The recent murder of George Floyd by a former Minneapolis police officer has manifested into riots across many American states – with this has come criticism – criticism that riots are ineffective and counterproductive.
Martin Luther King once described riots as “the language of the unheard” and so perhaps this perspective is worth considering before criticism is cast – would things change if we were to listen to those continually being silenced and dismissed?
On August 26th 2016 Colin Kaepernick, an NFL player, decided to refrain from standing during the national anthem claiming that he refused to “stand up and show pride in a flag or for a country that oppresses black people”. He shockingly stated that there were “bodies in the street” which was not a lie, and four years later this still proves true. Kaepernick accumulated masses of criticism for his peaceful protest and four years later remains unsigned.
If being peaceful is what it takes to be heard and respected, why was Kaepernick shunned? Why, four years later, are his cries and the cries millions of other black people worldwide still being ignored? Why are black people still being murdered? Why are the police officers that are responsible still going unpunished?
Riots are extremely dangerous for those who partake, evidenced by recent pictures displaying American citizens with rubber bullet wounds or being sprayed with tear gas or running from fires. These riots are not being held out of convenience or for enjoyment, but out of dire necessity; people are risking their lives because they have found no other way to get their point across. Citizens who protest may lack economic or political power, but using their collective manpower has proven to be the most effective way to get their voice heard.
In the reductive response to the current riots, the successes brought about by historical riots has been overlooked.
- The French revolution of 1830, also known as the July revolution, was a series of violent acts that led to the overthrow of King Charles X.
- The 1967 Detroit riot was one of many fuelled by the unfair treatment of African Americans, with the collective aim of achieving some of the basic rights African Americans enjoy today.
- The Stonewall riots of 1969 were pivotal in the fight for equal rights for the LGBTQ community.
These are few of many cases of forceful protests that have allowed for change that has been both historically monumental and transformational. So, the question arises, why are these particular current riots being deemed pointless and being used to fuel stereotypes of black people being nothing but angry and disruptive?
The corporations that are enraged by the destruction of their stores and property should instead of directing their anger towards the rioters who are fighting for a just cause; take issue with the insidious systematic racism that leaves people feeling that rioting is their only option.
The real issue is the corrupt systems that result in such grave injustices that people feel as if the only thing they can do is partake in an act that puts their own lives in danger. The response to these protests needs to transcend much deeper than the surface, it needs to unearth layers of historic inequality, that has built systems ingrained with racism and led by white supremacists. The unheard need to be not only be heard but listened to.