Everybody’s talking about the riots in Baltimore. When everyone’s talking about something is usually a great time sit down and shut up, but, hell with it. I did sit on this for awhile, because, well, the last time I got annoyed by something on Facebook and wrote a post about it, I had to deal without about ten thousand angry internet people. Fortunately, they were idiots, and soon moved on to other hashtags.
Anyway, I’ve been noticing a lot of folks on social media, mostly young white people from suburban backgrounds, saying some version of this, “I don’t condone or condemn the rioters.”
Now, my first instinct is to say something along the lines of, “Both apathy and stupidity are contemptible, which makes you double contemptible.” But that’s not fair. We must resist these urges. Sure these people are being stupid, and they are wrong to have this non-opinion, but who isn’t stupid now and then? And who hasn’t just been too fed up to care at one time or another?
So, I think you’re wrong, and I’m going to explain, very carefully, why I think that.
The Single Important Thing to Remember
Even if you get mad at me and completely disregard everything else: Nine out of ten people in a crowd are always pretty okay. Remember that whenever you do anything, it will make life easier. It makes keeping the peace easier, it makes finding the justification for not acting like a dick a little bit less difficult on the hard days. Fact is most of the police are doing their jobs just fine, and most of the protesters are there exercising their right and responsibility of citizens to protest injustice.
The other thing you have to remember is that any time you get a group of ten or more people together, one of them is there to kick someone’s teeth in. It doesn’t matter if the group is police, lower class black kids, or nuns. It probably won’t even be the same one in ten from one day to the next. Sometimes it’s you, sometimes it’s me.
The other thing you have to remember is that burning cars make better news and better political fodder than conversations. Which now brings me to the meat of the issue.
CONDEMN. THE. RIOTERS.
Not just the rioters, mind you, and we’re getting to that bit, but absolutely, definitely, condemn the rioters. There’s no reasonable reason to be on the fence about this.
First off, and I’m speaking as a poor person here: If your reaction to your situation sucking is seeking out the property of other people in your situation and destroying it, you are shit. Shit. You deserve to be treated like it; scooped up, dumped in a pile with the rest of the shit, and sent somewhere far away from the nice things where you won’t stink things up. What color shit you are isn’t really something that needs to be considered in the process.
Now, some people are going to point out that change through violence is a very common method for changing things. You’re not wrong. However, change through violence involves the consequences of violence. Take a look at the places employing that on a wide scale. It’s not something we need here. It’s not something we want here. The only time change through violence is needed is when avenues for peaceful resolution do not exist . . . when they clearly do. As evidenced by the massive numbers of peaceful protesters and the small number of rioters.
The looters and rioters are making a shitty neighborhood worse. They are making it that much more likely that the cops in that neighborhood will be trigger-happy. They are undercutting everyone out there trying to show the world that they are people who deserve respect. Now, let’s pause for something everyone can enjoy:
The Worst Part
Okay, back to the serious bit. The worst thing these rioters do is rob any momentum for peaceful resolution. Right now, there is a crowd full of people who took a day off work they many probably couldn’t afford to take, to calmly hold signs and make a point. No one is ever going to read those signs, however, because two blocks over, a bunch of people who don’t have jobs (possibly because their reaction to anger is to smash windows and light things on fire) are looting drugstores and burning down peoples’ homes.
Guess where the news cameras are?
What about where the responsible members of the community are working to clean up the mess left by the looters?
By not treating the rioters like the angry and irrational sideshow they are, you’re condemning the protesters. Condemning them to continuing in the cycle in which they are currently stuck. You’re telling each and every peaceful protester, “I’d love to listen to what you have to say, but I’d rather just watch these people break everything you’ve built.”
Of course, the media has gone out of their way to stoke up racial tensions, lately. It is, of course, their job to bring to light cases of police abuse, but there isn’t even the pretense anymore of sticking to facts. Every effort is made to make everyone angry, get everyone, whatever their viewpoint, riled up. After all, angry people drive up the ratings. No one’s going to tune in to hear about the police and community leaders meeting to resolve tensions–so it’s best to be proactive and make sure that’s not ever an option.
There Are Two Sides to Everything
And they’re not really who you expect, usually. For example, you could say that the sides in this current unrest are black residents of Baltimore and the police, along with the entrenched power structure they represent. I say there are two sides to this, and you need to shake your preconceptions about the composition of those two sides.
Before I go any further, I want you to do something. I want you to divide this picture based on the Maryland flag into halves representing common interest groups. Horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, by quadrant, however you like, ok?
You want to know who to blame, and who to reach out to? Ask yourself this:
Which groups benefit from a state of disorder, distrust, and anger, and which groups benefit from peace and cooperation?
On one side, the residents who want to live in peace, and the police officers who want to do their job protecting people in reasonable safety; the people who tangibly benefit from peace and cooperation. On the other side you have the opportunists profiting from the chaos and misery; the looters, the politicians, and the media.
I think that makes it pretty clear who’s to blame for this current situation. You have the criminals, who benefit from the chaos, and from a community that distrusts law enforcement–criminals, by the way, is a category that includes police officers who fail to uphold the law. You have the media, for whom every dead black man or police officer (as long as they’re not both) is a bankable check, and you have the politicians, who always gain from a polarized electorate.
Don’t get distracted. Don’t get apathetic. And, if you do get angry, be smart about it. Make sure you align yourself with the people trying to make things better, and–if you can’t find any–be the first, and hope someone follows.
Basically, take a lesson from this giant guy in a Punisher T-shirt.