Why do Black Folk Riot?

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Above: Detroit Race Riot, 1967

This video points to the myth of color blindness and American inequality.

Below are brief summaries of black riots due to police brutality, as reported here in The Riot Act.

  • Chicago, 1919. On a hot July afternoon, a black teen-ager named Eugene Williams went swimming in a customarily “white” area of Lake Michigan. Angry white beach-goers pelted him with stones until he drowned. When police refused to apprehend the culprit and instead arrested a black onlooker, blacks, who had long considered the police to be insensitive to their concerns, attacked the officers. Whites retaliated, ushering in four days of brutal violence in which policemen at times abetted the white-on-black assaults.
  • Harlem, 1935. On March 19, department-store employees apprehended a 16-year-old shoplifter and whisked him off to be beaten in the store’s basement. An outraged crowd massed on 125th Street, as rumors circulated that that police had broken the arms of a black woman who tried to help the boy—made plausible, again, because of the police’s record of hostility to Harlem’s blacks. Rioting ensued for the next day, resulting in two deaths.
  • Watts, 1965. On Aug. 11, police stopped motorist Marquette Frye on Avalon Street in the Los Angeles ghetto. Frye resisted arrest, a crowd gathered, and more policemen came. When some of them roughly manhandled Frye’s mother, the story took hold that cops had kicked a pregnant woman in the belly, further angering the mob. Violence reigned for four days, with 34 people killed.
  • Detroit, 1967. On July 23, police raided a black drinking and gambling club, arresting some 80 habitués. Hordes of neighborhood blacks massed outside the establishment, first taunting the policemen, then throwing stones. A swarm of police cruisers swooped in but made no serious effort to disperse the crowd. Spontaneous looting and arson followed, and five days later, 43 people lay dead, many killed by police or National Guardsmen.
  • Miami, 1980. On May 17, a Tampa jury acquitted four Miami policemen in the killing of Arthur McDuffie, a black businessman, whom they had beaten to death after chasing his motorcycle—the latest in a series of cases of police brutality. Mayhem followed, with black mobs attacking whites and white policemen retaliating with deadly gunfire. Eighteen people lost their lives.c-rnvlzvffxx-940x392

Since the Watts riot of 1965, racism and the growing economic disparity in L.A. contributed to levels of violence that came to a halt after police officers were acquitted for the brutal beating of an unarmed black man named Rodney KIng. As pictured above, the L.A. riot brought rival gangs together to protest community inequality. This riot reduced years of black-on-black violence in L.A., as the murder rate declined. The killing of Freddie Grey by cops launched the city of Baltimore into a riot, which brought in the Department of Justice, who concluded that years of targeted hostility toward black and brown people and economic inequality were systematic issues. As I noted above — riots can be good. Cities such as Chicago might need a  riot to address gang violence, economic inequality, police brutality, and racism.

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