I sometimes wonder at night just what America could accomplish if we diverted all of the manpower spent viciously and unflinchingly defending the actions of police, or jumping at the chance to criticize the protests of black lives that make the evening news. I have not seen a more dedicated, faithful and active group of people on social media (less so in person) than people who seek to justify the actions of law enforcement officers. At best, and at worst, they seek to denigrate the position of anyone protesting or questioning the case. I don’t see people willing to have a dialogue about the frustration between blacks and the American justice system, I see people demanding the cessation of the one thing that an oppressed minority have to get the attention of the disinterested majority.
After Freddie Gray suffered fatal spinal injuries from an encounter with the police, Baltimore, Md., erupted into protesting and rioting, receiving wide-scale media attention. Coverage naturally favored the sensationalist spectacle of rioting. People on social media showed that racism was alive and well when they called for the culling of the ‘thugs,’ which has been a popular term standing in for a very particular racial epithet. However, nobody wants to talk about how protesters didn’t want the demonstrations to get violent. Protesters are faulted with the actions of those breaking the law, who do not represent the majority of those protesting, and everybody is determined to portray the groups of people reacting to demonstrations in an outdated and ridiculous fashion. Ultimately, people want to talk about the isolated incidents of rioting, but nobody wants to figure out the cause behind them, or talk about the loss of black lives.
The issue with the media focusing on the question of looting and destruction of property is that of weighing goods over human life. When critics of the protests in Baltimore disproportionately report on isolated incidents of groups of protestors smashing through store windows and robbing them of their livelihoods, several facts are ignored. There are few, if any, mentions of how people have also been stealing goods to keep themselves and their families afloat. I have only seen a handful of tweets on how the looting is not a race issue, with white people performing the actions as well. People don’t want to mention how these same marginalized and oppressed protestors have been seeking to clean up these stores that have been brutalized by these isolated cells of lawbreakers. By comparing a few stores and cars being destroyed (which should have some form of insurance, guaranteeing the security of neighborhoods that might be threatened by the protests), we are assigning a worth to black lives that are lost, which is unacceptable.
The other problem is the perspective in which rioting is seen. No deaths have been claimed in the unrest in Baltimore (or Ferguson), whereas riots over sporting events can’t claim similar results. Why is it okay for mobs dominated by white people to run amok whenever a sports team wins (or loses)? Why do critics of the protests in Baltimore play with the dirt at their feet and look sheepishly towards all of the other stupid reasons white people have started riots, but fervently defend their right to call those in Baltimore or Ferguson an isolated group of extremists that most primary groups of protesters have shunned? It is because they’ve built a society where they’ve replaced the language of Jim Crow and ‘separate but equal’ with a new outlet for discrimination. These critics have stopped openly deriding black people with racist language and actions, and have gone for a subconscious war on how black people should dress, act, speak and who they should associate with in order to prevent themselves from getting killed by police or be called ‘thugs,’ instead of putting the onus on our justice system.
We cannot go forward as a society when we are tripping up on the actions of a minority of violent criminals that are using the protests as an excuse to commit criminal activity. We instead should be focusing on the big picture of systematic oppression of black people. It is easy to try and take the wind out of the sails of protesters by writing bullshit quotes about pacifism (taken from people such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi) on social media, instead of trying to put yourself in the position of the protestors, or worse yet, the disproportionate population of people of color arrested, abused at the hands of the law or even killed.
We want to know what you think. Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.