Rioting: Shaping Our Nation

Story By: Frank Lopez, Rampage Reporter

“The more there are riots, the more repressive action will take place, and the more we face the danger of a right-wing takeover and eventually a fascist society.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

The waves of indignation that have been sweeping across Europe have spawned riots and are reminders of the destructive tendencies of civil disorder.  Images of young rioters fighting with police officers can be very provoking and inspirational. Many young people are attracted to the rebelliousness and chance to take their strike against a system that they to believe to be unjust.

Crowds of protesters are swept up by powerful emotions of angst, rebellion, violence, and dissatisfaction with established and governmental authority become a mob and destroy municipal property and leave many people injured and sometimes dead. Business store fronts have their windows broken with bricks and provide an apt entry for people wishing to loot.  These are the outcomes of what happens today when a group of people feels that it has no choice but to resort to rioting. The L.A. riots of 1992 displays the destruction that takes place when people attempt to make gesture towards a corrupt institution.

Rioting is part of the American past and has been a catalyst for change. “The Boston Massacre” and “The Boston Tea Party” were two of the hundreds of riots that took place in the time that was leading up to the American Revolution. Through popular disorder, the people have expressed their social discontent, altered economic arrangements, affected politics and toppled regimes.

After America had won its independence from England it was in the midst of becoming a new nation. Alexander Hamilton wrote the Federalist Papers to support the ratification of the new constitution. Hamilton wanted his readers to believe that the new constitution would do away with civil disorder such as rioting.

While there were many riots that brought attention and positive civil action to certain social concerns throughout American history, have we not as a society surpassed the methods of using mob violence and coercion to accomplish political and social goals?

Some may argue that rioting is an irrational and tumultuous act by people who are taking the laws into their own hands. While the rioters may be destructive and operating out of the social norms and laws of society, they believe that their actions are rational and logical. They feel social and political vexation and believe that rioting is the right way of producing change and showing disapproval to the established powers.

Police officers in a New Orleans race riot in 1866 covered their badges and fired guns into a crowd of unionists and African-Americans holding a political meeting. The police did not murder anyone nor did they blow up the entire building. The police rationalized the use of mob violence and destruction to effectively disperse the meeting. It worked.

We are in modern times and are still in the process of becoming a civilized world. In order to become a nation of diplomacy, its citizens cannot be ones who embrace and perpetuate the idea that violence, destruction, and force will produce a better society. To cause social change and improve judicial, economic, and governmental institutions, we must use diplomacy, cooperation, logic, and transcend older existing orders instead of violently overthrowing them.

Human beings have a desire to be remembered and to be important. When an individual participates in a riot he feels important, he feels as if his voice is finally being recognized. This disillusioned and discontent individual reveals his thoughts and ideas by uttering slogans and obscenities, but also by the actions he takes against objects or people.

The Civil Rights protesters of the 1950s and 60s knew that in order to be accepted by white society and be seen as equal they would have to do it peacefully and constitutionally instead of using violence or the threat of violence.

People may riot for such mundane reasons such as land seizures, or heavy impacting reasons such as basic human rights. Whatever the reason may be, the goal cannot be truly achieved if all people and institutions do not willingly accept it.

It is true that our current American government can improve its performance; we are fortunate that it is not an Orwellian regime. Our current government is not a totalitarian one that has outstanding control of individual freedoms and thoughts. It is not oppressing us to the point where its citizens have to resort to mob violence.

I do not believe that America will become a government such as the ones in dystopian novels where it has meticulous intent of controlling everyone through whatever means necessary. I believe that as a society, we are past the use of crude and violent methods to set the motions for change.

It is the duty of citizens to be informed and politically active in the institutions that are shaping our nation. We must be a proactive society, not one that uses violence after negative policies have taken already taken place. We are past the point of such civil savagery.