. The racist response was WAY more vehement, more naked, more raw. They were ticked at me, but with Warren they were furiously indignant: “HOW DARE HE!”

                  (Here’s an example of what Warren got. It’s not the worst. I thought I had posted a recording of one of the really nasty phone calls, but apparently I tried at one point many years ago, and failed. Here’s a post in which I refer to a column in which Warren wrote about it. Unfortunately, the link to the column no longer works.)

                  So, despite the fact that such attitudes were ones you didn’t show in public for all of my adult life — these messages were almost always anonymous — I saw them more than most educated, civilized white people did. I still remember frequently telling my wife — who was not exposed to it the way I was — how much of it there was out there, hiding in its dark corners. But I probably didn’t tell her enough. I wanted her, and our children, to experience less evil than I was exposed to.

                  All that changed with Trumpism. Not Trump, but the rising of evil that elected him. Something fueled by social media and other recent phenomena that enabled isolated bigots to feel they were part of a crowd, and empowered.

                  Now, I think most of us can see it…

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    I honestly don’t know HOW you change the widespread racism that’s come out of the closet these last few years, for the first time in a couple of generations.

                    I just don’t know. When I was young, long before most protesters were born, we worked hard as hell to build a society in which it was clear that such attitudes were wrong, and would not be tolerated by decent people.

                    We made rather impressive progress.

                    Then came the web, and social media, and probably other things I’m failing to see, and the ugliness exploded into the light, showing itself to be way bigger and more prevalent than optimistic people might have thought.

                    If it’s possible for people to live in 2020 and harbor such attitudes, clinging to them fiercely, I don’t know WHAT we can do…

              2. Norm Ivey

                I agree that the incidents will get into the media with the same frequency, but that doesn’t mean the incidents are less frequent.

                If change does come, those living in the communities where this happens so often will begin to see a difference. It won’t be rapid change, and it will never be complete change. But maybe one day it will get to the point where it doesn’t feel systemic to them.

    2. JesseS

      From what I can gather the Boogaloo types are far more active than Antifa, but the President isn’t about to call that group domestic terrorists, the same way he was hesitant to call out Unite the Right.

      When your (and my) Republican friends are sharing “No, it’s US vs. the Police!” memes, they are spreading propaganda that comes directly out of that community and there is a very active community, just do a quick Facebook search for groups with “/K/” in their name (even in SC). I’m far more concerned with them than idiots who want to do pre-Machtergreifung cosplay. The Boogaloos want a 2nd American Civil War because they see it as the easiest way to eradicate liberal democracy. They are real, they are small and they are highly effective.

  7. Bob Amundson

    Dawn Staley gets it. Read her letter “Black People Are Tired”

    “I’m watching people who are protesting and the riots that are going on. I mean, a part of me feels like I really understand why they’re rioting. Then the other part thinks, That’s our neighborhoods that are being burned down. But I know the place it’s coming from. I know the frustration. I know the deep-rooted anger that it’s coming from.

    People are mad because NOTHING HAS CHANGED.”

    1. Bill

      The more things don’t change,the more they don’t stay the same(“Tear the roof off the sucker”):

  8. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, by the way: Experienced observers in Charleston are saying the same things I’ve said about Columbia:

    After Emanuel and Walter Scott shootings, Charleston stayed nonviolent. What changed?

    It’s a great question, if not THE question.

    Emanuel especially, and also Walter Scott, were SO horrific, and LOCAL rather than something that happened in Minneapolis. The response should have been SO much more vehement.

    The responses to those events WERE powerful, and deeply meaningful. But they were completely different. They were not riots in the street.

    So, we are left to wonder, why is it happening NOW?

      1. bud

        I listened to Keven Cohen’s radio show today and he’s as tone deaf on this subject as Brad. It seems as though many conservative observers are more concerned with the city’s image than anything else. The fact that this has turned into destructive behavior now is probably the result of many things:

        . This tone-deafness is a big part of it. Lets refrain from getting hung up on something as trivial as the city’s image or even a couple of burned squad cars.

        . The odious Trump has contributed to the unleashing of pent up anger with all his racist talk and actions. He’s the divider in chief and that only serves to fuel the anger. Calling Colin Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” for peacefully protesting tells victims of racism that any peaceful protest is futile.

        . COVID-19 has focused attention yet again on the racial divide. Plus being in quasi quarantine for months certainly creates a level of frustration and restlessness.

        . There were 3 incident of cops (or former cops) killing unarmed black citizens in short succession. The effect is cumulative.

        Just imagine if white journalists were being targeted by the police and brutally slaughtered for little provocation. My guess is the Brads and Kevens of the world wouldn’t be so concerned with the city image.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Bud, it’s not about an image. It’s about something failing to be consistent. This causes a person who observes events and tries to interpret them to wonder why. I don’t know why that’s not clear.

          Anyway, I appreciate your making the effort to offer explanations for the inconsistency. And the Trump point is, I think, relevant. Trumpism is based in large part in the expression of racist attitudes that had hidden in the shadows for 50 years before his election. This has made most of us, black and white, more conscious of a matrix of racism that is daily in evidence.

          In that way, the problem isn’t that “nothing has changed.” In that sense, things have gotten much worse…

  9. James Edward Cross

    Because nothing has changed.

    Because black people are dying of COVID-19 at a much higher rate.

    Because we have a President who foments division rather than unity and who lacks empathy.

    Oh, and by the way … I seem to remember that the claim of “outside agitators” was one frequently made during the Civil Rights Era by police and segregationists.

    1. Bob Amundson

      “Because nothing has changed” ESPECIALLY in Columbia. The “outsiders” dog whistle is repeated over and over. Columbia should be the center of services for the needy, but it is not. Only 25% of children taken into DSS Custody in Richland County (and these children are disproportionately non-white) have foster care placements in the County. Quality affordable housing just does not exist, even though there is a rental housing boom in the City. There are solutions to these problems but there is not the political will.

      I am encouraged that this response, so far, is “not a thing you expect to see happen in Columbia.” I hope the volume of the clarion call for the end to the systemic racism in our country continues to increase. Turn up the volume people!

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Bob, you can with justice complain about all sorts of things failing to change in Columbia, particularly since the Legislature has come under the rule of a party that no longer believes in government, and most members have — thanks to gerrymandering — basically no black constituents.

        But to say “nothing has changed” within the context of THIS discussion — about deadly police force against minorities — is not supportable. Not from what I’ve seen during this discussion.

        Where are the incidents, involving the Columbia police department, that illustrate your point? I’m sure there ARE some — in keeping with my theory that no amount of reform can ever completely eliminate it — but where are the horrific cases that shock the world? We’ve had some bad cases in SC (including the Walter Scott one that, as I said, did not generate this kind of response).

        But I don’t see the basis for your saying, “ESPECIALLY in Columbia”…

        1. Bob Amundson

          I was quoting James; I am not a binary thinker. I am a systems engineer/data scientist/social work leader (friends call me a unicorn) who thinks in terms of probability. Sure there’s been change, but nearly enough; I hope you will be able to see that. [b]ud (from what I understand also a logical thinker with strong views) and I are making the same point. I don’t always agree with bud, but I always understand his point of view.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      If you think what we’re talking about here is the same as the old “outside agitators” thing, I don’t think you’re paying attention — to the people noting how unlike Columbia this is, or why they’re saying it.

      Basically, they’re saying it because it’s true. Because it makes you go, “Wait a second — this is not the normal reaction.” And it isn’t. I’m sorry if you don’t see that…

      1. Bob Amundson

        It’s not the normal reaction and that is a very good thing. Change is not only good, it is life. Organisms, people, organizations that don’t change fail. Your career in the newspaper business taught you that.

      2. bud

        You may not have been here at the time but there were some pretty destructive protests over the Vietnam war. I remember a big bonfire on Green Street. I just don’t buy this idea that Columbia is different from anywhere else. Besides we’ve wasted enough time on such a trivial matter.

      3. Bob Amundson

        Just one more brief comment about “outside agitators.” Yes, they exist. But in the world of data they would be considered “outliers.” Data outliers are a primary cause of confirmation bias. Another concerning outlier dog whistle is “voter fraud.” Yes it exists, but the probability that any one vote is fraudulent is extremely low.

      4. Ken

        You really need to stop telling people they’re “not paying attention.” It comes across as both insulting and arrogant. It suggests an ignorance or outright dim-wittedness that I don’t think applies to most on this blog. Plus, it at least implies that you are more in the know than just about anybody else, which I also don’t think applies.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Sorry you feel that way. But here’s how I feel…

          I try very hard to choose my words carefully and explain exactly what I mean. Then, when someone comes back at me (or at other people who are saying something I’m saying) suggesting I’m saying something completely different, something that no one who has ever read my blog or other work could in fairness think I mean, then it seems to me that suggesting the person has not read what I said — or the context in which it’s said — carefully is as nice and as sensitive an approach as I can take.

          It’s the one that feels right to me. After you’ve tried to explain something over and over, it makes sense to ask people to read those words more carefully, rather than keep saying it.

          I’d much rather think the other person is being careless or failing to take time than assume he or she is deliberately misrepresenting what I’ve said. And it’s not a matter of opinion. I know exactly what I said, how I said it, why I said it and what I meant.

          And I say it using my real, full name. So it matters to me that it not be misrepresented.

          So that’s generally why I say things like that. I don’t plan to switch to calling people liars, because that’s not what I believe.

          1. Ken

            How’bout just saying, “I disagree and here’s why….” Or “Here’s what I think they were saying….” Or “This is what I believe happened ….” Simple as that. There’s no need to turn the matter back against the person being addressed. Because I think everyone on here can read perfectly well and understand what they read perfectly fine. So responding to their posts in any other fashion is just your ego talking.

            1. Bob Amundson

              Thanks for your posts Ken. I’m disappointed that Brad never responded to this short post I made: “It’s not the normal reaction and that is a very good thing. Change is not only good, it is life. Organisms, people, organizations that don’t change fail. Your career in the newspaper business taught you that.”

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Well, I almost responded with a joke on myself, saying, “Yeah, especially the very end.”

                But I decided that wasn’t appropriate. I didn’t want to seem to be laughing off what you were saying.

                I didn’t realize that it demanded a response. It seemed to stand alone just fine.

                I mean, I could have talked seriously about my newspaper “career,” in which I was always in the vanguard of change, enthusiastically embracing it. (I was the guy who did that, and had a lot of people who didn’t like the change giving me shifty looks.) All the technological changes, such shifts in coverage emphasis as “public journalism,” pushing with all my might to change the editorial approach from one that had avoided local controversy and stuck to safe, remote topics (a shift that, I hasten to add, had sort of started when my predecessor Tom McLean had the job, so it wasn’t just me) and confronted SC issues firmly and directly. We went from a page in which most editorials were national and international to one in which we focused almost exclusively on things that needed to change in South Carolina.

                Of course, that led to me resisting, and pushing back on, the tendency to nationalize everything — which is why it seems off to me for this kind of unrest to result from something in Minneapolis rather than something like the Walter Scott shooting, but let’s not get off on that tangent again.

                Anyway, when I got laid off for making too much money I was the only active blogger at the paper, the only senior journalist at the paper daily and deeply engaged with readers through the Web — in other words, the only one fully committed to what is now the main game at the “paper.”

                So yeah, I can identify with what you’re saying from my own personal perspective. I just didn’t see the need to go off on that inward-looking digression.

                As I say, I thought your words stood fine on their own…

                1. Bob Amundson

                  Thanks for your reply. I was the first to post on this thread, and I said “I am concerned that the media and ‘the politicians they interview are to some extent ‘tone deaf’.” I believe that was very true last weekend; in all journalism, and it seems especially visual journalism, if it bleeds it leads. Our local politicians talked about riots and outsiders. My friend Councilman Will Brennan learned a very tough lesson about careful social media use when he connected a fire at Epworth Children’s Home with weekend “riots.”

                  I’m just saying these aren’t riots by outsiders. I hope this isn’t going away. I was very concerned that the people hurt most by the current President would not vote; that seems much less likely now.

                  I was worried about the trend towards authoritarianism, with support from a para-military police force (still a problem) and the military. That also seems unlikely now.

                  My heart was breaking last weekend – now I have hope …

  10. Ken

    I think former Sec. Mattis just put a period at the end of this particular debate by writing:

    ““We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers.”

    1. Realist

      ““We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers.”

      How many matches does it take to start a raging forest fire when the conditions are perfect and someone deliberately lights one and throws it into a pile of dry brush? It only takes one, just one and it doesn’t suddenly light up from spontaneous combustion and throw itself into the dry brush, it needs help. The match has no loyalty so the one who lights it and starts the raging forest fire can be a member of the community or an outsider

      The conditions were perfect to ignite a peaceful protest into a riot that spread across the nation. Anger over the death of a black man at the hands of an irresponsible Minneapolis police officer. Black unemployment going from 5.7% in February to 16.9% in April and unemployed with nothing to do. Pandemic requiring people to stay home and if they leave, adhere to policies that prevent social interaction on a personal level. Expectations of changes that have not been made and most likely will take a lot more time than any politician can promise whether it is Trump or Biden. The list can go on and on. But someone did strike the match and that cannot be denied.

      The probability of peaceful protesters becoming lawbreakers is low when conditions are good. The climate is good, unemployment is low, and social and commercial activities are not curtailed for months creating sudden and drastic changes to every day life.

      I use Sam’s Club for prescriptions. Had one filled today but the pharmacist called around 3:30 pm to inform me that Walmart corporate had called and instructed the club and the Walmart stores to close immediately. They wanted to avoid the possibility of anything happening like it did in Fayetteville on Tuesday since protests were planned for Florence and vicinity this afternoon/evening and the same for Friday.

      So no, I don’t buy Sec. Mattis putting a period at the end of the debate. If anything, it is only a comma or semi-colon indicating more to come. And there is simply not a “small number of lawbreakers”. The broadcast and print media, internet, social media,cable, and radio coverage across the nation and around the world has provided us with more than enough proof to dispel that comment.

      1. Ken

        “The debate” I was referring to was the one on this blog, which assumed that Columbia or Charleston were special places, sainted cities or whatever, where this sort of thing does not occur. When the fact is, there are MANY cities across the country where this sort of thing did not occur before, but it is now. So Columbia or Charleston are in no way special. And any effort to see them that way or concern about why they aren’t in the present moment is misplaced, it is a distraction. It’s the moment and all that gave rise to it that should be the focus, not any particular locality.

        Where do you think the focus should be: on the minority who act violently, or on the protests by the overwhelming majority who don’t? For myself, the answer is clear: on the majority and the underlying inequities and injustices that they are protesting. As far as I’m concerned, anything else IS a distraction. I refuse to be distracted — either by the distractor-in-chief or anyone else.


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