Rioting- A Controversial Megaphone 'For The Unheard'?
Last Thursday marked the 56th anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by President Lyndon B. Johnson- an act that spearheaded the world changing Civil Rights Movement of the same decade. With the advent of protests following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, it’s important to note the sacrifices that were made by countless African-Americans who have chosen to protest against systemic racism that has pervaded America to this day.
However, many people have thought that the protests have lost their meaning due to the subsequent riots that have occurred in conjunction with many of the protests that have happened across the country. Sean Hannity himself said that New York City was in ‘anarchy’. Meanwhile, many leaders across the country have also condemned the riots, stating that the violence and property destruction that has become a consequence of the death of George Floyd is not only regrettable, but also takes away from the true meaning of what the protests are about.
One can bring up the argument that protests and violence are inextricably intertwined. This is not to say that protests through riots or through violence are commendable- rather that violence borne through protest is often a natural result; a parasitic relationship, if you will. Many do not support rioting simply because it seems like it happens for absolutely no reason, and that the death of George Floyd certainly should not be considered a reason for people to rise up and destroy private property. However, if there is one thing that history can teach us about the nature of group violence, it’s that there is always a reason as to why people resort to violence- and that reasoning was no different during the 1960s.
The fight for black rights has always been shrouded by violence, whether we talk about Nat Turner and his failed rebellion in Virginia, or the riots of today. One may argue that the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement- King among them- utilized that same violence to showcase the rampant nature of racism in the American South, which lay entrenched in the Jim Crow law that existed during this time. The Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963, for example, organized black schoolchildren against the institution of segregation. Commissioner ‘Bull’ Connor, with a less than peaceful response, ordered that the children be beaten, sprayed with high pressure fire hoses, and attacked by police dogs, all for the world to see.
This wasn’t the first time that racial violence has been directed at black populations in the United States, and it certainly would not be the last. The Black Panthers, who dealt with the same issues that the protests against black violence that still exists today, focused on the ideals of black self defense. They showed that through their extensive support of the 2nd amendment right for citizens to arm themselves against political and physical tyranny. This resulted in not only an extensive FBI counterintelligence program against the group, but the dismantling of the Party through violent means, including the controversial killing of Fred Hampton, Alex Rackley, and Betty Van Patten.
Reverend Martin Luther King himself said it best- “...a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.” One can say that under the aegis of the Trump Administration, some things may seem better- a burgeoning black middle class, a rise in black employment across the country. But these statistics belie a darker portrait of Black America, one that hasn’t changed for over a century:
On average, a white household in America’s net worth was around $171,000 dollars. The average black family? Only around $17,600 according to Brookings Institute.
For being a minority in our country, it makes no sense as to why over 34% of the prison population in the United States is African-American.
For young men in general, death by police is a leading cause of death in our country- however, the risk is higher for black men, who have a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by police.
Our education system, despite the Brown v. Board ruling of 1955, remains just as, if not more segregated physically and holistically than the work done during the Civil Rights Movement.
Housing discrimination continues to be rampant even today- the President of the United States has even been charged with violating the Fair Housing Act in 1973, and forced to sign a consent decree allowing persons of color to rent his properties.
Even Affirmative Action, a program many state is outdated, and racist against white and Asian Americans, benefits white women the most in terms of college admissions and hiring practices.
Decades-no, centuries of fighting against inequality, in many African-Americans’ eyes have shown progress, but only too little, far too late. For all of this time, many avenues have been taken to attempt to fix a systemic problem that exists throughout the country, be it judicial, legislative, etc. Many black Americans feel as if every form of quarter has been taken to gain and retain civil rights in this country. What happens when no quarter is given to a person who has no hope, no future for change? They fight back. You see it in every revolution and war, successful or not. Many have tried fighting back using the tactics of MLK and Bayard Rustin. Should we be surprised that some Americans have tried another way? Violent protest, like it or not, is the American way.