“Protest. But Not Like That. Or Like That.”: U.S.-America’s Self-Imposed Riots
To suggest that protest in the United States is in its blood would be an understatement. Even a flippant view of the creation of this nation would require a recognition that the very founding of the United States was predicated on a string of protests. The casual references to the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and other events in the decades leading up to the American Revolution would have to recognize the train of events as inevitable stepping stones to violence. The founding American story is an easily discernible hill that one must climb, fall down, and climb again: peaceful protest, destruction of property, looting and rioting, rebellion, and revolution.
Yet, in the grand scheme of U.S.-American culture, we have often segregated our favorite variations of the pattern from the less comfortable ones. U.S.-Americans can joke about the Boston Tea Party or raise their fists over the Revolutionary War, but the same fervor and pride is noticeably absent when it comes to the same patterns concerning racial injustice, as in the case of the Slave Insurrection of 1741 or Nat Turner’s Rebellion in 1831. U.S.-Americans during the era of slavery responded to possibility of slave revolts not by recognizing the immorality of the slavery system but by stifling dissent, increasing their control on slaves, and preserving white society. Later, U.S.-Americans would split their views on the institution of slavery while preserving a segregated society — by law in the South and by design in the north. Later still, U.S.-Americans were split again on the Civil Rights movement, with far too many supporting the use of police violence to stop dissent (with the help of the FBI). And today, that familiar response is here again.
In Ferguson in 2014, protests over the police killing of Michael Brown were met by police in riot gear, SWAT teams, tear gas, and other non-lethal methods of crowd dispersal (and violence). Police also destroyed a memorial laid by Michael Brown’s mother, adding fuel to a fire that would erupt into riots. Three years later, Vice President Mike Pence, following the lead of many angry U.S.-Americans, would storm out of an NFL game after several 49ers players knelt in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and in protest of racial injustice. Pence, who probably staged the walkout…