On riots

Adapted from a conversation today on facebook, about riots in response to police brutality.

Have you ever felt like you were asking for something and being ignored? Asking and asking and asking. Mostly asking for something to stop, because it hurts you. And the people you’re asking just kind of laugh and ignore you? If they respond at all, it’s to make it a joke, or to tell you to stop being what you are? And eventually, you ask louder and louder, and they start getting defensive and a little uncomfortable and block you out, and finally one day you just start screaming, and they get upset because you’re hurting their ears and why are you so angry anyhow, you’re making them FEEL BAD, god damn, and maybe you eventually get through that the thing they were doing MATTERS to you and maybe they change a little, either because they understand, or maybe they don’t understand but they don’t like being screamed at either, and then things return to how they were, but maybe a little bit better in that one way.

And later, you’re being hurt again, in a different way. And you ask for it to stop. And you’re ignored and laughed at. And you know, KNOW that it’s going to end in screaming again and you’d really like for that not to happen, wouldn’t it be nice if they would JUST LISTEN and take you seriously and adjust their behavior? But they don’t and the whole cycle repeats. And there’s a little bit of improvement, but only a little, on a very specific issue.

And next time, next time…. you ask and ask…. and you know it’s going to end with screaming and they tell you how you’re HURTING THEM, why do you keep HURTING THEM and you try to explain but it takes another few cycles before they learn to try and listen before the screaming starts (or maybe they never do).

Have you ever felt like that? I’m curious.

For so many people, what I’ve described is just ordinary life. They would describe themselves in all the same ways you describe yourself, except there’s some element of their life they can’t, for whatever reason, remove themselves from. It’s just that their ordinary life features some element of oppression and diminishment that is so… typical… that those who have never experienced it can’t even imagine what it’s like because they accept that it’s normal. But it’s nothing very remarkable, nothing far away, no storybook suffering. It’s right there, ordinary. It’s the mother who works all day at a job and all evening running a household while her husband watches TV. It’s being careful when you drive because being pulled over could lead to death. It’s being told that you’re emotional, weak, a criminal in the making. It isn’t cinematic trauma. It’s just a life, underneath.

Some people speak of a line of civilians protecting the police lines as a way of ‘ending the madness’. I have no idea what ‘end the madness’ even means. How does a line of people in front of the police stop the police from murdering people? Aren’t they simply more potential victims?

Ah, I see. You explain. The ‘madness’ is the property destruction and looting.  Of course.  And you go on: Minorities must be like Dr. King: peaceful, and effective, and dead.

And so: you are continuing to make the same error as so many others: that the madness began with the destruction and the violence. That the murders are not madness. You are saying the screaming is the problem, not what prompted it. And you are idolizing a murdered man over all of the living people working every day to find a peaceful solution and being ignored, over and over and over again. They have been patient and they have been good, for decades since your hero was killed, and yet they are still being killed. How long must they be patient and must they be good?

Because I can tell you, from personal experience, that being good and asking quietly and politely for change does not produce change. All it leads to is death. And the reason for this is exactly what you are demonstrating: you condemn the aggression and ignore everything else in order to idolize somebody who you believe behaved appropriately.

Indeed, rioting is madness. It is a city’s tortured soul expressing itself. It is a city cutting itself. And a line of people protecting the police will not do anything at all to cure the madness. All it is doing is hiding the razor blades.

Violence never made anything whole again and the people protesting are the ones who know that best. The people who forget that are the ones in positions of power, because they are sheltered from violence. They drive people to the brink of violence and believe they can escape unscathed, despite the many proofs presented by history. I don’t know if they think, “This time it will be different,” or if they’ve been so sheltered from violence they no longer remember what it feels like to be driven into a corner with no other options left.

You don’t know the right response but you’re sure it isn’t violence? Yes. The ‘right response’ is making sure that what happened doesn’t ever happen again, and that power is denied to the people who assemble peacefully, while the people who do have the power to make the ‘right response’ choose not to, over and over and over again.

The ‘right response’ is people like you, older privileged white people, getting passionately involved before the protests become violent: using your power and your privilege and your concern for property to do more than armchair quarterback. The ‘right response’ is noticing and stopping this before a city screams. Yet again. The ‘right response’ is not on the victims. It is on us.

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