Michael Brown was murdered by the police in Ferguson, Missouri this week. He was shot at 11 times times in cold blood, his teenage body left lying in the street for over three hours. As an outraged community gathered to mourn, the police predictably amassed camouflaged troops and armored military vehicles meant to intimidate the predominantly black community.
This is nothing new. This happens all the time.
Young black men are killed by police, private security, or an armed vigilante every 28 hours in the United States. The systematic slaughter of black men, and black women by so-called “law” enforcement is relentless.
Ervin Jefferson, Amadou Diallo, Qusmane Zongo, Trayvon Martin, Patrick Dorismond, Sean Bell, Timothy Stanbury, Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Tyrone Brown, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Oscar Grant, Jordan Davis, Kenneth Chamberlain, Abner Louiama, Kendrec McDade, Timothy Russell, Steven Washington, Alonzo Ashley, Wendell Allen, Travares McGill, Ramarley Graham, and now Michael Brown. Just a handful of names out of the hundreds of black youth cops kill every year.
— Chicago Sun-Times (@Suntimes) August 12, 2014
No other race living in America would ever have to tolerate this level of sickening barbarism at the hands of police. No other race would ever be threatened by armed para-military thugs while trying to hold a peaceful memorial for a slain boy. As the neighborhood gathered around the scene of the killing, Ferguson PD surrounded them with attack dogs, brandished machine guns, preparing to disperse the crowd with chemical weapons.
The people of Ferguson finally had enough.
Whether you identify positively or negatively with the term or the idea, whether you feel that uprising is an appropriate reaction to state violence or whether you prefer the term rebellion instead, the act of the riot is as historically necessary as any form of civil disobedience.
Unfortunately, like any unlawful form of protest, those trained to fear police and cherish warped values of private property often misunderstand what a riot actually is, how it functions, and its ultimate purpose and message.
Contrary to their end-of-days condemnation, corporate media loves a good riot. They get to roll out their BREAKING title cards, their field reporters frantically pressing earpieces into their skulls, opening rehearsed monologs meant to sound spontaneous with lines like, “Just behind me you can see the sheer chaos of a world gone mad!!”. The Riot gets good ratings because The Riot is a grand spectacle of street theater – and that’s part of the point that ‘rioters’ understand.
It should be understood, however, rioting will not bring back the dead, but it will ensure the dead are not forgotten. It will ensure that the systemic racism and violence dished out with impunity by police will be challenged. It will ensure that the impotent hand of authority is exposed once communities stop being afraid of white supremacists with badges and shot guns. Lesley McSpadden speaks about her son’s murder.
Equating the act of riot with the institutionalized act of oppression that incites a riot is ignorant at best and dishonest at worst. Equating the destruction of private property with violence in the first place is intellectual laziness. Smashing the windows of a T•Mobile strip-mall outlet or burning down a QuikTrip junk food shack are not violent acts because these are inanimate objects, and symbolically targeted ones at that. Rioting has its time and place. Ferguson was one of those places, and one of those times.
There’s not much else here I can say that others haven’t said better before. What follows below are the words and images of those who struggle in ways I can barely imagine, who have bled from their bodies and watched as cops murder their children in the streets. Their sorrow and their rage are immeasurable.
The collective act of fighting back – if and when it includes destruction as defiance in the face of oppression – shall always be justified.
— David Carson (@PDPJ) August 13, 2014
“Yesterday, NASCAR driver Tony Stewart hit and killed Kevin Ward Jr. with his car during a sprint race on a dirt track. Not much of that sentence makes sense to me because I don’t really follow car racing but I have been struck by the story and how clearly the proper language has been used to describe what took place. One man killed another with his car. It is a tragedy. Did Kevin Ward Jr. go to college? That will never be part of his narrative because we inherently assume his life matters. He is white.” ~ ‘Silence Is Not An Option‘, Roxane Gay
“Looting, too, is about power. When people have nothing and something happens to remind them, in a big way, that what little they do have can be taken away in an instant, including their lives and the lives of their children, they may reach for any semblance of power or control they can get. That might mean breaking a window or even starting a fire. It may mean taking something. Something you’ve been told you can’t have because you’re not human enough to live, let alone prosper.” ~ ‘Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By Police‘, Mia McKenzie
Capitalist ideology demonizes riots because it physically challenges the legitimacy of private property and the police. — zellie (@zellieimani) August 11, 2014
“The police officer with the megaphone ordered the protesters to go home. “We’re in our yard!” they responded. At one point West walked to his fence with his hands high up in the air. “This my property! This my property!” he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face. He moved at the last second. West screamed irately after narrowly avoiding the gas canister. Eventually a friend grabbed him and pulled him back to calm him down.”This is my backyard! This is my shit!” West continued screaming into the camera. He turned to the police: “Y’all go the fuck home!” ~ ‘Police in Ferguson Fire Tear Gas on Protesters Standing in Their Own Backyard‘, Ray Downs
“Young people of color are presumed guilty. Police cars slow down when they pass us on the street. They search our pockets and dump out our bags. On our way to and from school. To and from work. If we walk through a wealthy neighborhood, we might get shot. A third of us have been to jail. The law protects this kind of targeting, so yeah, we’re criminals. We are criminals because we are seen as criminals. We were criminals long before we climbed through broken windows. We were criminals long before we ‘refused to disperse’.” ~ ‘Step Back with the Riot Shaming‘, Tyler Reinhard
“If there is a so-called riot over the Trayvon Martin case, it will not just be Black people in the streets, no more than it was just Black people rebelling over the 1992 Rodney King outrage. It will be everyone of every race, culture, and ethnic background who are absolutely outraged over this murder, the fiasco of a trial, and the arrogance of white America for staging this racist show trial in the first place. A so-called riot is a class rebellion against the state, a referendum on the corruption and oppression of the system. It is not a criminal enterprise as so many so-called radicals believe. Any act of fight-back by slaves is justified, even if imperfect or not understood by many in the comfortable classes.”~ Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin, Summer 2013
decentralized suburban looting dynamic makin tht armored personnel carrier look real stupid j sittin in front of ross dress 4 less by itself — New York Year Zero (@newyorkyearzero) August 11, 2014
“I must remind you that starving a child is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical need is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence.” ~ Coretta Scott King
Thumbnail image courtesy St. Louis Post Dispatch.