Riot When You’re Black, Angry Need Not Apply

Jose VilsonJose, Race6 Comments



The newest truism goes:

If you’re a group of color, you’re rioting. If you’re White, you’re protesting. If you’re multicultural, you’re marching.

The recent so-called riots in Brooklyn serve as yet another example. For those of you unacquainted, concerned Brooklyn residents of all ages held a vigil and demonstration to protest the treatment of 16-year-old Kimani Gray, a gun-toting teen who the police filled with 11 rounds of bullets in short succession. The volume of bullets disturbs even the steel stomachs, but the historical treatment of youth of color in this country should put any young man from age 8 to 30 on high alert if and when they encounter the NYPD.

In no way do I excuse Kimani for having a gun, either. A big part of me wonders why a child (!) has a gun to begin with, and how he found himself in this predicament. I’m also fully aware of the lack of training (and pay) some police officers have been given, thus adding even more stress to an already tense job. Police officers barely have time to think, and asking them to make snap decisions isn’t a science for many of them. Yet, it’s exactly this maelstrom of elements that keeps the hostilities between people of color in this city and law enforcement sour and distrustful.

Institutional racism makes it such that, in the blink of an eye, a young man doesn’t deserve to live, and everyone in charge of assuring justice just nods.

The latest dissent in Brooklyn turned into glass shattering and trash tossing from some of the teenage participants, no worse than what we see after a major league championship. The TV will tell you otherwise, but we know better. To wit, the media then said that the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom would result in a riot, assuming any massive gathering of people of color must result in acts of vandalism and death. None did. Unity broke out. That’s why it couldn’t happen again in some eyes.

The miniature versions of dissent ought to get the title of “protest,” akin to any other demonstration in which minimal damage was done. The word “riot” should only apply for events like New York in the late 1970s, Los Angeles during the early 1990s, and the Minneapolis in the 1930s. Protestors now have to do things like fill out forms and have contact people in charge of keeping the people tranquil.

Even then, it’s no guarantee. Another kid gets shot with multiple bullets at close range. A group emerges angry with the result, but play by the rules. Before the first marcher even crosses the street, the label already exists, separate from what actually happened.

Passersby already know how to dismiss this.

Jose, who wonders aloud when we’re going to fix this …

Comments 6

  1. Are there *any* police departments in this country where youth of color don’t have to go on high alert when they encounter them? It almost seems like things are getting worse instead of better. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

  2. If you are really wondering why a kid will carry a gun listen to the This American Life series on Harper High in Chicago.

    1. Post

      Everyone, thank you for the comments.

      Carrie, I’m not actually wondering why anyone would feed the need to have a gun. Through first and third-hand experience, I know too well why anyone would brandish one in these streets. I got a glimpse of Harper High via Melissa Harris Perry’s show, and the scene is all too familiar. I’m more wondering why we still HAVE kids with guns period. Sadly, that’s the state we’re currently in.

  3. Remember these two photos published of New Orleans after Katrina, one labelled “looting” the other “finding” –
    An Associated Press photograph of two African-American women was captioned, ‘Looters carry bags of groceries through floodwaters after taking the merchandise away from a wind damaged convenience store in New Orleans on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005.’
    A similar Agence France-Presse (A.F.P.) photograph of two caucasians was labeled, ‘Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store in New Orleans . . .’

  4. The thing that’s very tragic about this is just the fact that we should have been over racism as a people a long time ago. I know there are many wonderful people in the United States that aren’t racist, that don’t social profile, it’s just sad to see that some of our police and people aren’t. I do think though we have made some great progress as a country, and I hope we keep progressing towards a racist free country.

  5. I remember when my students first explained to me that in Brooklyn it was illegal to hang out outside with 4 or more people. Being a white midwesterner, I insisted that that was not true. We were in an advisory class discussing the right to peaceably assemble. They told me that the NYPD told them to break it up whenever more than 3 of them were on a corner “to prevent gang activity.” Since that conversation, I’ve seen it happen. Strangely, that “law” doesn’t seem to apply to groups of white kids.

Leave a Reply