Protest or Riot–Does it Even Matter? Baltimore 25 April 2015
Last night an interesting question was raised and debated on Twitter–Namely, “What is the real impact of protest turned riots?” The question wasn’t stated in those terms, but that is the essence of the issue. President Obama, the Media Elite and other celebrity hanger-ons participated in the self-adjulation of the White House Correspondents Dinner, people were protesting the police murder of Freddie Gray in the streets, not more the 50 miles away. The only media coverage of the event were two local TV channels. CNN stated explicitly, that they were not going to break from the circle jerk of the press corps and would catch up in the morning. Catch it on Twitter they said. Okay. The Peaceful protest numbers dwindled later into the evening, and there was some rioting, smashing police car and store window, and rock throwing a police. One reporter summed up the traditional response, stating that “the violence changes everything.” That really begs the question. Indeed the violence did change everything for Freddie Gray when he emerged from the police transport van with a broken spinal column.
Clearly smashing store windows, and random citizens cars is not good. However, the response leaves me with two questions:
- What are people really outraged about over the riots, are they even outraged at all?
- Does it really matter that there was violence after the protest?
Freddie Gray was injured before being placed in the all steel interior of the police transport. He was handcuffed and then shackled. He was not seatbelted in. The van then took a circuituous route with several unexplained stops. Freddie Gray complained of needing medical attention. He was given none. He emerged from the van with a broken spinal column. Every indication is that he was given a “Rough Ride”, where individuals are handcuffed, shackled in the back of a police transport, not seatbelted in, and then slammed around the interior as the van hits potholes, takes hard corners, slams on brakes. Photo credit: @tomadelsbach
This is the violence it seems people should be outraged about. This is the violence that changed everything. Why when a protest denigrates does that become the focus? My sense is that people and the media don’t want to actually address the issue of Police violence. They don’t actually care about what happened to Freddie Gray. Freddie Gray’s tragedy is simply a voyeuristic hook for the media, and something the mass of people would rather not even know about. My sense is that the rioting makes the emotion of the event too poignant. Damn those protestors.
Ultimately does it even matter? Would a “peaceful” protest make any difference over a “violent” protest? Also, it’s interesting the standard for “violence”. For the police, murdering a handcuffed, unarmed man is not even automatically violence. This is a “let the facts come out” situation. However, some property damage, and not even that much by sports-fan-riot standards, that is violent. No facts need to come out. No context necessary.
Still, does it even matter? The people who are outraged about the broken police cruiser windshields, are the same people who don’t even care about Freddie Gray. All the peaceful protest in the world won’t change the minds of a people determined to remain either Polly-Anna-ish or self-righteously racist.