Why Have We Heard of Stonewall, Ferguson, & Baltimore?

Content Notice for Police Violence, Anti-Black Racism, & Anti-Semitism

When you cut facilities, slash jobs, abuse power, discriminate, drive people into deeper poverty and shoot people dead whilst refusing to provide answers or justice, the people will rise up and express their anger and frustration if you refuse to hear their cries. A riot is the language of the unheard.
radical activist Martin Luther King Jr. (emphasis mine)

Practical matters first. There is a Baltimore bail fund via Crowd Rise. It has been retweeted by the Bmore United Twitter that links from their official webpage, so it’s verified. I’ve given and I encourage anyone willing and able to do so. If you can’t, statistically speaking, a social media share of the link can be more valuable than even a donation alone, so do that.

Baltimore has been a long time in the making. That black lives have not mattered to law enforcement is old news, however, and the subject of many protests. Baltimore, like Ferguson, is making headlines because the protests there are the loud, unavoidable kind, wholly uncivil, the kind called riots.

Growing up Muslim, I certainly noticed the fact that so-called peaceful and civil protests don’t get you noticed. You can spend most of your youth going to peaceful, well-organized protests regarding the US involvement with Israel, ones where the organizers crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” and obtained every permit possible, yet no one will notice or report on anything but those random guys who showed up at the end to burn flags and chant “Khaybar, Khaybar, ya yahood!

You could have a Muslim member of Congress and arrested for a cause and yet anti-Muslim bigots will still claim that no Muslims care about it. This is despite the fact that, again, the highest-level (confirmed) Muslim elected official in the US was arrested for his protest of it.

There are certainly worse ways to spend an adolescence than at pro-Palestinian protests that no one seems to know or care about and being aware of issues in places like Darfur. At the very least, my experiences taught me the relative lack of value in wholly peaceful and entirely law-abiding protests, as well as the difference between a riot and a protest. One is the kind of disruption you hear about, and the other isn’t, because it barely qualifies as a disruption at all. Disruption seems entirely necessary to gain the attention required to lead to anything even vaguely approximating legitimate, lasting, meaningful change.

Stonewall was a riot that helped birth the national LGBT rights movement as we now know it. The fight to legalize queer didn’t begin with court cases, and though that is where it is often fought these days, it won’t end there. In antebellum America, aiding and abetting enslaved persons in their quest to freedom was illegal. The American Revolutionary War began with the destruction of property. When discrimination is codified into the law and the law is enforced by bloodshed, that force must be met with force.

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Why Have We Heard of Stonewall, Ferguson, & Baltimore?
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6 thoughts on “Why Have We Heard of Stonewall, Ferguson, & Baltimore?

  1. 1

    Thank you. I’m surprised and disappointed to see so many people who, a month or two ago were honoring/memorializing the participants of Stonewall, currently preaching that “violence is never the solution” and posting context-free MLK quotes with nary a mention of Malcolm X. Looking back on history, every movement that successfully challenged/changed the status quo had both non-violent and violent elements. Either one by themselves never seem to work.

  2. 2

    Violence is never a solution. The solution is for those that are pushing people to where they see violence as their only option, to stop before it gets to that point. At this time, any cop with 1/8th of a brain ought to be thinking maybe to be a little less violent – at least for a couple of years and/or when the cameras are rolling. But cops that brainy appear to be few and far between. When a people are being systematically oppressed, they can either take it, or resist and the resistance – whether it starts peaceful or no – will eventually end in violence even if that violence only comes from the side of the oppressor. The lie of peaceful resistance is that it works. What works is when the oppressed make it no longer worthwhile for the oppressor. The US is a long way from that.

  3. 3

    We’ve had violence against blacks in this country for longer than it’s been a country, and the outcry has largely amounted to crickets. But let one CVS catch fire and suddenly everyone’s on their high horse about nonviolence while busting out the MLK Jr quotes. Please.

  4. 4

    When discrimination is codified into the law and the law is enforced by bloodshed, that force must be met with force.

    Well said.

    I also liked how Ta-Nehisi Coates put it:

    When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.

  5. 5

    Here’s another relevant quote by MLK Jr concerning riots:
    http://www.apa.org/monitor/features/king-challenge.aspx

    Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena. They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking. But most of all, alienated from society and knowing that this society cherishes property above people, he is shocking it by abusing property rights. There are thus elements of emotional catharsis in the violent act. This may explain why most cities in which riots have occurred have not had a repetition, even though the causative conditions remain. It is also noteworthy that the amount of physical harm done to white people other than police is infinitesimal and in Detroit whites and Negroes looted in unity.
    A profound judgment of today’s riots was expressed by Victor Hugo a century ago. He said, ‘If a soul is left in the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.’
    The policymakers of the white society have caused the darkness; they create discrimination; they structured slums; and they perpetuate unemployment, ignorance and poverty. It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes; but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society. When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also demand that the white man abide by law in the ghettos. Day-in and day-out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he flagrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; and he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions for civic services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them but do not make them any more than a prisoner makes a prison. Let us say boldly that if the violations of law by the white man in the slums over the years were calculated and compared with the law-breaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man. These are often difficult things to say but I have come to see more and more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society.

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