It’s very easy to sit here all safe and sound and privileged and talk about how awful the rioting in Baltimore is and how it doesn’t solve anything. Never mind that we’re all going to have barbecues this July to celebrate an occasion where violence solved plenty, until you’ve been part of a system that has routinely treated you at best as a second-class citizen and at worst as a perpetual potential threat, you really don’t get to tell someone how to deal with their anger and frustration.
Not to say that every single person on the streets of Baltimore is some righteous crusader. It’s hard to look at the photo of a looter triumphantly hoisting a pack of toiler paper over his head as a Malcolm X for our times. And there’s a valid argument to be made that a lot of the buildings and businesses suffering from the looters are in fact minority-owned and the last ones who should be having this rage focused against them. But neither of those things diminish the root cause of the unrest, nor cast doubt on those who have been peacefully protesting off-camera while the news networks all focus on the much more ratings-friendly chaos going on elsewhere. It’s not the expression of discontent we should be concerned about, but the causes of that discontent.
It’s like I’ve always said about terrorism: until we understand what sort of conditions drive someone to believe that strapping on a bomb and blowing themselves up in public is actually a viable course of action, we’ll never be able to get rid of it. We might kill terrorists, but we won’t kill terrorism, because we’re treating the symptom, not the problem. And it’s the same thing here. We can throw every single one of the rioters in jail, clean up the streets, repair the damage, and the reason for it all will still be bubbling there beneath the surface. It’s like living next to Mt. Vesuvius and thinking it’ll never erupt again because Pompeii happened.
Some people point to MLK and ask why these issues we face today can’t be addressed that way. But the ’60s also brought us the Watts riots, and I’m not sure we’d have gotten the civil rights legislation we did without both happening. We needed the shock at the one in order to make us listen to the reason of the other. We needed to see that things were really that bad before we could accept someone who was proposing solutions. We had to see the worst case scenario in order to strive for something better. Well, we’re seeing the worst case right now. Maybe it’ll open enough eyes for this generation’s something better to come along.