“…a riot is the language of the unheard” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Unquestionably, the line in the epigraph always shows up when there is a confluence of 2 factors: (1) there is a violent, civil disturbance or riot that stems from perceived racism or prejudice and (2) blacks are at the center of said disturbance. It’s almost as if blacks use the line to justify the destruction and chaos that surround such incidents. Many of our now elderly used the line during the Long Hot Summer of 1967, when over 150 race riots erupted across the nation. Many of those same elders, in their youth, used it again a year later, in the Spring of 1968, to justify their actions after Dr. King was assassinated.
About 2 weeks back, I wrote about the situation that was brewing in suburban St. Louis and the reaction of black folks towards the governor’s activation of the Missouri National Guard. This past Monday, the Prosecuting Attorney for St. Louis County—Robert McCulloch—held a presser in which he reported that the grand jury convened in the Mike Brown case decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson. The immediate reaction I saw on all of my social media accounts was reminiscent of what I saw just over 6 years earlier when President Obama won the 2008 presidential election: overwhelming response from the black community. But instead of great joy and excitement, it was a lot of frustration, anger, and vitriol. In the immediate aftermath, almost all of Ferguson was torched by angry protesters and full-fledged violent encounters and riots broke out. As I sit here in my apartment, half a country away, I find myself deeply disturbed by 2 things: (1) the riots and acts of extreme civil disturbance and (2) the thoughts from celebrities, activists, and just normal Joe Blows on the radio, on the television, and online.
I suppose I’ll begin with the latter. In the 5 days since the grand jury decision has been reached and announced, I’ve seen scores of social media posts about how the decision was racist against blacks…about how the Prosecuting Attorney is racist towards blacks…about how the legal system has always been against blacks. I’ve seen athletes, entertainers, and other high-profile people of color give their thoughts on the situation…often singing the same tune that “justice wasn’t served” and alluding to the black experience once again being relegated to 2nd class citizenship. Personally, as a black person, I absolutely hate the notion that my people—those of a similar hue—bring forth in times such as this…that it happens all the time and that it’s always racially-motivated and aimed at keeping blacks down. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to highly volatile events and occurrences, we—as in blacks—often react emotionally rather than rationally. Very few examine the facts or listen to reason. It’s seemingly all about how one feels in the moment…how their own personal experiences line up with what’s happening, leading to the release of pinned-up frustrations. Fierce debates are ignited and deep divides are created…one ethnicity vs. another ethnicity, one socioeconomic background vs. another socioeconomic background, one person’s experiences vs. another person’s experiences, and so on. We talk about it in the immediate minutes, hours, days, weeks, months but the outrage eventually dies down…oftentimes with no resolution on either side. But the damage left lingering behind is likened to a tornado. Lives are changed, people feel differently about others because of their stances, the roots of dislike are formed. And it all starts with the thoughts of people entering the atmosphere in the immediate aftermath of these types of events.
The other part of what disturbed me is the riots and the civil disturbance. As I alluded to in the open, blacks will always say that riots are the only way they get heard in times like this…and they attach Dr. King’s quote to justify it. While King did say that riots are the language of the unheard, he also said that he would “continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to [his] brothers and sisters that [rioting] is not the way”. He went on to say that riots themselves were “socially destructive and self-defeating”. Yet, nobody really focuses on those quotes found in his speech on “The Other America”. Instead, the focus is on using rioting as a form of drawing attention. And just as King said, it is truly socially destructive and self-defeating. Just look at Ferguson today. Businesses have been burned, property destroyed, dozens arrested, curfews enforced. If one is really thinking deeply about the entire matter, they certainly have to ask “what has the rioting truly accomplished”. From my vantage, all I see is a mostly black community destroyed by a mob of mostly black people. Is that not the very definition of socially destructive and self-defeating? Yet, this is celebrated by today’s millennials as a grand feat because they’ve seemingly made their voices heard. But, in the grand scheme of things, what is the expense? Personally, I think rioting is stupid. Going around and tearing up other people’s s*** because something didn’t go your way and you feel as if your rights—or the rights of your kind, at large—were violated accomplishes nothing. It actually just sets you back further and makes it that much harder to get what you’re truly out here fighting for.
As I close this post, I personally think that the grand jury made the right decision not to indict. I’ve had a chance to read quite a bit of the documents from the proceedings and based on what I read, I didn’t think it was enough to indict Officer Wilson. That’s not to say that I don’t care about what happened back in August. It should be a concern when a police officer uses deadly force to handle a situation in which the assumed suspect was not armed…heck, it should be a concern when anybody uses a weapon to handle a situation in which the opposition isn’t armed. I get it: there has long been tension between white cops and minority suspects. Have there been other instances where white cops have shot and killed unarmed black suspects? Sure, there have. But I’d like to think that those instances are more the exception than the norm. I believe that more times than not, these situations are handled without drama and all parties can go about their way…alive. And I’d also like to think that this isn’t limited to just white cops killing black people. It probably happens at a higher rate because the extreme difference in population skews the numbers but black cops kill white people, too. What happened in Ferguson could’ve easily been a black cop in Manhattan killing a white guy.