Is rioting a valuable political tool?

tsj column writers - power and politicsBy Zachary Toillion

It’s time to access whether or not riots actually work as a means of political protest. Going back to nearly one year ago, a number of questionable police shootings have enraged communities across the United States. In Ferguson, Baltimore and New York City there were peaceful protests, in fact more of the protests remained peaceful than those that devolved into looting.

In the case of the Baltimore riots, attention began to fully focus on the city once the protests turned violent. This was the same in Ferguson, the days where there was the most media coverage were the most violent nights of the continued protest over Michael Brown’s death. In Maryland, the single largest night of coverage was when nearly 155 vehicles and about a dozen buildings were burned to the ground.

The thing that remains true in both of these incidents is that the real investigations and grand jury proceedings began after both cities were burned to the ground. In the case of Michael Brown, to the rage of many on the ground that night, the grand jury did not indict him. In Baltimore, the six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray were all indicted within three days of Baltimore burning.

In New York there largely was no rioting, just mass demonstrations. Of all three “hotspots,” New York City had the most people there demanding justice for their victim, Eric Gardner. In the case of the New York Gardner case, the US Attorney for the area actually got a promotion to Attorney General of the United States and unlike in Ferguson, no federal report has been released assessing the NYPD. Meanwhile, the prosecutor who failed to get an indictment against the police who killed Gardner is being fielded for a congressional run by the Republican Party.

The case study of these three incidents invites us to ask an uncomfortable question. Does rioting work as a means of causing political change? It was Martin Luther King who said, “A riot is the voice of the unheard.” These voices seem to be heard this time, but in reverse order. Why is it that the problems that led to rioting seems the first to be addressed while those who chose the largely nonviolent route still have many questions unanswered?

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