Opinion

A perspective on rioting

*Please note that all opinions expressed are those of the individual writer, and do not reflect the opinions of the Monroe Doctrine or Monroe Community College as a whole.*

Courtesy of Pixabay

Courtesy of Pixabay

We need to have a conversation about rioting—and it’s no riot.

On Jan. 21st , inauguration day, nearly half a million people attended the Women’s March on Washington. An estimated 3.2 million marched in solidarity nationwide, making it the largest civil rights protest in history.

By-and-large the protests were peaceful, however, members of anti-fascist and other progressive groups staged a riot at the march in D.C. These protesters smashed the storefront windows of a McDonald’s, a Starbucks, and a Bank of America and destroyed a limo. Some allegedly threw rocks, injuring police officers. 217 were arrested and many will be charged with felony rioting.
At the People’s Solidarity Rally in our very own city of Rochester, seven protesters were arrested for allegedly “inciting to riot”–although no rioting actually occurred.      

Whenever riots occur at protests, many of my friends–liberals, centrists, and conservatives alike–are quick to express their disgust. Those on the Right condemn the rioters as thugs and hooligans whereas those on the Left seek to distance themselves from these “violent” protesters for fear that their actions will delegitimize the anti-Trump movement. But is this a fair characterization?
To my friends on the Left who gasp in horror over the broken Starbucks windows: remember what violence really is. Violence is dismantling the Affordable Care Act and leaving an estimated 43,000 people to die each year. Violence is a cop shooting an unarmed black man. Violence is a President that brags about sexually assaulting women. Violence is not rioters setting a limo on fire and smashing the windows of a McDonald’s–that’s property destruction. We must not value property over human life. We must remember who our real enemies are.

To my friends on the Right: how do you think the Boston Tea Party would be remembered if America had not won the Revolutionary War? Rioting is not “un-American,” it’s as American as apple pie–and so is dissent.

People on both sides of the aisle often claim that riots are unnecessary, and sing the praises of peaceful protest, citing Martin Luther King as an example of its success. They confidently assert that King would be disappointed by the actions of today’s protesters.

First of all, on more than one occasion, King called rioting “the language of the unheard”— although you’ll never hear that quote on Fox News. Although King condemned rioting, he refused to do so without also condemning the intolerable, unjust, conditions that led people to riot in the first place—something today’s commentators often fail to do.  

Second of all, although it was and is incredibly important, peaceful protest alone did not advance civil rights. Boycotting, civil disobedience and yes, rioting also played a large role in getting the attention of those in power and creating change. King was all about “militant nonviolence” and direct action. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about a man that was arrested 30 times. If he was alive today, most conservatives would hate him just as much as they hated him then.

Of course, rioting doesn’t always lead to positive changes, and it can often hurt the communities it intends to help, but it does put pressure on politicians and generate the kind of attention (any attention is good attention) that political movements require. Until justice and equality are truly achieved or until it stops working, people will continue to riot.  

*Please note that all opinions expressed are those of the individual writer, and do not reflect the opinions of the Monroe Doctrine or Monroe Community College as a whole.*

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