Culture, Science & Faith

No, Riots Are Not a 'Legitimate Political Strategy'

The Left is trying to justify the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore

Allyne Caan · Apr. 30, 2015
Rioters and police clash in Ferguson in August

Reading the liberal media, you’d think the Baltimore rioters are the reincarnation of Lexington and Concord’s minutemen, bravely facing tyrants to defend their freedom. Well, Paul Revere might disagree. Somehow, ruining businesses and running off with condoms doesn’t quite equate to Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty or give me death” speech.

But the Left wants America to think it does.

A particularly absurd Salon headline this week reads, “Baltimore’s violent protesters are right: Smashing police cars is a legitimate political strategy.” The author’s argument is that violence is “a tactic, not a philosophy” and that black communities are struggling against “premeditated economic exploitation.” Riots are simply “reasonable responses to generations of extreme state violence, and logical decisions about what kind of actions yield the desired political results.”

According to Fordham University sociology professor Heather Gautney, “Riots like the ones we are seeing in Baltimore … should be viewed as rational responses to injustice. Riots highlight the injustice and violence that’s prevalent in impoverished neighborhoods in this country.”

And BuzzFeed’s Adam Serwer writes, “Violence — as harmful and self-destructive as it is — sometimes works.” Serwer claims that, for 80 years, the “recipe for urban riots” has been largely the same: “[a]n impoverished and politically disempowered black population refused full American citizenship, a heavy-handed and overwhelmingly white police force, a generous amount of neglect, and frequently, the loss of black life at the hands of the police.”

But is portraying lawless violence as a justified and effective quest for justice accurate?

A closer look at the facts says, “No.”

For starters, as Acton Institute Senior Editor Joe Carter points out, far from empowering black communities, urban riots leave lingering damage. In 2004, The National Bureau of Economic Research published research on riots that took place in the 1960s and 1970s, and Carter notes the research found not only a decline in the median black family income in riot-impacted cities but also declines in male employment rates and in the median value of black-owned property.

And as for “premeditated economic exploitation” and political disempowerment justifying violence, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson notes that even during the era of Jim Crow laws, when institutionalized racism was both legal and praised, black crime was “relatively low” — no riots as a “legitimate political strategy ” then. And since Johnson’s infamous War on Poverty was launched, Peterson adds, there has been a “massive wealth transfer to black Americans in the form of welfare and other handouts.” Certainly, a case can be made for economic exploitation, but the indictment would be against those intent on keeping black voters dependent on the government for handouts.

Is violence, then, justified, or is it simply being used as an escape from tackling problems with resolution — not simply retribution — in mind? Just as profanity is often the discourse of those unwilling to develop a compelling vocabulary, so violence is often the discourse of those unwilling to develop compelling arguments.

And there is inarguably a need for compelling arguments. While America has made exceptional strides toward Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s goal of judging others based not on the color of their skin but on the content of their character, racism has sadly not yet breathed its last in America.

Yet, even amid racism, King himself held firmly his belief “that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt.” He continued, “I’ve been searching for a long time for an alternative to riots on one hand and timid supplication for justice on the other and I think that alternative is found in militant massive non-violence.”

When the colonists took up arms and declared independence from Great Britain, they had for 10 years prior sought reconciliation with the Crown and resorted to arms only when their repeated attempts at peace were disregarded. And in the Declaration of Independence, they set forth clearly their justifications for rejecting injustice.

In presenting a dignified argument against racism, Dr. King did the same. And in so doing, he made incredible strides forward for black Americans.

Tragically, the violence of lawless rioters is doing nothing to continue Dr. King’s work and much to undercut it.

Far from elevating violence to a level of rational discourse, endorsing riots as legitimate political strategy diminishes the quality of discourse and demeans the ability of Americans — black and white — to confront injustice not with stones and arson but with truth, which alone has the power to bring justice.

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