This will be less about the riot in Ferguson – which is over, for the record, and to which I have already committed a great many words – and more about people who have been criticizing it.
Part of the problem with protest and riot criticism in this case – aside from the fact that people are being really selective about when to apply their criticism – is that people act like riots are largely premeditated. There is zero evidence of that in the case of Ferguson. There is PLENTY of evidence in this riot – and in most riots – that they are largely emotional, reactive affairs. So comparing a riot almost anywhere to planned, premeditated protest is inappropriate. It’s like telling people how you would have reacted in a scenario in which you are unlikely to ever find yourself, pure apples to bullets.
The other major problem with most criticism of riots is timing. I get why this happens, most notably due to the ease with which even the least politically educated can access avenues of public communication, frustration by some about having to contend – yet again – socially with an unpleasant issue, and outright fear.
At the same time, most of this criticism couldn’t come at a worse time. If you are able to recognize that a hardcore injustice has occurred, and that it is just another in a long list of injustices visited upon a particular group of people, then you should be in empathy mode first and foremost, following the lead of the tide on when it’s time to mourn, when it’s time to heal and when it’s time to problem solve. But you don’t walk into someone’s funeral, step up to the pulpit, and start talking about how the person in the casket was really bad at their job.
Now, I expect to hear from OPPONENTS of violence, people for whom violence is a disease they actively work to stamp out in people and society on an ongoing basis. But that’s not what most critics of these riots are. They’re armchair critics, after-the-fact sociologists. They don’t post or activate about violence much at all, or in general. They don’t organize anything around the dissolution of violence. They don’t read books or articles about how to curtail violence. They don’t seem particularly concerned about the politics or acts of violence at all…except now. They wouldn’t deign to litter their Facebook walls or Twitter feeds with developments in stories about what lead to riots. They only concern themselves with reacting to people who they suddenly find they disagree with out of politics or fear (which is becoming increasingly redundant to separate these days). All of a sudden, their black friends – real or otherwise – are up in arms in a way they wouldn’t have conceived as relevant or necessary. Their black friends are not who they thought they were at all, in some cases. Now they don’t know what to think, about the issue or their friend. They just know that, on some level and for whatever reason, they disagree. And that makes them feel bad. And it is more important to them to extinguish the bad feeling than it is to power through discomfort and ignorance to find common ground or even understanding.
Whatever merit their criticisms might have on people who actually engage or live with these issues on an ongoing basis is lost because they’re either not honest, poorly conceived, or ill-timed. Consider if your criticism of other people’s activism – be that a riot, a protest or a post online – meets any of those base considerations. If it does, and you think you should engage that behavior or those statements in the interest of working toward a solution, you really don’t need to say anything. It’s not like your position isn’t already supported by the media, the police and the government. You can literally say nothing at all and you’re still winning on behalf of your goals in real, concrete ways. Arguing is not only offensive to people who may be suffering, but is also – and I’m sure this is more important – a waste of your time.
A word on the word “violence”, because this word alone is probably generating more bad feelings than “racism” this week.
Let’s be clear about the level of violence we’re actually talking about when we talk about Ferguson’s riots: more people have been killed in Black Friday Sale mobs than have been killed in either Ferguson riot. Black Friday Sales have experienced more murder, more brawls, more stabbings, more police injury, and more bomb threats than either Ferguson riot. That murder statistic would be true if only one person had been killed at a Black Friday Sale. Just one. Suffice it to say, we have more than one to refer to.
THAT’S violence. How about you criticize THAT?
People who criticize Ferguson’s violence are either misled about how applying the word “violence” clouds the issue, don’t have enough information, or they mean to paint a certain picture. The violence in Ferguson is largely relegated to property damage, so we should be using better words for that, like “vandalism” and “arson” and “wanton destruction,” and save terms like “violence” for Black Friday Sales and police shootings, where they belong.