Thursday, January 08, 2009

"Senseless" rioting??

As I talked with a friend, I could hear Anderson Cooper speaking from the CNN news room in the background. But it was the glimpse of the rioting being shown that caught my attention. As I watched closer, I realized that the rioting was in response to a video that I had seen a few days ago.

As the CNN news report showed people jumped on police cars, the reporter talked about the rioting being "senseless and all caught on camera." Perhaps it was just a poor choice of words on the reporter's part. But "senseless" rioting? Really??

I just finished reading a book called Blaming the Victim. It was written in 1971. As I read the book, I was compelled to write several times in the margin, "same as in 2008." I thought about the book as I watched the video above and listened to the CNN reporter.

One chapter of the book is entitled "Counting Black Bodies" and talks about the response to the riots in the 60s. One of the quotes in the book seems particularly relevant and applicable to this very situation.
"...almost every disturbance is initiated by police action that the community finds offensive and intolerable."
However, it's interesting to me that the book also surmises that, despite the police fatal brutality toward people of color,
"the predominant focus of violence by residents is against property, rather than persons..."
Unfortunately, police violence is against people rather than property.

The CNN reporter called the rioting "senseless." Allow me to refer to the 1971 book again..."A white surburbanite finds this [rioting] hard to comprehend; he might find it easier if, once or twice a year, a teenage son of one of his white neighbors were found dead on the tree-lined street with a police .38 bullet in his back."

From what I've heard from reports, the young man was being arrested for fighting on the train. Arresting may have been an appropriate consequence for his actions. Killing him was not.

I've also heard that the officer may have meant to reach for his tazer (though the video doesn't seem to show a lot of struggle from the young man...and the man was unarmed). Post-incident, the officer is refusing to be investigated and has resigned from the force. Perhaps that officer recognizes he made a fatal mistake that affected a young man's life as well as an entire family. Giving the officer the benefit of the doubt, let's say he's a nice and good person. However, being a nice and good person is not enough.

The reality is that in 2009 we still allow our fears to be attributed to an entire group/race of people instead of channeling our fears toward certain individuals. As a result, one [more] unarmed young black man is dead.

Blaming the Victim was written in 1971. This is 2009, yet sometimes I wonder just what it is that we've learned over the last 38 years. Though I know in some ways we've made progress, there are so many ways we haven't. Watch the video. Read the book. Then talk to me about progress.
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