Investigating the source of the unrest

Protests erupted in Kentucky after a grand jury brought no murder charges against Louisville police in the death of Breonna Taylor. This is the latest installment of unrest that that has gripped parts of the country in the three or so months following the death of George Floyd. Although these stories get considerable coverage, especially on social media and on Reddit, these protests are still insignificant relative to the geographic size of the US and its large population size and economy. However, unrest/strife between blacks and whites seems to have become more commonplace, especially over the past 5 or so years, so it behooves us to at least try to understand why.

An investigation on Wikipedia shows remarkably few notable incidents of racial unrest between blacks and whites in the US over the past 30 years, the last major incident being the Rodney King riots in 1992. Although only limited to a few cities, the 1992 riots were in some ways still worse than the 2020 riots in terms of deaths (50 vs 21), property damage, and having so much damage and destruction contained in one area, as opposed to being diffused over many regions.

I would say the late ’90s, before 911 and a decade before the inauguration of Obama, marked the high water mark of racial unity in the US, back when black comedian Chris Rock was selling out venues to all-white audiences, the Department of Justice was suing Microsoft for the crime of bundling Explorer with Windows (which, I guess, hurt consumer choice), and Bill Clinton lied about something, that in hindsight seems so quaint relative to the problems facing America today.

According to Wikipedia, the period from 1992-2009 saw near-zero incidents of notable racial unrest in the US–save for the St. Petersburg Florida riots of 1996 over the shooting of an unarmed black teenage male at a traffic stop, that is only a footnote and all but forgotten, and also the Cincinnati riots of 2001, which is also mostly forgotten–until the 2009 protests over the killing of Oscar Grant by Oakland BART officer Johannes Mehserle, which received considerable national and international media coverage, marked the end of this seemingly unprecedented period of racial unity. And then in 2014 there were the Ferguson riots following the shooting of Michael Brown and the acquittal of officer Darren Wilson, which also was a major event. The acquittal of George Zimmerman over the death of Trayvon Martin, in 2013, also sparked nationwide protests.

So in summary, the period from 1990-2000 saw two noteworthy incidents: the 1992 Los Angles riots and the 1996 Petersburg Florida riots, the latter being so insignificant it hardly merits inclusion (20 arrests vs. 12,000 for 1992 riots). The period from 2009-2010 also saw two noteworthy incidents: the 2001 Cincinnati riots and the 2009 Oakland riots. Both of these were insignificant compared to the 2020 or 1992 riots, or even the 2014 riots. However, Wikipedia lists 7 (or 9 if the deaths of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin are included, both of which resulted in widespread media coverage and some protests) incidents between 2010-2010. 2020 has been so bad that individual incidents have been clumped into a single protest/event encompassing the entirety of second-half of the year.

So something happened between 2009-2014, or there was some sort of societal shift, that made blacks more racially aware and worsened relations between blacks and whites, and this has persisted ever since. Some blame Trump, but this would not explain the protests that occurred before 2017, such as Ferguson. Some blame social media, but social media and sites such as YouTube existed as early as 2005, albeit in a much more primitive form, yet things did not really get underway until 2014. It could have been OWS, which became global (the so-called occupy movement), but OWS and related movements did not invovle race at all, but focused mostly on economics (such as wealth inequality) and the need for student loan foreignness, as opposed to social justice. Economics and social justice are related, but race was never much of a theme of OWS. This is a subject that merits further investigation.