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re: baltimore: if you don’t get it, educate yourself

April 28, 2015

Some people just don’t get it. They see an eruption of violence in places like Baltimore or Ferguson and criticize the protestors rather than the socio-economic inequalities that condition them. They say things like, “I don’t get it. Violence is counterproductive.”

Of course you don’t get it. You’re probably not black (or homeless or living in abject poverty). You’re probably not subject to racism on a daily basis. You’re probably not a constant victim of racial profiling. You’re probably not afraid that every cop you see is going to kill you. You probably don’t have to do twice as much to prove that you’re deserving of the same opportunities as someone with a different skin colour. You’re probably not living in the omnipresent shadow of social inequality and oppression that’s haunted your ancestors since they were forcibly brought to this country as slave labour.

They say that violence isn’t the answer, that it’s counterproductive, but they seem to fail to realize that riots are merely a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. As one friend of mine put it, “I hope that the disorder in Baltimore ends soon and that no one is hurt, but if this is what it takes to get people to start to look closer at a serious problem our nation is facing, it’s our fault as a society for letting things get so bad in the first place.” It’s not like people haven’t been trying to bring these problems to light in nonviolent ways since the early abolitionist movements of the late 1700s.

It drives me crazy how much of the criticism is directed towards the protestors and not the people (and system) that initiated the protests in the first place. Police across the country routinely engage in racial profiling and kill unarmed blacks, the mental ill, and the homeless at an alarming rate, and it’s always the protestors who are accused of violence, as if murder isn’t violent enough. And it’s not just police brutality, but the underlying dynamics of oppression, including things like institutional racism and social inequality (yes, they exist), that are helping to fuel this anger.

I wish those people could see past their little slice of the American Dream™ and see the world through the eyes of a Freddie Gray, a Walter Scott, a Justus Howell, a Philip White, a Michael Brown, etc. Maybe then they’d understand what MLK Jr. meant when he said:

But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, 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 plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

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