Column: Rioting for justice not same as revelry

Apparently, as evidenced by common responses seen on social media and news outlets, there is a difference between rioting as a result of intoxication and protesting for social justice. This difference does not favor those fighting for equal rights.

Despite personal opinions on the riots surrounding the State of Missouri v. Darren Wilson case last week, it’s undeniable that there have been riots surrounding significantly less important issues, which were framed with significantly different terms.

Last week, a Twitter user tweeted a series of tweets under the handle @red3blog. These tweets contained photos of groups, who were largely white, rioting over sporting events, competitions and music.

These events included a baseball game in San Francisco in 2012; a hockey game in 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia; a basketball game in Lexington, Ky., in 2012; and a disco concert in Chicago in 1979. All of these photos depict violent protests with fire, flipped cars and a significant number of white people. These events were all observed as lighthearted, a simple reaction of kids overinvested in trivial events.

On Oct. 19, a predominantly white crowd reacted with destruction in Keene, N.H., as a result of extreme intoxication at a Pumpkin Festival. The attendants of the festival threw rocks, pumpkins, skateboards and buckets and flipped cars. When the destruction was reported by CNN, the word used to describe the incident was “rowdy.”

One 18-year-old involved in the Pumpkin riot was on record stating that, “It’s a blast to do things you aren’t suppose to be doing.”

Why do we encourage freedom of expression when it lacks purpose but denounce assembly when advocates are challenging an issue central to the American people?

While the Pumpkin riots were reflected on with playful diction, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar explained that the rioters in Ferguson, Mo., were “destroying a community.”

The riots in Ferguson were extreme, futile and undeniably destructive, but the motives behind them were justified. Although there has been significant and inspirational progress on race in America, the riots that erupted last week proved that a substantial number of people are not yet satisfied with the treatment of minorities.

Riots have long been a tool for spurring authorities and leaders to acknowledge issues that directly affect the people.

In his second inaugural speech, President Barack Obama acclaimed the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969 that prompted major advocacy for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning movement. Supporters of the movement and members of the LGBTQ community threw objects at the police and shouted “gay power.” This event served as a catalyst for LGBTQ rights.

Although Martin Luther King Jr. did not advocate for violent and destructive behavior as tools for the civil rights movement, he did understand the power of a riot.

“These conditions are things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention,” King said in a 1968 speech. “And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

Riots have sparked change, such as the implementation of trade unions as a result of the 1886 Haymarket Square Riot and coal miners rights due to the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, where miners on strike opened warfare on law enforcement and U.S. military. This expression of the right to assembly stimulated change that significantly improved the livelihood of labor unions and coal miners. 

The riots that spread from coast to coast last week were not the first time that the U.S. has heard about the difficulties black youth must endure due to racism and stereotyping.

The riots in Ferguson stand for the same level of equality that the Haymarket riot, the 1912 coal miner riot and the Stonewall riots advocated, whereas the Pumpkin riot stood only for debauchery and teenage angst.

There is an evident frustration with the existing inequalities regarding race in America. Although the nationwide riots last week were severe, there was a driving factor behind them that was significantly more important than pumpkins. Most outstandingly, the actions sparked a national conversation reminding white Americans that racism is not dead.

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Maggie Farry is a junior studying political science and Spanish. Follow her on Twitter.


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