Rioting, Looting and Gunshots Do Nothing to Promote Justice

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By Charles K. Poole

Overnight, ongoing proof that violence is not the answer to anything was offered in abundance by a riotous mob after 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed in a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, August 9.

In an August 10 post I wrote that I understood the anger, and I do. Of course, I do. But I warned that turning to violence was not the way to protest Michael’s wrongful death. It never is and never will be. Violence is the old friend that some folks relied upon to express their frustration, violence directed toward local businesses that did not play any role in what happened to Michael. Local businesses that have continued to serve a community that many others abandoned, whose only mistake was being in the line of sight when everything went wrong.

I’ve seen dozens of videos showing folks destroying stores, throwing items and looting–many with a seemingly gleeful glint in their eyes. It made me ill. It made me angry. Just as angry as I was when I learned about Michael Brown’s death. And yet, the behavior wasn’t a surprise. Why? Because there are always people who take advantage of situations like this—turning what could otherwise be a moment of clarity into a referendum on the wisdom of an eye-for-an-eye aggression.

Reviewing the videos and photos flooding the Internet this morning, I saw people laughing, proudly displaying their stolen loot and otherwise hanging out. I saw a little of everything but a group of people mourning Michael Brown. Unwittingly, these people are the very ones who help perpetuate the idea that folks in Black communities need to be controlled, by equally regressive and violent means.

On the other hand, I know that these folks are the exception, not the rule. That’s because while some rioted, burned and looted, others stood in front of businesses and denied the rioters access, putting their personal safety on the line because it was the right thing to do. They understood it’s not possible to heal the community if it’s being burned and demolished around them. They want justice as much as anyone else, but they also want to protect the community they call home.

This is the duality of the human condition; there will always be people who do the right thing and others who will do the wrong thing. That’s true whether we’re speaking about someone who wears a uniform, or someone who trashes a business whose only crime is existing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This morning, there are no winners in Ferguson, Missouri. There is no justice and certainly no peace. But there is ongoing proof that multiple wrongs never make a right, and it saddens me that the memory of Michael Brown — who only days ago was preparing to go to college and get on with his life — is now defined not by how he lived, but how folks behaved when he died.

That’s no way to remember him, people, and you know it.