Previously I’ve written that unlike some white people, I don’t need to hear black people or anyone else condemn the rioting and looting in Ferguson Mo. The reason is because I just assumed that people — at least the ones who get paid to offer their opinions on such matters — are against that type of thing. Unfortunately, this has turned out to be an erroneous assumption, as a piece in The Intercept has made abundantly clear.
Titled, “No Justice, No Respect: Why The Ferguson Riots Were Justified,” Juan Thompson furnishes us with a fantastic example of race-based bar-lowering masquerading as a historical critique of white privilege. Thompson — a person of color — was in Ferguson last week when it was announced that a grand jury had declined to indict former police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. After cars and businesses had been set alight and shots rang out, Thompson found himself ducking for cover:
A young man passing by told me, “Get your scary ass up. You ain’t got nothing to be scared of.” After my brother argued with him, he warned us, “I got those things,” where “things” meant firearms. But I couldn’t bring myself to be angry with that guy; the violence he threatened to inflict upon my brothers and me is a grim legacy of America’s long history of violence toward black people. And so the condemnation of the Ferguson protestors and rioters, by those who gained and sustained their power through violence, is the worst sort of rank hypocrisy.
Watchers of Mad Men may be reminded of a scene from season six in which, after being stabbed by a person of color, Peggy’s far Left hippie boyfriend Abe refuses to cooperate with the police, explaining, “Those kids have no other recourse in this system” because “They were brought here by slave ships.”
There’s no denying the “grim legacy of America’s long history of violence toward black people,” nor can the institutional racism that remains, and which may have — and I say may have— led to the death of Michael Brown be downplayed . But the problem with Thompson’s framing is that as indicated above, he doesn’t distinguish between rioters and protesters. And later he says, “Critics of the Ferguson rioters and protestors are quick to label them part of an irrational, greedy, criminal element. But such a facile analysis is an insult to the generations long struggle of black Americans.”
To be clear, demonstrators — if they are peaceful — are not part of a criminal element. On the other hand, rioters are by definition. This lumping serves to obscure a fact that undermines Thompson’s entire premise: Most (black) Ferguson demonstrators remained peaceful and didn’t riot, which means these individuals surmounted whatever racist legacies that supposedly explain the violence being perpetrated by the rest. Furthermore, accepting Thompson’s explanation for such violence is to essentially negate the ability of the people responsible for it to make decisions as autonomous individuals.
Thompson’s contention is not only a classic instance of lowering the moral bar, but it’s a ready-made excuse for destructive behavior, so long as that behavior is authored by people of color and it’s directed against a white power structure that commits injustices both real and imagined.