A ruling, a reaction. We’ve seen this before. Violence, fires, businesses destroyed. Besides these obvious consequences, the negative effect of the Ferguson riots is that they will further polarize the country.
Watching the riots on television will elicit very different reactions. I can imagine one group seeing the fires and then thinking of the family of victim, Michael Brown. They’ll think about the people standing in the streets waiting for a decision from the jury, hoping that this time some justice could be realized for a harm against a member of their community—and then their letdown and anger that it didn’t come. This group will see the destruction from the flames representing the flames of racism at work in America.
They’ll shake their heads and think, “See, this is what happens in a racist society.”
But then we have a whole other group.
These folks will watch the looting and vandalism and wonder how this community can cry for justice all the while performing acts of wanton destruction. They’ll feel not pity for the black community, but the justification for targeting. They’ll see the specifics of the legal arguments at work in the grand jury’s decision, rather than it representing a larger theme.
They’ll shake their heads and think, “Look at what they’re doing to their own community.”
I think to come to an understanding of the problem (and maybe the start of a solution) you need to see where different perspectives are right.
You also need to consider other perspectives outside the dichotomy.
Most people see the riots as angry people responding to a jury’s decision. But I’m thinking that if you broke down the make-up of the rioters, you’d find a fair amount who are simply going along for the ride.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell said that humans aren’t looking for the meaning of life; they’re looking for the moments they feel most alive. Unfortunately, we seem to have a population of people in the U.S. who have such a need to feel alive (and such a need to let out anger) that they take opportunities from World Series wins to court cases to let it all out.
The Ferguson riots will make world news today, and the narrative will be that race relations in the U.S. are troubled and the situation is boiling over. But I wonder how much of it is really just a bunch of youths looking for a chance to break stuff.
Those sympathetic to the victims of racism are right. There is inherent racism. Perhaps if Brown had been white, none of this would have happened. It’s not fair.
But those less sympathetic and more analytical are right, too. The rioters are adding to the negative stereotypes of how black people are viewed. And Brown wasn’t the innocent victim those who are angry like to believe.
Seeing both sides is enlightening, but it’s also hard to come together. The more extraordinary the riots, the more polarized the reactions to it. It’s hard to reach or see across a chasm to the other side of the drama unfolding before you to understand how others might view this unjustifiable destruction.
A friend on social media said yesterday, “I wonder what burning down the Little Caesers means… For the 50 or so people that worked there, it means now NO JOB.”
And he’s a proud liberal.
I’m hopeful that all the exposure and the cold (or ablaze) reality of how ugly riots are will allow America (and perhaps beyond) to get a grip on its tendency to break out into mob mayhem.
I think the reaction to the jury’s decision is as indicative of a problem with the U.S. as was the impetus for it.