Riot When You’re Black, Angry Need Not Apply

Jose Vilson Jose, Race



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 …