Newbury Street was in a sorry state before Sunday night — its shops and cafés shuttered by the state shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, some of them never to reopen. Now, along with Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street, Boston’s famed shopping street fell victim to looters whose connection to legitimate fighters for racial justice is tenuous at best.
Today many of its high-end shops — Chanel, Burberry — are boarded up. Hangers from Riccardi litter a side street. Bags from the thoroughly trashed and emptied Uggs store are blowing around, and a row of old shoes presumably traded for new ones are lined up at the now boarded-up doorway.
Because nothing screams social justice like looting an Uggs or Nike store or breaking a stained glass window at Arlington Street Church. And, no, spray-painting “BLM” and “F… the Police” on a store that had the foresight to board up ahead of the protests doesn’t pass for political discourse or any kind of homage to George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who died after a white Minnesota police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck.
Some stores that made it through the Sunday night protest unscathed were taking no chances and boarding up Monday in anticipation of more chaos.
The pattern has become clear in city after city. The real protest marches are orderly, the speeches passionate, the emotion heartfelt, the pain of injustice very real. Here as elsewhere, police were facilitators for those marchers — blocking streets to traffic, clearing the way so that those who wanted to make their statement peacefully were free to do so.
Then the sun goes down and the crazy starts — the looting, the burning of police cars, the acts of provocation.
Was Boston so naive as to think we’d be different? That we’d be spared the chaos? That we’re special?
It doesn’t matter that Boston’s police commissioner, William Gross, is, on a 1-10 scale of human decency, up there at about 11. And it doesn’t matter that he and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh have said — and done — all the right things.
What has also become clear in city after city is that not all of the anger and destruction are homegrown. And while the number of “outsiders” actually arrested is small, the implication is that they are part of a larger contingent of those who came only to make trouble.
"I am angered . . . by the people who came into our city and chose to engage in acts of destruction and violence, undermining their message,” Walsh said in a statement. During an afternoon news conference, he said of the 53 arrested, 24 came from outside the city, two from out of state.
The mayor and police chief of Miami also blamed much of the violence on “outsiders.” Seven of the 57 arrested in that city came from out of state.
Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota said he’s seen as yet unconfirmed reports that white supremacists “are trying to take advantage of the chaos.” He was particularly concerned about a Sunday night cyberattack on state computers that occurred just as law enforcement was hitting the streets.
President Trump has insisted the violence is “being led by Antifa and other radical groups,” choosing to shift the blame to the left.
In short, the violence has become a Rorschach test for Americans — pick your favorite target, left or right. It’s entirely likely they’re all right. Those who track extremist groups have found “chatter” on both sides. Chaos and violence bring out the worst of the worst — those who will always be there to take advantage of America’s racial fault lines.
Sadly, the playbook was written back in 2016 — we know that now.
New Knowledge, a think tank hired by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to analyze social media posts they had gathered, found the Russia-supported Internet Research Agency hard at work exploiting those racial divides before and during that election season.
“The most prolific IRA efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted Black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing Black audiences and recruiting Black Americans as assets,” the report said.
The Mueller investigation indicted many of the IRA’s principals.
But the New Knowledge report also warned, “We should certainly expect to see recruitment, manipulation, and influence attempts targeting the 2020 election, including the inauthentic amplification of otherwise legitimate American narratives.”
Federal officials recently acknowledged a surge in new social media accounts that appear to be aimed at doing just that — posting images designed to inflame.
So today Boston shop owners are cleaning up and boarding up. Meanwhile, those who would exploit America’s divisions — and their favorite presidential candidate — are looking forward to reaping the rewards of the chaos they helped sow.
Rachelle G. Cohen is reachable at Rachelle.email@example.com.