Riots and Reason

I truly believe that to be a good teacher, a decent writer or a perfunctory scholar one has to concede the limits of evidence, reason, and rationality.

It is no wonder I believe that. Evidence, reason and rationality can rarely explain my place in this world. I know the limits even as I try to stretch them. It is either futile or the human experience or, I suspect, it is both.

For months I have participated and supported the ground work of activists, scholars, teachers, preachers, parents, young people, old people, and people people in Ferguson, MO. My contribution amounts to little more than nil on the grand scale of things. Mostly, I have hoped that people would persist.

It is an unreasonable hope.

Representatives of the State, of a public that includes black people who are also a public, were defiant when they announced the grand jury results of Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson this week. If I accept the argument of every person who thinks it was a good clean kill, there is still little to explain the anger of those who, by all accounts, won. Why are police advocates, prosecutors, white people in online comments, the white guy who yelled at me to get a job as I crossed the street last night so angry? They won.

Mike Brown was a pest, exterminated by the police.

The officer is uninjured, married, employed and un-charged.

People who believe that these things are right and just and proper won. Yet, I find they are still angry.

It stretches the bounds of reason.

Unless, of course, nothing about this is reasonable.

When the accusation is that looting and riots constitute unacceptable violence, the rest of the statement goes thusly: every life has a price and these lives are cheaper than any property damaged.

I do not see many people arguing that extra-judicial homicide is unavoidable but that it is an acceptable price to pay for having police who are willing to do the job we ask them to do.

We ask the police to enforce our unreasonable reasons for fairness without justice and if people have to die for that job to be done, then so be it.

But it should never be spoken. We should never have to admit that we have sanctioned murder so that we can have stuff. Stuff, loosely defined, runs the gamut from televisions and plate glass windows to whiteness and bike lanes. We should never be forced to articulate that we have accepted a minimum threshold for murders so that we can have stuff.

I mean really, who is mad when they win? I can only imagine that anger when a winner knows that the trophy will bring inquiries about doping.

Winners are mad when winning lights the shadows.

It is about legitimacy and articles of faith, not actual lives and death.

The police must remain legitimate so that no one ever asks us, baldly and directly, how many people are we are okay with killing today so that we can have our stuff.

That is what we pay the police for and we pay them, in part, with the right to kill human pests.

Here is why evidence and reason fails; why your cousin-friend-favorite troll refutes every indicator that somehow the police kills more black people than they do any other kind of people. The only acceptable evidence for the collateral damage clause of policing is invisibility. And, evidence is by definition observed, measured, theorized, talked and lived into visibility.

No data, no tape, no pictures, no story, no argument, no reason can convince the winners in the game of police violence that black lives matter. If the black lives can be seen, then they fail the basic litmus test of the prevailing argument. They are not invisible.

Of course, some of us will continue to argue that death is an unacceptable sentence for shoplifting blunt papers. Many of us will argue that a human being is more valuable than a television. We will make the audacious claim that visibility is a human right, conditioned on not a single law of man or nation.

People will be angry. Many of those people have more guns and more right to use them on us than we will ever have. But when they have to pull them out, they have to admit that we’re visible.

That strikes me as a type of reason to riot.

15 thoughts on “Riots and Reason

  1. Winners are mad when winning lights the shadows.

    A beautiful and clear articulation of this hypocrisy about acceptable versus unacceptable violence I have been trying to put my finger on. Thanks for breaking it down tressie. Now, the next point: the ‘stuff’ we white middle class people are allowed to accumulate and kill to protect is just enough to keep us opted into the system and off the streets. In a way, we (stuff havers) have all been made into cops policing the system in order to ensure the ruling class maintain the true hold and control over 90% of the resources. People have been holding signs saying ‘l am Mike Brown’. Most of us should be holding signs that say ‘I am Officer Wilson’. By our self-segregation & opting out of direct action & our opting in to the rituals of individualistic accumulation, we are preserving the status quo. We have to change the system. Thanks for all the work you do. It is making a difference.

  2. The policeman made a statement and the forensic evidence supported it. Now, you can call him a liar, you can call the grand jury liars, and that would explain why people think there was no justice. From all I have read, the witnesses who said Mike Brown was murdered all have different stories, while the policemen and the evidence tell the same story. Again, you can say that they are all lying, I guess, but I wonder if there is a deeper cultural force at work.

    I teach in an inner-city middle school in Los Angeles. We have a mostly Hispanic population, but we also have a substantial minority of black students bused from South Central. Our school is a performing arts magnet, and it is sought after by students around the city.

    What I have noticed on several occasions, is that when one of my black students gets out of line, as middle-schoolers will do, I correct them just like everyone else. What is different, is that I am called a racist, immediately, without evidence. My record would show that this not remotely possible, but the black students make that their first line of defense. What I find sad, is that this is a learned behavior. Who taught them this? I don’t really know.

    I have a feeling that the real protesters in Ferguson are horrified by the violence, the looting, the destruction, the injuries. But I also have a feeling that the people who rioted would have done it no matter what the grand jury pronounced. We need to make a distinction between legitimate protest and lawless thugs having a good time. They are not the same, and guns will only make it worse.

    1. “We” need to make a distinction between “legitimate protest” and “lawless thugs” is rather the point. That is, there is no “we” making that distinction but only “you” who is never inclusive of me. And, legitimacy and lawlessness is socially-contingent, purposefully ill-defined and always a red herring in that it is a false dichotomy of actual politics and power. In actuality, protest is always lawless. If it’s not, then it’s not much of a protest.

      And don’t use your “inner city kids” as street cred like that. They have enough problems.

      1. If you are not one who makes a distinction between legitimate protesting and lawless thugs, that explains a lot. There is a difference between lawless protest and lawless thugs. Can you not see that?

        And as for my inner-city kids, how many are you teaching every day? I teach 200. I have a doctorate. I can teach anywhere I want to. I choose to be there. Where are you choosing to be? These kids don’t give me street cred, my work does. My kids do have a lot of problems and they are not helped when they see people that look like them on TV setting fire to businesses and attacking police. They are not helped by people advocating the use of guns to settle disputes with police. What my kids are helped by is me caring about them, feeding them (literally) out of my own pocket, spending my own money so that they have school supplies, encouraging them to get educated.

        I have taught inner-city kids to drive, gotten them jobs, loaned them money to get an apartment, brought food to their families when they had none. Injustice makes my blood boil, but I choose not to burn down my neighborhood in reaction to it. That is an ignorant response.

        If you are still wondering why all this make me mad, then you really aren’t paying attention.

    2. Ok, let’s back up here. A grand jury was convened not to clear anyone of anything. It was to determine whether the evidence provided by the prosecution was sufficient for a public trial. This is where we part ways. We are calling shenanigans on how this incident was handled right from the time DW shoot the kid (WaPo has an excellent breakdown of the events that transpired after and they were unusual) up to what the McCulloch presented to them. Based on what we can determine, it does appear like McCulloch deliberately sabotaged the grand jury so no indictment would be returned. In that regard, no one can say for sure what happened. You choose to give the officer the benefit of doubt and that’s something you and many white people have done now and in the past. We (Black people) have a different experience of police power in this country so we are not willing to give them the benefit of doubt. This should have gone to a trial and then guilt could have been assessed based on a fair and public review of the evidence. That did not happen. As for your inner city kid stuff, please save that nonsense for someone who cares.

    3. So your students claim they are the victims of racism when you correct them on an issue. You say that this is learned behavior, and leave it at that. Of course calling something racism is a learned behavior, all of our knowledge about society is learned behavior. No one is born with instinctive knowledge of the subtle prejudices and forces at work in modern American society. And of course your students are not experts at correctly identifying where and how racism affects their life, they’re middle-schoolers. But your students’ imprecision in recognizing racism does not mean, in any way, that racism does not affect these students lives.

      Now I don’t know why you brought up your middle schoolers in the discussion. But it seems that you did so to suggest that the protesters in Ferguson are analyzing their current situation with the same level of sophistication that your middle school students use. And I’d say that’s some serious bullshit, and you need to look at your assumptions.

    4. “From all I have read, the witnesses who said Mike Brown was murdered all have different stories, while the policemen and the evidence tell the same story.”

      And this invites no curiosity, “rsmit3”?

      I read this species of reply to the critques proffered by progressive anaylsis in many blog posts that have progressive authors, from Corey Robin to Mondoweiss, that then open their comment sections to responses.

      I have said this in other forums I am going to say it now. I have felt this whenever I read such stuff.

      “rsmit3” and others like him/her are simply lying. The story “rsmit3” tells in that reply is pure hogwash. It is more than obvious that “rsmit3” does not know any Black middle school children, does not teach them, and does not even pretend to understand them. I doubt that “rsmit3” is even a teacher at all, but just some racist troll trying to tell persons of color that the right of the state to undertake extra-judicial killing must be protected by its very victims by using only those methods of “protest” that perversely meets with the approval of the state (and of those persons who really matter), a state that sees no rights that held by its Black “citizens” that it is any way bound to respect.

      There, I said it.

  3. Laying down my cards so people can see where I am coming from, I’m of Scots heritage and Australian. As such I’m some what divorced from the situation.

    However, looking in from outside I would say that there is a distinction between violent protest and peaceful protest. However just because there is a distinction between violent protest and peaceful protest doesn’t mean that there is not justification for violent protest.After all your nation was formed as a result of a VERY violent protest. You guys have taken violent protest to a whole new level to the point of civil war. You still maintain your RIGHT to violent protest in the form of your gun ownership laws. It appears to an outsider that violent protest is enshrined in your national culture.

    Having said that I don’t think rioting in Ferguson and elsewhere does much to advance the cause of social justice but at the very least you have to ask yourself why such a large segment of your community feels so enraged that they feel justified in rioting. To not acknowledge the reasons for social unrest is to further entrench and ferment social unrest. Now violent protest may seem counter productive and I think that people rioting and looting are just providing the social opponents with more ammunition and justification for harsher treatment but what do you do when you are uneducated, unsophisticated and without hope of achieving any change through other means?

  4. Furthermore I haven’t seen the justification for the police officer shooting Micheal Brown but if the police shot someone who was unarmed here in Australia it is possible that they may escape a murder charge but it would be highly unlikely they would escape all charges and even if they did the extenuating circumstances would have to be phenomenal for them to escape uncharged and undisciplined. In fact I don’t think it is possible.

    Unless the victim was Aboriginal of course.

  5. Reblogged this on Berna's Vibe~The Way I See IT…. and commented:
    >>I’ve been itching to blog out my thoughts regarding the Ferguson ruling..Still plan on doing so when my thoughts have been properly gathered..After reading quite a bit from all perspectives; I can appreciate this one for more reasons that not..Much regard /respect Tressie for helping to push for ‘justUS’..(justice..) Many of us hoped also that this would go to trial for a FAIR chance to have revealed what really happened..Sadly, that chance was sabotaged! >>RE-BLOGGED by Berna from The Blog of Tressiemc

  6. Reblogged this on SKINNY NECK and commented:
    The Extermination of black people like pests so we can have “stuff”… is the most succinctly I have heard this put. Black Friday shopping being deemed more important than Black lives. A new announcement of Brown Saturday for small business, being deemed more important than brown lives. Outsourcing all the jobs so we can keep slave labor…
    It’s going to take a lot more essays like this one by Tressie to help a sea shift in white-mentality or what I like to call the white “FOG”. Cover ups and hushing and selective-or-temporary blindness, mindful-forgetfulness, all in the middle of the biggest shopping season… is evasion.
    Michael Brown did not get a fair trial before, during, or after the mistakes he made. And punishment by death is an indication that we all LOST. No one won. The police and or any white opinion that justice has been done, is a losing one.

    I agree with Tressie that winners have nothing to be angry about unless there’s been some cheating like the doping in sports…

  7. For those that are interested seems to suggest that the issue is more institutional. When combined with race it gets extra ugly.

    In Australia we had a series of police shootings and there was a massive outcry. While several of the police were found to have acted justly others were not. Regardless police procedures were overhauled, police received extra training and there is a general culture that the police are not above the law.

    In the above article there is a link that has a series of videos that are very disturbing. If an Australian police officer had struck someone like was recorded in one of thoese videos they not only would have lost their job they would also be facing assault charges.

    If a police officer had fired shots at someone unarmed they also would have lost their job and possibly have been facing criminal charges. If they had fired after the person had their hands up as occured in one of those videos they would definitely have faced criminal charges.

    Whats more the senior police leadership would have been very out spoken and condemned such actions after the case had gone to trial.

  8. Wow! Black Friday seems more important than Black Lives. Gotta spend that money so people can go into debt. It’s hard to reason with the unreasonable.

    Thanks for the moderation.

  9. I have found myself incredibly frustrated with the “stop painting us police officers as bad guys” narrative that to me in completely irrelevant to the issue. No one is saying that all police are secretly members of the KKK, and yet we have to admit that they hold the same subconscious biases as other regular white Americans, and therefore that they are fallible. And not only fallible, lethal, because they are fallible with guns (or hand cuffs and choke holds). The media is working hard to de-legitimize the concerns of the people in Ferguson by harping on the so-called “riots,” which is of course an intentional semantic choice because “riot” implies uncontrolled rage and destruction, as opposed to “protest.” Thank you for your post and for your work in Ferguson. I too hope that people will persist both in their protests in the street and in forcing this dialogue on the rest of the American public who are reluctant to find any correlation between the many astonishingly parallel deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white police.

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