Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reactions to Oppression

Let me begin by saying that much like Deray McKesson who recently spoke with Wolf Blitzer on CNN (http://www.rawstory.com/2015/04/activist-smacks-down-wolf-blitzer-you-are-suggesting-broken-windows-are-worse-than-broken-spines/) I support peaceful protesting, and having trained police officers in crisis intervention I have great respect for law enforcement and the risks they take and also know that there are dedicated, kind, caring, and compassionate people who serve on the police force. At the same time, much like McKesson I refuse to criticize those who have rioted over the police brutality that has resulted in the death of Freddie Gray. The predominant focus of the media over the last few days on destruction of property in regard to the Baltimore riots, and the predominant response of white people in concern over riots that have resulted in property damage (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/04/28/1380944/-The-Dominant-White-Response-to-Baltimore-Shows-Why-Black-Residents-are-Justified-in-their-Anger) to be quite frank is unacceptable. Comparisons between movements can be problematic, and I don’t want to draw direct comparisons, rather I want to highlight two other movements here to express why I personally cannot condemn these riots and to hopefully illustrate why focusing on condemnation of riots versus condemnation of the despicable inequities which caused those riots is hypocritical.

Reflecting on the movement of my own marginalized community, the queer community, those of us who identify across the LGBTQ spectrum cannot so easily condemn rioting when riots are exactly what started our modern movement for civil rights equality at Stonewall in 1969 (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/introduction/stonewall-intro/). We retaliated against police raids and arrests that were destroying our communities and our lives in that moment and began a movement for our rights and for change which I as an openly gay man in my mid 20s have reaped the benefits of and am thankful for. I should also note that our community rose up in riot when the killer of Harvey Milk was convicted of only manslaughter rather than murder in 1979, receiving a sentence of 7 years (which wound up only being 4) rather than a harsher sentence (http://thecastro.net/milk/whitenight.html). Given these events and the impact they had I cannot condemn the rioting that is currently happening because it would be hypocritical to say that my community was allowed to riot against injustice enforced and enacted by the police but communities of color are not permitted to do the same.

While this example of rioting as rejection of oppression is one that feels more salient to me there is another that is applicable to a much larger proportion of the American populous. I think we forget the history of our nation in these moments and that the United States itself was born out of retaliation against oppression. The Boston Massacre of 1770 where 5 men were killed by British soldiers, the passage of the Tea Act of 1773 which symbolized the concept of “taxation without representation” and led to the Boston Tea Party, and other oppressive acts of the British government led to fighting with British soldiers, the declaring of independence in 1776, and fighting a war to escape an oppressive regime (http://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/american-revolution-history). The colonization of the Americas was an oppressive act in and of itself and, again, it is not my intent to make direct comparisons here between movements or between British soldiers and modern police; however, I think it’s important to realize that when people are oppressed they react.


Black Americans experience economic inequity, educational inequity, and disproportionate rates of incarceration (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/20/upshot/americas-racial-divide-charted.html?_r=0&abt=0002&abg=1; http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet) just to name a few systemic injustices. I am not saying rioting will inevitably right those injustices, but I am saying what needs to be criticized here are the oppressions, the inequities, the injustices, not the breaking of windows.

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