Did COVID-19 Lockdown Orders Help Fuel Riots Nationwide?

Millions of people out of a job and stuck at home for months is a recipe for civil unrest.


The lockdown orders imposed by America's governors and mayors already inspired one wave of "reopen" protests explicitly aimed at lifting those restrictions. There's also good reason to think these same heavy-handed shelter-in-place mandates helped to fuel the anti-police protests currently sweeping the nation.

Last night saw yet another round of demonstrations, police crackdowns, and looting in America's cities. Police in Washington, D.C., fired off flashbangs, while helicopters with U.S. Army markings buzzed the crowds at low altitudes.

In New York City, people smashed up businesses throughout midtown Manhattan. The same was true in Los Angeles, where a day of peaceful protests once again morphed into an evening of property destruction and arrests.

The epicenter is Minneapolis, where city police killed an unarmed George Floyd, his death captured in a truly shocking video last Monday. The city soon after erupted in mass protests, and later, riots. Close to 500 people were arrested over the weekend, and both local businesses and a police precinct have been burned down.

This basic play-by-play—where protests spring up in response to the police killing of an unarmed black man, and then later degenerate into riots and violent police crackdowns—is hardly unheard of in recent American history.

In 2014, we had Ferguson. This was followed by the Baltimore riots a year later. Neither required a global pandemic nor a near-total shutdown of the economy to happen.

And yet, while these killings sparked large-scale "Black Lives Matter" protests across the country, serious rioting and property damage were mostly contained to the cities where the shootings actually happened.

Not so in the case of the Floyd killing, which has prompted intense protests, riots, and police violence in almost every major American city. If Monday night's events are any indication, there's little sign of either the street activism or the violence slowing down.

Given the circumstances leading up to these protests and riots, this probably shouldn't be surprising.

Jobless claims passed the 40 million mark last week, reports The New York Times. Many of those still employed have been stuck at home (and often ordered to stay there) with nothing to do for close to three months now. Both have left people feeling frustrated while depriving them of any real outlets for their anger.

The protests that have arisen organically in response to Floyd's death, and police brutality in general, have therefore provided the perfect opportunity for millions of bored, frustrated, and out-of-work Americans to let off some steam. With no bar or party to go to on the weekend, and no job to show up to during the week, why not engage in protesting or even rioting?

This is an intuitively plausible idea. It's also one supported by economic research.

In a 1996 paper, economists Denise DiPasquale and Ed Glaeser tried to understand the causes of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which were sparked by the acquittal of four police officers who had beaten black motorist Rodney King.

The two economists looked at international riot data, cross-city comparisons from the 1960 race riots in the U.S., and then evidence from Los Angeles itself to try and determine how much of the rioting L.A. saw was the result of community factors, and how much of it could be chalked up to individual incentives.

In addition to social conditions like L.A.'s ethnic heterogeneity and large population, their paper found that a high unemployment rate for black men—which was 25 percent in South Central Los Angeles at the time—was a significant contributing factor to the riots.

The two theorized that "citizens with a lower opportunity cost of time should be more willing to spend time rioting, and less bothered by the time costs involved in prison time." Basically, someone without a job had few better ways to spend their time than participating in a riot, and had relatively less to lose by being imprisoned for said rioting.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the current unemployment rate for the entire city of Los Angeles is 24 percent. It's a similar picture in Washington D.C., where 104,000 people have filed for unemployment out of a workforce that numbered 420,000 in March.

The New York Department of Labor reports that New York City's unemployment rate for April was 14.2 percent. Over 2 million people in Pennsylvania have filed for unemployment, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, as of late May.

That's a lot of people who don't have to show up to work in the morning, and who therefore have less of a disincentive to participate in protests or even street violence.

At the same time, many of the social alternatives to protesting remain officially closed. Concerts, sporting events, and other forms of mass gatherings are still prohibited nationwide.

D.C. only started its Phase One reopening on Friday. That same day, Los Angeles announced dine-in restaurants and "non-essential" businesses could reopen, provided they maintained strict social distancing protocols. New York City is not expected to start its phased reopening until June 8.

The fact that so many businesses remain closed further lowers the opportunity costs of time for potential protestors and rioters, making them more likely to pour out into the streets.

Business closures also mean that there are fewer shopkeepers keeping an eye on their stores, and fewer patrons out on the street, all of whom could play some role in suppressing violence just by being out, about, and law abiding.

That leaves the police as the only feasible means of law enforcement. Given the anti-police nature of the protests and the cops' own penchant for overreaction, that's obviously going to escalate things further.

None of this is to say that lockdown orders are the sole cause of the civil unrest that the country is now experiencing. The particulars of the Floyd killing, long-simmering grievances against law enforcement, not to mention overaggressive police tactics, all play a role.

The COVID-19 pandemic would have put a lot of people out of work, regardless of the government's decisions. Nevertheless, government lockdowns have shuttered much more of the economy than was necessary, and have kept it closed for longer than it needed to be.

That might not have caused the current wave of protests and riots, but it has almost certainly helped fuel them.

NEXT: Clearing Out Lafayette Park for Trump’s Church Photo Op Was Wrong, Even If Cops Didn't Use Tear Gas

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  1. Don’t go too far out on that limb.

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    2. Well, you definitely have a whole lot of people out of work, or “working from home,” many of whom have burned through their savings or are wondering if they’re going to start getting evicted this summer.

      They’ve been cooped up in the house for two months, the weather is getting warm, and they have shit-all to do with their time. It may not have been a key factor, but it’s naive to think that it didn’t play at least a tertiary role.

      1. With all that said, it’s interesting that we know the names of all these people that have been killed or beaten by cops, but know fuck-all about the ones who were killed by members of their own community.

        1. Yet very few people know Tony Timpa.

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      2. I snarled at my dog the other day, and I like him more than any human. The kenneling most certainly has led to increased anger and aggression. Add in loss of income, boredom, confusion, apprehension, and the overall stupidity of herds, and I’m shocked that Ottumwa isn’t burning as well.

        I’m in DC for at least this evening, but have met the legal criteria for “traveling” with a firearm.

    3. I think it’s hilarious that Reason steals half their topics from the comments

      1. I floated this idea yesterday, but I don’t have a monopoly on idea’s. 😉

      2. Pandering to their audience? Giving the people what they want is all the rage now

        1. So where is the free stuff?

          1. the Chanel store in Soho oh wait

      3. Or they’re just common thoughts that lots of people have.

        1. “Or they’re just common thoughts that lots of people have.”

          Which, if you think about it, is probably the worst thing you could say to any opinion writer.

          1. ie. Banal.

        2. “Or they’re just common thoughts that lots of people have.”

          Reality has a way of asserting itself eventually, but up until this post, the staff here have been talking about the riots only in terms of protest against police abuse.

          If they stop claiming that the riots are protests against police abuse and come to terms with the fact that an unprecedented 40 million people have lost their jobs over just a few months, that’ll be a vast improvement.

          Don’t hold your breath.

          The over/under on staff posts claiming that the riots are all about the police tomorrow should probably bet set at about three.

          Meanwhile, yeah, seeing 40 million people lose their jobs over a period of nine months and not expecting to see civil unrest is unreasonable. Meanwhile, the news media on TV and elsewhere is still covering the riots as if they were all about racism. In fact, they won’t even refer to these “protests” as riots for fear of being called out as racists for it.

          1. If you mention that the riots are almost certainly tied to the governments COVID response you’re pretty much certain to be labeled a racist, but I suspect history will make lots of mention of COVID.

            The fact this type of riot/protest is pretty unprecedented for a lone killing is notable. Token protests have often gone nationwide but full blown riots have not.

            It doesn’t really matter that much what people say a riot is about at the time. They’re usually a conflux of things that are often unstated by the rioters themselves. ‘Police violence’ is painting with such a wide brush that it’s effectively meaningless. When someone says they’re protesting police violence, they could just as well mean government overreach without understanding that’s the problem they’re rioting over. They can just understand the end result without having any clue what the cause is.

            Admittedly, that’s pretty condescending of me but I don’t think it’s terribly inaccurate either.

            1. Probably not a new thing, but something I’ve noticed a lot lately is that people want one simple explanation for everything. Don’t dare try to inject any nuance. The riots are all because police are so racist.
              Almost nothing has a simple cause. And these problems will never really be addressed if people refuse to understand that fact.

        3. They also rephrase NY Times articles on occasion.

    4. And for added convenience, everyone is required to wear a mask.

  2. The lockdowns were 100% necessary. In fact, anyone who wanted to loosen the lockdowns was literally conducting an experiment in human sacrifice.


    1. The only experiments in human sacrifice were conducted by liberal governors through mandatory COVID admissions to nursing homes. These experiments were found to be highly successful.

      1. Phailing Phil Murphy is the poster child for doing that. Utter incompetence.

    2. yeah, the local county health czar just breathlessly announced that some restrictions will be lifted this weekend for certain approved activities, on a one-page list, but only if done according to a certain set of restrictions, on a separate one-page list, with reasons why they are being allowed now. As if people care anymore what she says or thinks or tells them. And “protesting” in large groups wasn’t on the list, nor was “taking advantage of 100 percent off door buster sales”.

  3. “Did COVID-19 Lockdown Orders Help Fuel Riots Nationwide?

    Millions of people out of a job and stuck at home for months is a recipe for civil unrest.”

    Where have I heard this argument before?

    Some genius in threads has been arguing this since the riots began.

    1. I think it was the French revolution that made governments afraid of large numbers of unemployed young men.
      Rightly so.

      1. China is going to start a war with India to bleed off some of their surplus young men.

        1. I’ve been saying that for years (opponent unspecified).
          They have, what, a 7:3 ratio of men to women?
          I could see that more than anything leading to civil strife… though they might consider abolishing marriage as an alternative

          1. Legalizing homosexuality and prosititution would be a better move

            1. True.
              I’m not as informed of Chinese domestic law as I could be, so wasn’t aware of those.
              Definitely legalize homosexuality, prostitution, and then maybe outlaw monogamy.

              1. *outlaw monogamy for women
                Men will of course be strictly limited

              2. It will be just like The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

      2. I think it’s as old as the hills. I think “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop” goes all the way back to Chaucer.

        The Gracci Brothers were already aware enough of the issue of “idleness” to try to do something about it, and the infusion of slaves into the Roman economy in the aftermath of their conquests made for an awful lot of idle Romans.

        I bet the first general in the land of Sumer had a hard time figuring out what to do with an idle army after the first battle was over and the first war was won. I’ve long suspected this kind of thing to be the root cause of recruits for terrorism.

        When I was a kid, violent skinheads and suburban punks were largely about boredom. It’s probably the same with street gangs.

        1. Cincinnatus knew his civic virtues.

          1. Maybe he just really, really liked farming?

        2. Hence the Roman invention of the 10-year enlistment.

    2. don’t forget hot summer weather and no live sports.

  4. “If Monday night’s events are any indication, there’s little sign of either the street activism or the violence slowing down”
    Arson and looting in Minneapolis have been few and far between since the national guard was fully deployed Sat night. The mayor deciding to let the police station burn Thur night rather than defending a symbol (his words) lit the match in the rest of the country.
    But no shit, sherlock, civil unrest happens in times of economic turmoil.

    1. Yeah, but we can’t deploy the National Guard elsewhere in the country because if we did, Rachel Maddow might call us racists.

      1. Well, yeah, she might. Also… people might refer to you as an authoritarian advocating the deployment of the national guard and the military against civilians. No one would call you a libertarian.

        1. I think this is the third time I’ve written this today: calling in the National Guard to put down a violent mob of looters and arsonists isn’t any more un-libertarian than calling the police to report an armed robbery. A government that refuses to protect our rights from violent mobs isn’t libertarian at all.

          1. Agreed. Why people think it’s libertarian for the government to ignore violence or fail to prosecute crimes with actual victims remains a mystery.

            I suspect shallow thinking and willful ignorance are the cause. A classic ‘muh roads’ sophistic argument if ever I’ve heard one.

          2. Tell me more about that pogrom that was occurring that was happily disrupted by Dear Leader when he wanted to take a walk across the street and pose with a book he’s never opened.

            1. Your response is as incoherent as your thinking.

              A pogrom is basically when the government refuses to stop a riot.

              You’re arguing for pogroms as a matter of official policy.

              How embarrassing for you!

        2. “ lso… people might refer to you as an authoritarian advocating the deployment of the national guard and the military against civilians. ”

          What, you mean like you totalitarian socialist shitstains who were calling for anti-lockdown protesters to be gunned down in the street?

          1. “people might refer to you as an authoritarian advocating the deployment of the national guard and the military against civilians.”

            Calling for the National Guard to put down a violent riot isn’t any more authoritarian than calling the cops on a rape in progress.

            Yes, even civilians should be stopped from violating people’s rights. Theft, arson, . . . all these things are crimes–even when they’re being perpetrated by civilians.

            Using the government to protect the rights of innocent bystanders isn’t authoritarian, and looters and arsonists don’t have the right to loot people’s businesses or burn them down–not even if they’re civilians.

            That these people need this stuff explained to them is proof that they’re being willfully obtuse.

            1. I wouldn’t be so sure of the “willfully” part of it. Some people are just that obtuse without trying.

  5. Nope. No way. It was only Trump, all Trump, and nothing bu Trump.

    (Pay no attention to the fascists behind the curtain labeled DNC)

    1. Or the Democrats running the cities with the worst police forces, since the public employee unions who put them in office won’t let them clean house in the police departments.

  6. Yes , many on here , me have been saying something like this could happen weeks ago.

  7. I dunno. I’ve been out of work since December and I haven’t felt the need to riot. I guess I wasn’t aware I could blame my bad behavior on that yet.

    1. Scientists say that the North Pole is moving. Apparently that is sufficient to knock people’s moral compasses out of kilter too

    2. If I could go outside wearing a mask to hide my identity and smash shit without consequence, I would be sorely tempted to do so. I’ve been alone in an apartment for months, and an outlet for the anger, dismay, frustration, depression, and anxiety that have plagued me from the start of this absurd lockdown would be AMAZING.

      ESPECIALLY since nobody is saying boo about social distancing, which makes me think we voluntarily went into house arrest for nothing. I have never been more pessimistic about the future of this country as I am now.

      We are facing a real-world Kobayashi Maru.

      1. We are facing a real-world Kobayashi Maru.

        So pull a Kirk and change the rules?

        1. I think that’s what the protesters did.

  8. Is two plus two still four?

    1. To be sure.

  9. “The lockdown orders imposed by America’s governors and mayors already inspired one wave of “reopen” protests explicitly aimed at lifting those restrictions. There’s also good reason to think these same heavy-handed shelter-in-place mandates helped to fuel the anti-police protests currently sweeping the nation.”

    Remind me again- how many businesses were vandalized and looted by people protesting to remove lockdown restrictions imposed on said businesses?

    1. “Dude, you’re harshing my buzz!”

    2. Yeah, the comparison is tiresome.


  10. Also contributing to civil unrest — abusive and often racist policing; a bigoted, vulgar administration that provokes strife; and the clingers’ general desperation after generations of getting stomped by their betters in the culture war.

    1. So it was the stomping that did it?

    2. Hey stupid asshole, Jacob Frey is a “progressive” left-winger just like you. Why don’t you and your friends tell him that maybe he should fix his own fucking police department?

      The truth is that you don’t really want to fix any problems, and you couldn’t fix shit anyway even if you really wanted to. You scumbags thrive in chaos, anger, and division where you can blame all your problems on others. It helps maintain your diverse, but rather fragile, coalition.

    3. You were doing pretty well until you hit the “clinger’s” part.

      Rather than clingers, can we talk about folks on both sides getting preached to that someone else is the cause of all their misery? For Blacks it’s vestiges of slavery / racism, for “conservatives” it’s “those other people who aren’t pulling their weight”. Maybe we need to go back to insisting that education include the classics: “The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

      1. Don’t forget the Mexicans and the Chinese. Haters gotta hate.

    4. Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland
      June.2.2020 at 4:58 pm”

      Haven’t seen the bigoted asshole around recently; sorry he hasn’t caught the bug and died. A painful death.

    5. So you’re saying that progressives have been stomping on blacks in this country for generations and the blacks are upset about it?

      You might be on to something there.

    6. How does your blue cities burning contribute to this?

    7. “ vulgar administration that provokes strife;”

      So, that must apply tenfold to Obama, right? Since OBLM was super active between 2012-16 to distract from his latest Scandal Of The Week.

      Guess it’s a good thing Obama and his bitter cultists have lost the “culture war” so badly that they can’t even win elections they fucking rig.

    8. Hey Rev, it ain’t the clingers running the cities and the police forces in Minnesota or California or New York or Chicago…

      1. Or rioting based on the performance of the police in said places.

  11. blaming it on anything other than “it is purposeful foment” is silly.

  12. Nice article, but Ken Schulz already wrote it in comments.

  13. In other news, the Pope is Catholic and bears defecate in the woods.

    1. The Pope is Catholic? Did Francis die?

      1. Question: Which is farther from the truth, the Pope is Catholic, or Reason is libertarian?

      2. I know. That aphorism doesn’t quite work anymore.

  14. “Did COVID-19 Lockdown Orders Help Fuel Riots Nationwide?”

    Pretty much as predicted right here, on these pages by myself and others a couple of months ago.

    1. I’m not convinced the lock downs had that much impact, or at least not in the way that most speculate (and this remains speculation). These neighborhoods were not very healthy even before that.

      What DID change is all of these credentialed white kids being furloughed from school. If anything I think that is what added fuel to the fire. Throw that on top of a completely inept city and state administration that tried to appease the bacchanal and boom goes the dynamite.

      1. The lockdowns and sitting around aimlessly for months primed the pump. What might have been a day or two of local protesting turned into a nationwide “get out of the lockdown free” card.

  15. “…The two theorized that “citizens with a lower opportunity cost of time should be more willing to spend time rioting, and less bothered by the time costs involved in prison time.” Basically, someone without a job had few better ways to spend their time than participating in a riot, and had relatively less to lose by being imprisoned for said rioting…”

    Did they figure in the gains from fencing the stolen TVs?

    1. No, but the extra 600 bucks a week helped.

  16. Sure. And all the OBLM race riots under Obama, too. Not the Democrats stoking hate and bigotry from every corner of life, no sir.

  17. It’s just not PC to suggest that those who riot have any other agenda besides moving society forward in a fair and just manner. The theory that the lockdown somehow intensified the rioting is an offense to those who smash windows, loot and set fires. They do it because they care about George Floyd and shame on anyone who claims otherwise.

  18. Ooo. Look forward to all the studies to confirm all the absurdly predictable and foreseeable unintended consequences of the lockdown – easily one of the most over reaction in modern Western history.

    It really doesn’t take a genius to have understood locking down would lead to all sorts of bad outcomes. I tried to explain this to a friend (I brought up the fact that if you deprive people of their right to earn a living that leads society into all sorts of places it best not go including suicides and undo stress and literally a laundry list of disastrous social ills. I tried to reason and argue that may perhaps we were jumping the gun before the facts. And when facts did come – ie don’t put fucken sick patients in nursing homes – not even that brain-dead fake leaders like Cuomo and Murphy did right. The nursing home figures were so high and avoidable in both Canada and the USA it DISTORTED the real threat and how we responded. It’s what anti-scientific minds do in a dark age like the one we’re mired in. ) in the beginning and through at me just about all the usual brain-dead left-wing puerile talking points about ‘saving lives’ and ‘wanting granny to die’ and ‘the economy is just money.’

    The last one especially angered me because the economy is not ‘just money’. It’s made up of HUMAN BEINGS. Bringing up the very idea of ‘trade-offs’ was enough to send low IQ idiots cowering before Covid into a creepy tirade. They through they were going to die.

    And here we are. Two months later. Still having to deal with ‘phasing’ and isolation for a virus that is petering out with a whimper. Prince Fucking Edward Fucking Island with its 27 cases and 0 deaths is ‘phasing’ opening up. Open what? The McCain and Cavendish potato farms? Actually, the former probably stayed open because Finance Minister Bill Morneau (another limousine liberal piece of work) is married to the McPotato family. Day Four, get ready for the opening of the Anne of Green Gables Museum! You can’t make this kabuki theatre shit up anymore.

    But who’s gonna fix this mess? Jerk offs like Kirkland or Patton Oswalt? Parasites like Trudeau, De Blasio and Murphy? People who got to stay home with full pay while baking bread #rechargingmylife?

    Nope. It’s the TRUE heroes who will pick up the pieces of their shattered lives tending to wounds wholly self-inflicted by an incompetent political class made up of low IQ clowns and power hungry degenerates.

    It’ll be up to them often ignored and laughed at. They will go into their small businesses, shed a tear, clean the shop, roll their sleeves and give it another go. The real heartbeat of nations. They’re The Elephant Man. ‘I am not an animal!’

    But rest assured the media will make sure to mock them.

    We live in a time where rioters are tolerated – nay celebrated even – and beauty salon female owners get arrested for opening their business.

    This is not a good situation.

    1. “We live in a time where rioters are tolerated – nay celebrated even – and beauty salon female owners get arrested for opening their business.”

      November can’t come soon enough. It’s time for them to be disabused of their delusions again.

      1. I disagree, 45% of people are going to be irate either way. We really need to look into splitting the country peacefully before we split violently.

    2. Except the small business owners are finished now. Which is fine to the Left, small business owners lean heavily Republican and you can’t shame them into progressive employment policies like you can with bigger companies.

      Who’s going to want to go back downtown now for anything? Pandemic epicenters were already making urban life look like a bad idea, now the place can become a war zone whenever some local steroid-packed cop messes up.

    3. Good one, Rufus. This shit has to end now. All decent people need to start defying shutdown/stay at home orders. Open your businesses. And be prepared to defend yourself.

  19. I remember the good ol’ days when COVID rendered protesting non-essential.

  20. That extra 600 bucks a week could buy a lot of bricks, if they weren’t already provided free of charge.

  21. I don’t see how they could not be fueling the riots. I’ve said for a long time, this all must end when the riots start. Here we are.

    Fucking asshole tyrant governors and health officials have blood on their hands.

  22. I can’t shop at Bed, Bath & Beyond, but I can loot it.

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  23. If you just look at the United States you would come to a more limited conclusion. However, riots are happening in essentially every country in the world, some at least ostensibly for the same reason but many others for clearly different reasons. Lock downs are an experiment in human mass psychology that has gone vary badly.

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