I tend to find myself caught in the middle of many political and culture issues. I think it’s an inevitable outcome of always striving to understand all sides of an argument. The vast majority of Americans take pride in picking sides and blocking out all evidence, arguments, and reasons that run contrary to their chosen opinion set. I prefer to gather all information and attempt, to the extent possible, to look at things objectively and from a distance, outside of the prefabricated opinion sets constructed by the media. It’s long been my belief that, even after forming an opinion, it behoves me to fully understand opposing opinions – to the extent that I could argue an issue from another side if I wanted to. How can anyone successfully defend their opinions if they don’t know what the attacking side looks like? So I seek to understand what makes people select each of the prefabricated opinion sets they choose. In most cases, this greater understanding of other points of view serves to reinforce my original opinions. In other cases it ends up with me caught in the middle, seeing equal merit in multiple points of view – so it is with Ferguson and the Mike Brown case.
I’m not going to get into the minutia of what did or didn’t happen the day Mike Brown was shot. The law has spoken and that debate is no longer a fruitful one. Regardless of how anyone feels about what occurred that day, I think nearly everyone can agree that if Darren Wilson had been an ordinary citizen with a gun, he would have been strung up immediately. He may or may not have been found guilty, but there would have been a trial – that much is certain. There’s clearly an issue there that needs to be addressed, but it’s one that other people are already beating to death. No need for me to weigh in. Instead, what I am interested in is examining the responses to and opinions on the actions of the rioters in Ferguson.
Per usual in America, we have controlled debate with predefined opinion sets. First, we have the anti-riot side. These people are typically (and unsurprsingly) GOP/Tea Party folk, so racist remarks in this group are common, some thinly veiled, others bold and proud of their bigotry. This side believes that the rioters are upholding negative stereotypes, partaking in senseless acts of violence, and really only out for themselves. Then there’s the pro-riot side. These people are mostly bleeding hearts with a lot of whiteman guilt or black community members that defend the rest of the black community no matter what it does. They see the riots as a noble protest by the people of Ferguson against the whiteman’s conspiracy to cover up the murder of an innocent black boy. Not all of these people support each specific act of violence, but they’re at least sympathetic to the reasoning behind them (reasoning which, let’s be clear, they have assigned to it).
There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on with these two opinion sets. First, let me address the bleeding heart camp. Let’s be clear on what these riots are and are not. These riots are not protests for justice.
This is not a fight for justice. This is people using civil unrest as an excuse to loot and destroy. The fight for justice and righteous anger is something the bleeding heart camp has assigned to these actions. It is not the force driving these people to steal shoes and electronics. So obviously the bleeding heart side of the debate is bunk and the racist Tea Bagger types have the win, right? Not so fast. These Ferguson riots have been condemned with a wrath unseen in any other rioting situation. If these people are truly so against senseless acts of violence for the sake of being against senseless acts of violence, where were they for the Keene Pumpkin Fest riots just a short while ago, when college kids were destroying innocent people’s cars and local businesses in the name of.. partying? How about football related riots this year? Seattle – senseless violence because… your local sports team…won?? Where were all my local riot comdemners when UCONN students were destroying the campus over… a basketball game? Why no rage over all the other riots this year around the country that were attributed to.. literally nothing – rioting and destruction purely for its own sake. Surely this is the most senseless violence of them all, but yet I did not see a single person stepping up to so vehemently condemn it as they have the Ferguson riots. People keep passing around this meme about how white people didn’t riot after the O.J. Simpson verdict. That’s right; white people don’t ever riot over anything meaningful, but make no mistake, they do riot very frequently – over sports.
1000 bonus Internets to the person that can correctly identify which of these are from Ferguson:
Surprise! I tricked you! NOT A SINGLE GODDAMN ONE IS. Where the fuck were all of you to complain about this senseless violence over SPORTS? I have seen an incredible amount of totally vial, hate filled vitriol directed towards Ferguson protesters, but yet sports seems to be an accepted thing to riot about. Dead black kids = not worth rioting. Team just won playoffs = burn the city to the ground. Is it really senseless violence you hate or are you just taking advantage of the opportunity to vent all that pent-up racism? Contemplate that one hard before answering.
What if there was no rioting? The American people have a five-minute memory and the media has a five-minute attention span. If it wasn’t for the rioting, this case would have disappeared from the public conscience the day it ran across TV screens as a tiny fragment in a cable news ticker. Peaceful protests don’t get 24/7 news coverage for days on end. Peaceful protests are not taken seriously by the government or by the public. The riots might be greedy idiots upholding stereotypes by looting and burning down their own communities, but as hard as I try, I can’t get it out of my mind that there are positive aspects to these otherwise selfish acts. People are finally doing something that is getting the nation’s attention. Even if it’s not something productive or intelligent; they’re still doing something. Taking place in the land of utter apathy, a small part of me can’t help but see that as a tiny victory. On the flip side, it is undeniable this behavior is reinforcing stereotypes, it does give the racists the ability to say “we told you so,” and it does lend support/credibility to the 1%’s war on the poor. This is why I’m once again thrown into the middle, stuck seeing the merits of being both for and against the protests, but not for the reasons the prefabricated opinion sets are. I’m against the riots because of the credibility it’s giving to the war on the poor. I’m for the riots because they’re keeping the incredibly important issue of above-the-law police violence in the public spotlight and because they’re people doing something, something. It might be the wrong targets catching the brunt of the riots (though I did see a few charred police cruisers), but at least everyone knows in the future that an unarmed kid can’t be shot in Ferguson without consequences – even if those consequences aren’t met out by the justice system.