I spent the weekend visiting friends in Charlottesville, Virginia, most of them associated with the university. Among the topics we talked about was how the rise in crime over the last two years has changed the debate over police reform.
Last night a UVA student opened fire in a campus parking garage, killing three and wounding two others; as I write, he is still at large and campus is closed.
It's a grim reminder that while certain activists like to pretend that the police are the nation's worst instigators of violence, that is not so, and Americans (especially Black Americans) are in much more danger from semi-random acts of violence than they are from rogue cops.
The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 became a very famous event in some circles, symbolizing the far-right threat to America. But the neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis at that rally, horrible as they were, were far outnumbered by counter-protesters. One person ended up dying, when a neo-Nazi rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. It was a disturbing event, but I thought the main message was how the mass of people and the authoritites united against Unite the Right.
What will "Charlottesville" mean in the political discourse now that a random black student has killed three times as many people as Unite the Right did?
Pretending that skinheads and the police are our biggest dangers is wrong and dumb. Reforming the police to reduce the harm they cause, which you all know I support, has to be done while acknowledging the danger citizens pose to each other. Most American murders are committed by young men with guns. Some of them are crazy, some of them are criminals, some of them are wrapped up in gangstah machismo. Politically they span the whole spectrum, from Black Lives Matter to Nazism; most of them have no politics at all. I personally want the police to deal with the threat they pose.
The world is full of dangers, and to focus obsessively on one is usually a mistake. I want an effective police force, and I understand that as long as the whole country is full of guns, the police have to carry them too. I understand that armed police will sometimes shoot the wrong person. I think we could do a lot to reduce that number, but it will never be zero. But as long as the threat of thuggery looms, we are going to need police, and pretending otherwise is intellectually bankrupt, callous to crime victims, and political suicide.
The older I get, the more strongly I believe that the most important thing we can do is to defend civilization. There is no guarantee that this astonishingly rich world we have built will endure; plenty of other civilizations have collapsed or faded back into anarchy and village life. We have to defend it against all kinds of threats: random violence, police corruption, ethnic hate, divisive politics, environmental poisons, outside enemies with hypersonic missiles. We especially need to defend it against forgetting. We are too quick to forget dangers once they fade from the headlines, too quick to forget lessons learned in the fires of World War and violent revolution. I am a liberal, which means I think things could be better and support various reforms intended to make them so. But I never forget that my life depends, not on my party winning, but on the survival of our civilization in the face of a chaotic universe.