What We Are (Might Be) Doing When We Denounce Riots

When I hear middle class people like me – especially white folks – condemn rioting in Baltimore I hear something in our voices, a plea no doubt. And it comes from an authentic place of fear. Such actions are threatening by design, and insofar as they threaten the existing structures and organization they potentially threaten our well-being and property.

But this deserves some more attention. What is being threatened? And whose is it? And by whom? It seems to me that, particularly in light of the vast literature on the dismal conditions of so many urban poor in Baltimore who are disproportionately African American, this threat is an existential one felt particularly by those with relative wealth and property. The cry is for me to feel safe and my personal property to be protected.

For example, see how Wolf Blitzer pleads for this community leader to affirm peaceful responses alone, first in reference to Martin Luther King and second to the President:

This fear of destruction and violence is understandable to be sure. And I’ve yet to hear many actually endorse and promote such violence. But let us recognize the entirety of the picture here: those who have secured relative wealth and property are pleading for its safety and protection from those for whom both have been denied. It is a plea by those for whom the system has worked for deference to the system by those for whom it hasn’t worked.

The socio-political and economic systems at work in this country are violent to many and disproportionately so to those with darker skin. They result in a lack of meaningful employment and disparate treatment by the criminal justice system, among other things. A call to nonviolence without first recognition of and repentance from the violence in our own systems is hypocrisy of the most dangerous sort.


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