Reflections on the Rioting in Missouri
By Ken K. Gourdin
In light of the recent shooting in Missouri of a black teenager by a police officer in a St. Louis suburb, there is no shortage of pontificating regarding the psychological and sociological roots of this unrest. But there are two problems with those who blame a vague psychological or sociological, race-based malaise (or one based on some other invidious characteristic) for the impulse to riot: one, they fail to account for the countless law-abiding individuals who might share the grievances of those who engage in rioting, yet who fail to react in the manner predicted by the theories; and two (and more simply), many of those who engage in rioting couldn’t care less about the supposed just cause that started it.
If the people in the second group really were honest about why they are rioting, they would simply have to say something such as this: “I was simply taking advantage of someone who has a perhaps-legitimate grievance and stages a perhaps-legitimate protest to vent regarding my probably-less-legitimate (and irrelevant-to-THIS-protest) grievance – or simply to create other innocent victims by destroying and stealing their property, and enriching myself in the process.”
As I said regarding the unrest that followed the acquittal of George Zimmerman (another racial minority by the way – what does that fact do to those who want to lay the blame for supposed racial oppression entirely at the feet of white people?) for shooting Trayvon Martin:
While we might say we believe it’s better for a hundred guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be convicted, too many of us want to have our cake and eat it, too: if a jury reaches a verdict with which we disagree, many of us blame the very system whose protection we would demand if we were falsely accused (or if we believe there is insufficient evidence to convict us).
Many then take to the streets in protest, chanting such slogans as, “No justice, no peace!” What is justice? It is what we say it is. What is peace? Peace may be achieved by using the system to further whatever ends will keep us from rioting in the streets.
That sounds an awful lot like “rule of men” and not a whole lot like “rule of law” to me. As much as I understand why those who don’t believe that a just result was achieved in the Zimmerman case are frustrated, that’s not a country in which I think most of us would want to live.1
In a similar vein during the Los Angeles riots of 1992 after the acquittals of the officers involved in the Rodney King beating, I said, “There is little doubt that justice wasn’t done in this case—and that it is not done in many other cases as well. So what is to be done? I don’t know. I do know, however, that . . . crime—looting, burning, and vandalizing innocent businesses, killing and hurting innocent people—these are not the answers.”2
On another occasion, regarding the December celebration of African culture and heritage known as Kwanzaa, I wrote this regarding one of the celebration’s values:
Kuumba, or creativity, is defined like this: “To do as much as we can to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.” There is a far less “creative” solution to community decay, however. Kwanzaa was an outgrowth of the Watts riots. Instead of talking about community building, why don’t we talk–to everyone–about community maintenance? The fact remains that if a community is maintained–and not torn apart, as in the Los Angeles riots of 1965 and 1992, respectively–there is nothing to build or rebuild.
And if we truly want to engage in community maintenance, we cannot countenance the behavior which tears down a community by attributing it to a collective race-based rage, by explaining it away with psychosocial mumbo-jumbo, or by vaguely attributing individual lawlessness to “society” when the vast majority of the members of that society are law abiding.3
Ken K. Gourdin (July 30, 2014), “Zimmerman acquittal tests faith in legal system,” The Tooele Transcript-Bulletin A4.
Ken K. Gourdin (Date Unknown), “From Brutality to Anarchy: Not the Proper Path to Pursue in LA,” St. George, Utah, Dixie College, The Dixie Sun (Page Unknown), available on line at http://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/reflections-on-the-rodney-king-riots-3/, last accessed August 12, 2014.
Ken K. Gourdin (December 4, 2014), “Kwanzaa Confusion: Color or Character, Inclusion or Exclusion?” (Blog post) http://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/kwanzaa-confusion/, last accessed August 14, 2014.