September 1: The Math is Easy, No Consequences Means More Riots

protesters face cops and teargas
Protesters in Michigan face cops and teargas

It seems that some mayors, governors, and district attorneys – and possibly some voters — need to remember psychology 101 or child psych to figure how to deal with rioters. 

Let me give you an example from child psychology:

You are going shopping and you take you four year old.  Before you go, you tell your child, “If you are good while we are shopping, we will stop at McDonalds on the way home so you can get a happy meal and play.” This is a positive way to establish the kind of behavior you expect.  “So you want to go to McDonalds?  Yes, then you just have to be good the whole time we are shopping, even if you get tired.  Can you do that?”

Then, as you drive to the shopping center, you point out the  McDonalds and you say, “Remember, if you are good today, we’re going to stop by on the way home.”  This reinforcement is necessary because little kids have short memories.

You start shopping and at some point the child gets tired and starts to act badly.  You remind them: “If you don’t stop that and start behaving right now, there will be no McDonalds for you!”  Then you cajole them and remind them how they want the toy in the Happy Meal and they straighten out.

When shopping is concluded, if the child has been good the majority of the time, you take them to McDonalds, get the happy meal, and watch while your child enjoys the play area.  You reinforce their good behavior by reminding them of the consequence.  “You were so good to day at the store!  That’s why I’m buying you this Happy Meal.  I’m so proud of you!”  This not only reinforces the good behavior, it establishes that having a proud parent is a positive thing.  The goal here is that one day soon they will behave just to make you proud.

Consequences Matter

For this to work, you must clearly establish a consequence and remind them of it.  Then you MUST hold the line.

Never go to McDonalds even if the kid was bad.  If Junior was running around creating a disturbance or crying and yelling in the store, you must NOT go to McDonalds. If he or she disobeys in the store, you take them home and give them a negative consequence, like not being allowed to watch TV or use your phone.  Even if they throw a fit when you drive by McDonalds, you have to ignore it.

For maximum effectiveness, any consequence must be fairly immediate.  Saying, “If you aren’t good at the store, Santa won’t bring you a present at Christmas,” is not very effective unless Christmas is just a few days away.  This is why people smoke even when they know it has negative consequences: the consequences are so far in the future it doesn’t have sufficient weight to change behavior now.

Consequences Must be Appropriate

Consequences must also be appropriate.  My ex-wife would ground a teenaged for two weeks for some minor affront.  Three days later she’d say, “I’m sick and tired of having you around the house.  Go out and play.”  This undermined her authority.  She would have been better off grounding the kid for three days and sticking with it.

President Obama found himself weakened on the international stage when he draw a line in the sand with Syria regarding the use of chemical weapons and then failed to live up to his threats.  By caving in, he taught adversarial countries that there would be little or no consequences for bad behavior.

President Trump, on the other hand, threatens terrible consequences as a negotiating tactic. But he does not hesitate to use sanctions and other economic consequences to renegotiate trade deals and try to effect change from countries like China, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.   Sanction and economic penalties don’t work as quickly as sending a few cruise missiles in to hit a chemical weapons depot, but it weakens the adversary over time and may bring them back to the negotiating table.

The Carrot and the Stick

You might recognize this approach as the carrot and the stick.  Used effectively, it can change behavior.  In fact, many laws are simply a way of showing you the stick, or the consequence, of bad behavior.  If you speed, you will be fined $200, have to go to court, pay court costs, and your insurance will go up.  If you rape a nine-year-old, you will arrested, prosecuted and sent to jail where you will likely be beaten by other offenders.  When you finally are released you will have to register as a sex offender and the police will visit you every month or so to make sure you are staying away from minors.

The carrot and the stick approach fails when there is no stick or the carrot has no value. So when city attorneys and district attorneys release rioters from jail with little or no penalty, they are going to just keep on rioting.  When looters face no jail time, what is to stop them from rioting?  When you get rid of the bail system, which worked for centuries, you give criminals no reason to show up for court.

This is also why it is difficult to stop college age kids from partying during a pandemic: Because catching COVID-19 has minimal or no consequences to them.

Portland and the Lack of Consequences

After three months of allowing protests to continue in Portland with little or no serious consequences from the city attorney, we can see the following behavior:

  • Looting, arson, attacks on police precincts, and general lawlessness continues because riots have learned that they will suffer no consequences
  • Local businesses will close and residents will leave because they have seen the negative consequences of being in downtown Portland.
  • Other law enforcement agencies will not support Portland via mutual aid pacts because they know it is a waste of time.

This weekend, right after the Democratic Party realized the riots were not helping them in the poles, Oregon Governor Kate Brown called for local agencies to assist Portland.  According to KPTV, this was the result:

In a statement, Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts wrote:

“Had Governor Brown discussed her plan with my office, I would have told her it’s about changing policy not adding resources. Increasing law enforcement resources in Portland will not solve the nightly violence and now, murder. The only way to make Portland safe again, is to support a policy that holds offenders accountable for their destruction and violence.”

He went on to say that for this to happen, the district attorney needs to prosecute arrested protesters.

Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett released a similar statement, saying:

“As Washington County Sheriff, I commit to support PPB through indirect ways, like analyzing risks associated with social media, air support, assisting with a specific criminal investigation, etc. At this time, I do not plan to send deputies to work directly in Portland…. The lack of political support for public safety, the uncertain legal landscape, the current volatility combined with intense scrutiny on use of force presents an unacceptable risk if deputies were deployed directly.”

Consequences Must Change before Behavior Will Change

To change behavior of the rioters, the consequences must change.  My advice would be to call up 5,000 National Guardsmen and using a ration of 10 to 1, arrest every single rioter or protestor who on a Friday night who violates curfew or breaks any other law. Haul them off to tent cities guarded with electric fences and razor wire, feed them MREs, and make them use latrines while they wait to face trial.  Disable cell service to the area.  Offer no bail or other hearings over the weekend. 

On Monday, after they have had a few days to reflect on their behavior, offer them a plea deal in which they can plead guilty and be released with a fine and a one-year suspended sentence if they give authorities the complete details on who paid them to show up, who paid for their travel and accommodations, and who gave them instructions on how to behave.  As part of the deal, if they are caught rioting or protesting anywhere in the U.S. again in the next three years, the sentence is no longer suspended and they get sent immediately to jail. For those that do not agree, keep them in the camp for a few weeks until the trials begin. If they complain, tell them it’s just like being at Burning Man.

I guarantee you the majority of the rioters would go home and never riot again, and the majority of Americans would applaud.

It should also be noted that protests in Kenosha died down after protesters were killed.  This demonstrates that people being paid $15 to $18 an hour to protest don’t want to risk get killed.

When you get right down to it, most protests have a few hard-core Antifa and/or BLM folks, some well meaning supporters, and lots or folks from rent-a-crowd who are their for a paycheck and some fun. During the day-time protests, there are probably quite a few people who are legitimately angry about black men being murdered by police, but by the time dark falls, the peaceful protesters have gone home and the criminals have come out. The professional agitators, the felons who are happy to loot stores and beat people. I believe that by the second or third night, most righteous protests are hijacked by professional protesters.

We Need Tough Leaders

Leaders and elected officials need to be tough enough to punish people, just like parents need to be tough with their children and show them who is in charge.  With a kid, that may mean taking away their phone or prohibiting them from playing video games.  For a rioter throwing rocks at the police, that means a forceful arrest, handcuffing, a night or three in jail, a fine, and a record that might hurt them when it comes time to act like an adult and get a job. For rioters beating people with batons and rocks, it could be death when someone who looked like pretty turns out to be armed.

And for murderers, rapists, burglars, and other hard-core criminals, it means serious jail time and a chance at the death penalty because our kinder, gentler prison system is just not the deterrent it once was.