Absent from this book is even fleeting recognition that anyone (or nearly everyone) might prefer the current nonrevolutionary arrangement. Osterweil does not say what property-less system of government or anti-government she prefers, but I suspect it is not democracy, a term she uses only sneeringly. Nor is it clear how she intends to move from the past disgraces and present unrest to her goal, whatever it is, other than by rioting and stealing things until morale improves. What do you do when the free stuff runs out, the businesses and ordinary people who invested in your city decide not to make that mistake again, and—oops!—a few shopkeepers get beaten to death? This messy process is the “new world opening up, however briefly, in all its chaotic frenzy,” she writes. To me it sounds like a prequel to The Road.
Read: Where have all the rioters gone?
Osterweil is unable or unwilling to relate to anyone at all with anything resembling a sense of humanity. Comrades and enemies alike are described without compassion, emotional detail, or distinction as people endowed with feelings or moral complexity. Once cast as a villain, a villain one remains, with no intricacies of the human condition explored under any circumstances. In the NPR interview, Osterweil describes the Los Angeles convenience store where Latasha Harlins was shot to death in 1991 as the location of “white-supremacist violence.” That shooting, which came two weeks after the beating of Rodney King and contributed to riots that killed 63 people, was perpetrated by the store owner, a female Korean immigrant—an irony that surely deserves probing. But Osterweil’s great class war has only two sides, so a working-class Korean woman is effortlessly enlisted on the side of the white-supremacist cisheteropatriarchs. Osterweil quotes a communist magazine: “Just as Jews were in 1965, Koreans in 1992 were ‘on the front-line of the confrontation between capital and the residents of central LA—they are the face of capital for these communities.’” As explanations of communal violence go, this is contemptibly inane.
Her conviction that her opponents deserve violence would be easier to abide if it were not obvious that nearly everyone counts as an opponent. Up against the wall are members of the media; “liberal commentators, de-escalators, nonprofiteers, right-wing trolls, vigilantes, and, of course, the police”; clergy who physically intercede between cops and protesters; and Nation of Islam members whose crime was to “broker a peace between gang leaders” and “chase looters” from neighborhood stores. You are not safe, at least not forever, even if you yourself are a victim of racism or capitalism. Perhaps you think that Dr. King’s speeches were more inspiring because he did not deliver them with a rifle in his hand, like Saddam Hussein. People like you are not part of the real civil-rights movement. “They must allow the real movement to change them,” Osterweil writes, “or they can only live to see themselves become its enemy.”