This time it's Charlotte. A black man gets shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. Before any details are even known, the protest begins. The family hits up social media with their account of events. The police counter with their version. But by this time, the essential facts don't matter. The protests have a life of their own.
We discover that the cop who did the shooting was also black, as was the police commissioner who informed us of this news. It still doesn't matter in the streets. An interstate highway gets blocked. Several fires are started. A second night of violence is worse than the first. Police cars are destroyed. Stores are looted, a Carolina Panthers gift store is emptied of its content. A Walmart is ransacked. A protester is shot during the melee. Two narratives emerge, one claiming that the police pulled the trigger, the police tweet out a denial. A CNN reporter is tackled during a live broadcast. My television is filled with flashing lights, smoke, tear gas and sweaty, screaming men. Most of the protesters look aggrieved and angry, some look like punks having the time of their life.
As I watch, I know two things to be true. First, we are one traffic stop gone wrong from this happening in my city. Second, this isn't good for the political party in power. Fair or not, the party in the White House owns this sort of violence and disorder. These scenes playing themselves out on the TV screens of a million homes across America will hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. When there's a sense that things are spiraling out of control in the streets, that always hurts the incumbent.
Now, there will be more football players kneeling during the anthem. Now, there will be louder calls for the further militarization of our police. Reasonable questions about police tactics will be drowned out by the law and order crowd. Criticism of looters and suggestions that rioters are just using the protests as cover for mayhem will be derided as dog whistles for racism.
This is America in 2016.