BEING THERE: This Is America


NEW YORKER: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” This is how Martin Luther King, Jr., explained matters to Mike Wallace, of CBS News, in 1966. […] In September, 1967, with little more than seven months left to live, King delivered a speech in Washington, D.C., in which he addressed a society “poisoned to its soul by racism” and the question of how to confront and overcome that malignancy. This was in the wake of uprisings in Detroit and many other American cities.

King considered the question not in the spirit of endorsement but of comprehension. Urban riots, he said, using the language of the day, “may be deplored, but . . . they are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest.” Even looting, he insisted, is an act of catharsis, a form of “shocking” the white community “by abusing property rights.” Then King quoted Victor Hugo to deepen his point: “If a soul is left in the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.” MORE


PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Across much of Center City on Sunday, merchants visited their businesses to assess the damage from the previous night’s violence, which overtook earlier peaceful demonstrations over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Property destruction also occurred near the King of Prussia Mall on Saturday night, said Upper Merion officials. Police noticed social media messages posted around 8 p.m. that encouraged people to loot the mall. Groups started arriving by 9 p.m., and some gained entrance to the shopping mecca but were forced out by some of the 200 officers who responded. Police said they arrested 12 people in connection with damaging eight stores near the mall.

Hours after merchants, helped by volunteers, began cleaning up the damage in Center City on Sunday, looting broke out anew Sunday night – at a Lowe’s store in West Philadelphia, a Target off City Avenue, and elsewhere. The vandalism came as many shop and restaurant owners hoped that a new phase in the health crisis would let them slowly return to business. Now they are faced with daunting repairs and the fear that some customers may avoid the area after watching the violent flare-up on social media and in the news.

There had been a growing sense among some businesses that their unmanned shops and restaurants could become targets at a time of increasing job loss and economic insecurity from the pandemic. But “no one anticipated this kind of action,” said Larry Steinberg, a retail broker at Colliers International and president of the Rittenhouse Row merchants’ association.

After Floyd’s death, Steinberg said, “clearly it was the perfect storm. … And it was ugly.”

The air smelled of smoke from a fire that still smoldered after consuming the Dr. Martens shoe store on the 1700 block of Walnut Street as shopkeepers took in the damage, which continued to accumulate as the day progressed with scattered bouts of looting. Groups were spotted breaking into stores Sunday in neighborhood shopping enclaves away from Center City, including in Kensington, Port Richmond, and West Philadelphia. MORE