Let’s Riot!

(ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

I grew up in Detroit, a city that loves its riots. I remember being a wee thing and having my mom push me way down behind the driver’s seat. She told me to cover my head with my hands and not to move until she told me to. I’ve never been one to listen. As we drove very slowly, I heard things hit all the windows. The car started swaying from side to side, and as something hit the window in front of me, instinctively, I popped my head up and looked out. I saw a crowd of angry people throwing things. I put my head back down right away.

That incident was a decade after The Big Riot (capital letters even) of 1967. I wasn’t even alive when that one happened, but my mom was, so when we found ourselves trying to get gas at a gas station during the gas shortages of 1979, and a mini-riot started, my mom freaked out and got us out of there ASAP.

When I was older, there was another spate of riots in Detroit. There were riots at the same time two years in a row. The first was because the Detroit Pistons won the NBA championship. The next year, there was a riot because they lost the championship. Win or lose, the end result was a riot. Wooo!

Every year in Detroit, the night before Halloween was Devil’s Night. I had no idea that Devil’s Night wasn’t a thing anywhere else in the country until I moved away. Devil’s Night was like a mini-riot that happened every year. Buildings were burned, property was destroyed or vandalized, mayhem ensued. From the wiki: “The destruction reached a peak in the mid- to late-1980s, with more than 800 fires set in 1984, and 500 to 800 fires in the three days and nights before Halloween in a typical year.”

I lived in a two-story house in southwest Detroit in the early 90s. Southwest Detroit, at that time, was one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Detroit, an already super dangerous city. During the last week of October, things got a little tense. My neighbors started a neighborhood watch of sorts. We’d take turns sitting out on our front porches keeping watch. That last Devil’s Night I lived there, at least 400 buildings went up in flames. One of them was a shed across the street from my house.

Now, I live in Los Angeles, another city that has a history of riots. In 1992, seven years before I moved here, there was the Rodney King riot. Six days of rioting spawned when police officers were acquitted of severely beating an unarmed man named Rodney King. The exchange was captured on video and there was really no doubt of their guilt. That was the last large-scale riot in this city, but there have been small flare ups here and there.

I have never rioted. I’ve never understood the point of it. Yes, Rodney King was a fucked up situation and it still pisses me off to no end that those officers got away with it. I can completely understand the fury, but rioting has never seemed like a good solution to me. You are destroying your own neighborhood. The people you are hurting are not the ones guilty of the crime you are protesting against. They are the small business owners in your own community. They are regular people trying to make a living and you are hurting them. They are your neighbors and they are innocent of whatever injustice has been committed, yet they are the ones who pay.

I’ve never understood Devil’s Night in Detroit where you would light your own neighborhood on fire. What if that fire spreads to your house? What about your neighbor’s house that catches on fire because you burned down an adjacent property? Devil’s Night seems even dumber than a real riot. At least real riots have a purpose. Devil’s Night is just assholery.

On Saturday, when I heard the news that George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges for killing an unarmed 17-year old that he was stalking for no reason, I was infuriated. That whole case pisses me off. Initially, Zimmerman wasn’t even charged with anything. They brought him into the police station, where he admitted to shooting Trayvon Martin, and then they let him go. It was only after mass outrage that they charged him with anything. They had a sham trial and let him go again. He killed an unarmed 17-year old boy who was walking home; he walks away free.

So, last night, when I saw the news that there was a riot starting in Los Angeles, I had mixed feelings. Honestly, my first thought was that Angelinos apparently don’t pay attention to the news since the verdict came out on Saturday and the rioting didn’t start until Monday night. Ever since I heard the news on Saturday, I was expecting this to happen.

I can completely relate to the outrage at the legal process surrounding the Martin case, just as I did with Rodney King. It’s bullshit. It’s a fucked up decision. It’s unjust. I’ve had my personal share of injustice and I fucking hate it. But is throwing a rock through the window at Jack In The Box in your own neighborhood the solution? Is storming a Wal-Mart the best way to show injustice has occurred? Is pouring bleach inside you local dollar store the best way to express your outrage? What started as a peaceful protest quickly turned into hooligans destroying their own community’s property.

While I sympathize with Martin’s family and I am as outraged as everyone in that protest, please, let’s stop the riots. They don’t change a thing.

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