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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Riots and racism

I don't even know what or how to talk about what's been going on with the brutality/execution by police and recent riot in Baltimore after the funeral of a man there after being chased and apprehended by police, having his spine severed and dying as a result while in custody. 

I hear people say don't run from the police, and in general  that's good advice. If you're white. White people and black people have entirely different experiences and perceptions of even the simplest interactions with police. White folks have a very Sesame Street or muppet version of these interactions where they call them up if there's an intruder in their house or they have an accident or if they're a lost kid, find a policeman and they'll help him or her find the way home. Black folks, who are often assumed to be guilty unless they can prove innocence and routinely racially profiled have good reason to want to keep a safe distance from police to avoid unreasonable searches. I'm sure some white people will say well no, they've had plenty of complications and run ins with police, and while that may be true, I don't think this is helpful in understanding what is really going on. Segregation may have been struck down and we now promote equal rights outwardly, but there are historic wrongs and racism is institutionalized. I don't know how to fix it, but it certainly won't be by ignoring those facts and saying well I'm white and have suffered but I'm not angry like you. That's just self-righteousness and frankly, inexcusable ignorance.

There is a lot of condemnation of the riots for various reasons and I can see that on one level.  We want there to be a correlation. If I'm angry at news coverage, throw things at news bureaus. If I'm angry with large corporations, protest or loot those. 

A kind of funny response I heard was why can't people peacefully protest? Here's one reason. When I first heard about the riot in Balitmore, I heard nothing about the peaceful protests. The media showed up and only bothered to cover it when the violence erupted. Peaceful protests are ignored. And when it doesn't work (have we not seen peaceful protests about racism EVER??) and people who are supposed to be protecting you are killing you, THEN WHAT? Is rioting the answer, I don't know, I would say it's more of a result than a planned activity or solution. In the same way, the police killing these individuals recently isn't a planned policy, it's the result of the atmosphere, the profiling that isn't policy, but happens anyway, the broken system. 

And this is kind of what I just said but better. I heard it the day after I wrote this post:
When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is "correct" or "wise," any more than a forest fire can be "correct" or "wise." --The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Yes we want to say that violence is never the answer. We want to believe there's always a peaceful way. (What would Iraq war supporters say about that. . . ? Never mind.)


"It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. 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. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard."
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968

Before cameras were on almost all phones, white people were able to explain away police brutality, say it was rare, that racism was over. There is understandable anger, now that there is visual proof that police statements of innocence on the killings are patently false after all this time of having these things easily swept under the rug for so many years.

There is another line of reasoning saying there were peaceful protests and thugs turned it into something very different. That may be true to some extent, but it doesn't mean we can or should ignore or explain away the cause or the riot. There is systemic injustice and racism and that needs to be addressed.  (old- Ferguson)

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