We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
~ Declaration of Independence
A Riot is the voice of the unheard.
~ Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
I support the riots in Ferguson and I support the riots in Baltimore because I am a benefactor of a riot that changed the course of queer history. My relationship and legal marriage are a direct result of a riot that took place in 1969. Therefore, it is untenable that I would not support the current riots occurring in our country. It is untenable that any queer person should object and not support these riots. It is most untenable that any American should object to these riots. The reason that support for these riots is required is because our country is founded upon, grounded in, and an outcropping of a great riot: The Revolutionary War. The Declaration of Independence was the first molotov cocktail that started the riot. The Declaration is statement that the citizens of this new land were tired of systematic and systemic oppression which could not be redressed through normal and lawful channels. In the end, the Founders of the new democracy decided that only through an act of riotous violence, a war, could the citizens’ grievances be redressed. In fact, our entire civilization is founded upon the violent overthrow of that oppressive system. It is the greatest riot. This being our history, all Americans are benefactors of a riot – however lawful.
The queer community in June of 1969 similarly found that redress of systematic and systemic oppression by police, opportunistic oppression by the mafia, and a silent government would only be found through violent uprising. The Stonewall Riots started in the early morning of June 28, 1969 and last for three days. To be clear, this was not a protest. This was a riot. The rioters intended to burn the Stonewall Inn down with the police trapped inside. They intended to cause damage and to harm the police. They threw any and everything at hand as weapons from coins to parking meters. This was a violent uprising. And this act of unlawful violent rioting gave a voice to the queer community and gave a fledgling rights movement a injection of raw power. All of the advances made by the queer community over the last forty plus years are a direct result of these riots. Without the riots, we would be living in a much different where the queer community would still suffer unabated oppression.
Now the question at hand is what is the source of these current riots. The riots are voice of the unheard black community who has lived through a history of oppression from Slavery and Jim Crow laws to living in a society where privilege is afforded to a white majority. They witness a prison system that is predominately filled with people of color. The black community lives in constant fear of the police. Mothers, Fathers and wives live in fear when their black sons and husbands leave for work because they know that circumstances could easily occur wherein that son or husband will be harassed or shot by police. These acts of harassment and death are, in most cases, never redressed. The black community has suffered injury constantly and consistently with no action by the government to make them whole. Now we all live in an age of digital media and these occurrences of violence against black people are being seen by all – and still now no action for redress has been forthcoming. In the current riots, you see a community crying our for justice. We must take this seriously and meet the need, heal the wounds, and elevate the black community, as we have been doing with the queer community, to equal status. We must make police accountable for all abuses of power and use of unnecessary force.
A small caveat should be made, however, when looking into the riots. We must not let the political force of these riots by lost because of the actions of a few people who are looting or using means which do not further the call for justice. These people are not following the pattern and are seeking only to enrich themselves through inappropriate means. These illicit rioters must be purged from the riot and placed on the fringe. They are not helping the cause in any way.
I support these riots because they have power to bring about much needed change for the black community in America. We the People must join them in calling for swift justice, real and lasting reforms in the police departments regarding their treatment of all citizens, particularly people of color. Until we meet with the purpose of hearing, we will not end this violence because this is the voice this community has found to draw attention to their wounds and their needs. I support them and so should every queer person and American citizen. Violence is unfortunate and no one wants to see the police injured or harmed. And, we can disapprove of the looters and vandals, but we must not make that the face of the riots. The faces of this riot are real, they are colored, but their history is found in your and my mirror.
For a counterpoint: My friend’s blog response can be found here.
He says, “Stop perverting the legacy of Dr. King, by trying to draw a connection between the thugs and criminals that have used the unfortunate and possibly criminal death of Freddie Gray with those who were fighting for civil rights in the ’60s.”
Here is MLK’s words on urban riots:
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.
While we are at it, here is a blog about the riot of Jesus.