Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, protests and riots have shaken the country. Tensions escalated further on Aug. 23 after Jacob Blake was shot by police seven times under hotly disputed circumstances. During these flash points, more than 15 million Americans have protested for police reforms and changes to a deeply unfair criminal justice system.
But, unfortunately, a small subset of these protestors has committed themselves to wanton violence and property destruction. Some have disturbingly attempted to justify this reckless behavior, claiming that “property is replaceable” and insurance will protect store owners from the destruction of their livelihoods. In reality, store owners, entrepreneurs, and taxpayers across the country bear the brunt of these costs. And far from defunding the police, rioting and looting acts as a stimulus for the folks in blue. For the sake of countless struggling people, communities, and the economy, the riots must end.
By now, most Americans have likely heard the horrific stories of the violence gripping America’s cities. During a recent spate of riots in Minneapolis, looters broke into a Vietnamese family owned restaurant and promptly tore down a picture of the family “that was on the wall that represented generations of work” before ransacking the establishment.
Owned by African American entrepreneur Leon Scott, Philadelphia-based Silver Legends had their windows broken in and their cash register and merchandise stolen. And there are many more examples of minority-owned businesses that have fallen victim to rioting and looting. Some insist that this destruction is manageable because of well-heeled insurers ready to promptly pay out claims to store owners with policies.
These and other store owners across the country are finding that not everything is covered by insurance and payouts are stubbornly slow. An Indian American owned car dealership in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has been spurned by its insurers after suffering significant destruction following the Blake shooting. As a result, the owners of the dealership had to set up a GoFundMe account to manage costs. Meanwhile, small shops and restaurants in Chicago have yet to receive insurance payouts more than two months after the initial wave of rioting and looting. Chicago menswear storeowner Scott Shapiro points out that business owners are afraid to file claims for fear of increased insurance premiums.
And in an environment where business owners are reluctant to file and insurers are reluctant to pay out, taxpayers inevitably foot the bill for the costs of property destruction. Already, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are considering expanding the Paycheck Protection Program to include looting damage as an eligible expense for loan forgiveness. The small business assistance program has already cost federal taxpayers more than $600 billion, and rioting-related relief will likely further increase program expenses.
Local taxpayers have also paid dearly for the reckless conflagration and destruction of businesses. Minneapolis – the ground zero of the May and June riots – has gone more than $500 million in the red between emergency response, clean-up, repair, and police costs. In the two-week period following the first wave of rioting in May and June, New York City taxpayers spent $115 million in police overtime costs. Redirecting and reducing police funding may be a laudable goal, but it’s difficult to realize that goal when taxpayers have to pay bloated police overtime bills to deal with rioting.
These rioters and looters hardly represent the Black Lives Matter movement, which as many as 26 million Americans have participated in. The individuals responsible for torching minority-owned businesses and stealing their cash registers detract from the cause and make it more difficult to reprioritize public safety funding.
Policymakers should adopt zero-tolerance policies toward looting, while making clear their commitment to police reform instead of sitting on reform bills. Rioters have no place in the movement to make America a fairer, better place. And as long as the riots and needless destruction of property continues, the economy, small businesses, and taxpayers will continue to suffer.
Ross Marchand is the vice president of policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.