[News] Processing my anger in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Aug 12 12:07:21 EDT 2014
As you may have heard, a young black man named Michael Brown from
Ferguson, Missouri was shot many times and killed by a police officer on
August 9 of this year. A bit of a caveat before my rant: I'm angry and
it comes out a bit here. Sorry not sorry.
Processing my anger in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder.
On August 11, 1965, the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles exploded after
a confrontation with police grew to a critical mass. The neighborhood
smoldered for six days <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watts_Riots>.
Almost a thousand buildings were looted and burned to the ground. The
unrest marked an important turn in the struggle against an overtly
racist America. That was forty-nine years ago today.
Listen: police in this country attack poor people of color. It’s
Like, it’s /still/ happening. Every day. All across the country. It’s
been happening. The story of America is an /uninterrupted/ chapter book
of brutality and horrific violence. Racist violence in America is a
story with no interludes.
The narrative of “progress” steadily advances divorced from the reality
on the streets. For all the online discourse about oppression, identity,
and ‘shaming’, there is a disturbing lack of insight and nuance when it
comes to riots, vandalism, and looting in the wake of these unsettling
acts of violence against people of color. So I thought I’d put together
my responses to the phenomenon of “riot shaming” – the policing of young
black and brown bodies in the aftermath of police murder.
Five Rebuttals for the Riot Shamers
1. “This distracts from the message.”
No it doesn’t. If you think this is a distraction, take a deep breath
and focus. It’s not “about one person”. It’s about fearing the loss of
your family and friends at the hands of police. It could happen at any
moment, and Michael Brown’s murder reminds us of this. He was quite
literally supposed to start college /today/. It’s possible to have
compassion and sympathy for the bereaved and still act out against the
systematic exploitation of communities of color. If you can’t do these
two things at once, it’s time to examine your commitment to a world
without this terrifying syncopation of police violence and economic
As for distracting the media, well ... Attempting to appeal for
mainstream media visibility in this age of instant information is a
pathetic neutralization of our capacity. Let them cover the sensation if
that’s what they’ll do. Our resentment should not be engineered by their
2. “Destroying ‘your own neighborhood’ won’t help.”
I’m not sure how people who make this argument imagine ‘owning’ a
neighborhood works, but I’ll try to break it down: we don’t own
neighborhoods. Black businesses exist, it’s true. But the emancipation
of impoverished communities is not measured in corner-store revenue.
It’s not measured in minimum-wage jobs. And no, it’s especially not
measured in how many black people are allowed to become police officers.
Here is a local discussing why area businesses might have been targeted
White flight really happened. Go look it up
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_flight>. And insinuating that simply
because all the white people left certain neighborhoods following
desegregation doesn’t mean they are suddenly ‘ours’. This kind of de
facto ‘self-determination’ is so short-sighted it makes me wonder how we
can even talk about gentrification and segregation usefully if we think
black people somehow ‘have all these neighborhoods’. We don’t have
ghettos. Ghettos have us. Prisons have us. Sports teams own us. Record
labels own us. We don’t have shit.
3. “Looters and vandals are criminals.”
I grew up afraid to put my hands in my pockets at the store. For us “can
I help you find something?” means something /very specific/. Young
people of color are presumed guilty. Police cars slow down when they
pass us on the street. They search our pockets and dump out our bags. On
our way to and from school. To and from work. If we walk through a
wealthy neighborhood, we might get shot. A third of us have been to
jail. The law protects this kind of targeting, so yeah, we’re criminals.
We are criminals because we are /seen as criminals/. We were criminals
long before we climbed through broken windows. We were criminals long
before we ‘refused to disperse’.
4. “Black community leaders oppose violence.”
First of all, this is kind of a baseless generalization. One of Martin
Luther King Jr.’s lesser known quotes ‘riot is the language of the
unheard’ keeps me grounded here. In fact, did you know that MLK and many
other non-violent black activists employed armed guards
in the 60s?
Besides, all of this talk about ‘violence’ this and stereotypes that is
just so unhelpful. Let’s maybe talk about the fact that in cases like
this police deliberately censor footage gathered, in some cases
for fear of sparking unrest. You know why that is? Because they
understand what most riot shamers don’t: if you corner injured people,
there is no where to go but /against/. Judging people’s commitment to
‘the cause’ based on whether they can bottle up their reasonable
frustrations, and finding selective affinity with only those who can say
from safe distance to ‘turn the other cheek’ is part of what sparks
these riots in the first place.
5. “Reform the justice system, don’t riot.”
Something tells me people who make this argument haven’t really looked
into the prospects of this task. Let’s be real, this ‘justice system’
people suppose is possible has been the subject of political and
economic philosophy for hundreds of years. I got news for you: it’s not
looking up. The ‘fair’ economic system that a reformed justice system
would require is a myth.
“So are you saying we should just give up?” That’s what people ask me
when I say things like this. My response: “eh, how about just not
reducing everything to patience and progress?” Don’t ask kids to wait
around and dodge bullets until the system treats us fairly. Just stop
putting that on them. Believe it or not, you don’t have to save the
world. And you sure as hell ain’t going to do it on Twitter. Just step
back with the riot shaming, and work on your perspective.
In closing, I’d like to offer a message to the youth: with murderous
cops on the loose, the safest place to be a young black or brown person
in America is in the streets with all of your friends. Stay tight.
Police apologists: if you still think a few looted shops ‘distract from
the message’, wait until you see the guillotines.
Tyler Reinhard <http://www.maskmagazine.com/writers/tyler-reinhard> [
@abolishme <https://twitter.com/abolishme> ] builds Mask Magazine, and
studies the historical intersection of design systems and social
upheaval. He is the author of the Semantic Notes <http://semanot.es>
methodology, designer of numerous stupid anarchist zines and posters,
and a contributor to Open Whisper Systems <https://whispersystems.org/>
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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