Last night I watched the announcement of the “no true bill” finding in the Michael Brown case, on spotty streaming video because I don’t have cable TV. I watched enough of it to get the gist, and understand what might happen as a result.
I live within a mile of the South Grand business district that has seen a pared-down version of the unrest in Ferguson in the last few months, which unrest is related to the death of Vonderritt Meyers in the Shaw neighborhood.
Despite the livestreams that I watched when the South Grand protests started, I was confident that this time would be different, I held faith that humanity would find a way for people to express themselves that didn’t involve the looting of the place where I spend my free time and my cash. Where I laugh and drink and dine with my friends, in one of the most densely populated and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city.
Progressive and LGBTQA businesses in the area were saying that they’d serve as safe places. Our local businesses (more independent than chains) have been supportive of peoples’ right to protest, and the prior events had been focused mostly on civil disobedience rather than destruction. I watched a little of the livestreams last night. I had more than a few friends who were out in the action on South Grand and on 44. I saw the photos and the video, that it was peaceful and police were not engaging because there was nothing to engage. Around 10:45 or so, I went to bed.
An hour later, I woke in a panic, thinking someone was knocking on my door. But it was gunshots. Multiple bursts, small caliber, very close to me. I checked to see what was going on and that’s when I saw that destruction and looting had begun on South Grand. Windows broken out, people stealing from the pawn shop and trying to sell their just-stolen items – on camera – with no shame. Police began to engage, and eventually tear gas was thrown, protesters were told to disperse and did not, more tear gas was used. Lying in my own bed in my own home a mile from what was happening, I could smell the acrid odor of the canisters.
This morning I started seeing pictures of the damages, the broken windows and senseless destruction of places like Rooster, a community-centered restaurant we were all so happy to recently welcome to South Grand. To Upcycle Exchange, a donations-centered craft supply store run by a tirelessly perky and optimistic lady. To Basil Spice, where I get my favorite Thai food, and where the ESL owners are unlikely to navigate well the online donation sites that the other businesses are using to fund their window replacement. I saw all this and I knew that tonight is likely to be just as bad, if not worse. This whole week might be marked by the same kind of fear and destruction.
Most of the people talking about this online, and many of my local friends, tell me that I don’t have a right to feel how I feel. That I should support this action, understand that people are so angry that being destructive is the only way to express it. Or they argue that most of the protesters are peaceful and only some are using these events as an opportunity to destroy things. Not liking either of these answers, or not seeing them as a good enough reason to destroy the livelihoods of small business owners in my neighborhood is (I am told) deeply racist, white supremacist, lacking in compassion and empathy. Lives are more important than property, so I should welcome with open arms the destruction of the place I live so that some kind of figurative healing can later take place.
I will not believe that. I will not fall for that. This is wrong, what is happening is wrong. People who say their anger gives them the right to destroy someone else’s livelihood, they’re wrong. When white people riot at a goddamn pumpkin fest, and destroy property, they’re wrong. When anyone riots after a sporting event and destroys things, they’re wrong. Mob mentality and mob action are not things to be tolerated in society, no matter the reason. If you’re in a peaceful group that turns into a mob or begins looting, you need to remove yourself. I truly do believe that the peaceful protesters are inadvertently giving cover to the people who want to destroy things. Those people feel anonymous and invisible and they will use that feeling to rip things apart. Whether or not that’s the intention of those seeking change and peace is immaterial, the end result is enabling the violence.
No one can be made happy by any of this. Before last night people were screaming about the over-preparedness of the police and the mobilization of the national guard. Today people are screaming “where was the national guard?” If the police had engaged to stop the destruction that would have made world-wide headlines about police intervention, over-militarization and brutality. But if the police stood back in order to keep from inflaming the crowd, they were apparently creating an opportunity for crime so that they could present that image to the world. I actually saw people saying that the police wanted to watch their own cruisers burn, in fact did nothing about it just so that image would make the news. That makes no sense at all. If they intervene they’re wrong, if they stand back they’re wrong.
None of this is logical or makes any sense or is accomplishing anything, from what I can see. No changes have been proposed, the movement seems to be leaderless (from friends who were there last night, the protest was peaceful until the planned march/route ended and people didn’t know what to do next – that’s when the violence started.) in fact from what I heard, the headquarters of one of the agencies helping to lead the protesters was burned down in Ferguson last night.
So no, I will not be in favor of shutting shit down and burning shit down and whatever else people tell me I need to quietly accept. I will not be sanguine about my neighborhood being destroyed by anyone, for any reason. If you tell me that people are worth more than property, I will agree, then I will ask you how exactly that equation applies to the looting of a pawn shop.
If you’re not from here, if you’re not attached to these places, think twice about how much of my neighborhood you’re willing to give up on my behalf. Think twice before you tell me my disagreement with this destruction makes me racist and evil. It is easy to say that people far from you, in places you’ve never seen, should be willing to sacrifice quite a lot for the sake of a cause you believe in. Let’s see how it feels when you’re lying in bed hearing the gunshots and smelling the smoke. Until then I don’t want to hear about how much I should be willing to give up. And I don’t want to hear about how my unwillingness to give it up makes me a bad person.