This is a continuation of an article published in our December 2014 issue
BY CAMRYN LELAND & DANIEL VOGEL
In the initial protests against the decision made by the Ferguson Grand Jury in Portland on November 25th, the police were the only ones who showed up with weapons, and the only ones expecting violence.
Protesters were bruised and bloodied for the crime of jaywalking. Pepper spray was utilized against unarmed demonstrators. Numerous times I (Daniel) saw police aiming military-grade assault rifles at protesters walking on the sidewalk; one misplaced finger, and we would have had one less demonstrator.
I met at least one ‘agitator,’ an undercover cop pretending to be a protestor so that he could convince the crowd to commit violent acts–namely, property damage. (The only members of the Portland Police I felt any sort of sympathy for were the horses, who were forced to wear riot gear and nearly panicked at our numbers).
Protests in Portland were peaceful. In Ferguson, protesters were ‘peaceful’ as well–property was destroyed or looted, and the only people harmed were demonstrators attacked by tear gas and rubber bullets shot by police. Essentially, it was a police riot.
Oftentimes, people like to criticize ‘riots’ by saying that they do little to create change, that “looting and arson” aren’t effective or moral ways to alter our unjust system. They see the local news and assume rioting is angry black people looting and destroying property. They see this behavior as aggressive, hostile, costly and created by “thugs”–a word rarely applied to whites. But at least in Ferguson the riots were for a cause, unlike sports riots because drunk white people causing property damage and injuring innocent bystanders, like the Keene pumpkin riots, is all harmless fun, right?
MLK, while never advocating for violence, said it would be “morally irresponsible” to condemn riots “without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society.” He said, “These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. A riot is the language of the unheard.”
In Ferguson, 67 percent of the population is black. But in the whole of Missouri, 84 percent of citizens are white, while 12 percent are black. Yet blacks in Missouri are convicted of felonies (and subsequently losing their voting rights) 5 times more than whites.
Local elections in Ferguson were held in odd-numbered years, a practice that decreases turnout amongst the poor and minority populations. Blacks made up 20 percent less of the voting population in local elections versus national elections.
It’s no wonder that five out of six city council members are white, six out of seven school board members are white, and fifty out of fifty three local police officers are white.
In a capitalist system, decisions are made based off of a cost-benefit analysis; if a process is not profitable, or is otherwise damaging, it will be ended.
Standing plain on the sidewalk, while providing good press, does nothing to cost the system money. Marching in the streets and blocking traffic is somewhat more damaging. But rioting causes huge amounts of property damage, which compels local leadership to create change in communities.
If a business has to spend money fixing a few broken windows, there’s less money sent in through taxes to pay for police (rioters in Ferguson targeted national chains, rather than small businesses, because national chains have the money to recuperate for the costs). Businesses that lose too much money will lobby the government to change policies, regardless of in what way they lose money; if an unjust system has their businesses destroyed, they’ll lobby the government to change that unjust system.
For people who don’t have the ability to exact change on the system because of mass incarceration and racially created poverty, it’s a perfect deal. Rioting is a method of change available to everyone–it’s an equal opportunity.
Also, riots aren’t just an attack on racism in one department or place. Looting isn’t just stealing. Riots and looting are attacking an overarching system founded on white privilege that today we justify using the lifelessness of income.
In Ferguson most of the stores looted weren’t sellers of luxury goods, they were mostly grocery and convenience stores and fast food restaurants. Looted items included drinks for dehydrated people, food for people who don’t have the money to eat, and milk to fight the effects of tear gas.
The rioters in Ferguson were fighting for something. Unlike sports riots, which draw not nearly the same criticism. For example, In Keene, New Hampshire a “rowdy crowd” was disembodied in attempts to control all destructive rioting that occurred. Along with local college students, the city’s younger demographic participated in a striking rage that resulted in police force reluctantly using tear gas and pepper spray. Of course, only in the media’s response to Ferguson were the pundits brought out to decry “violence” and misappropriate MLK quotes.
Apparently, when black people want to express their concern for the safety of their lives, society feels threatened and demand that more protection be brought in to defend the cities and non-protestors.