Dear Ferguson Rioter:

August 21, 2014

Dear Ferguson Rioter:

Congratulations on your choice of this time-honored means of expressing discontent while also obtaining expensive new  Nikes (for free!). The arch support will allow for sustained flatland sprints at speeds in excess of those obtainable by armor-encumbered riot cops. Clever. If standing your ground and fighting the man is more your style, loot something with stronger ankle support; New Balance cross-trainers or Asolo mountaineering boots. In any event, you’ve certainly shown outrage by helping yourself to other peoples’ property. The moral highroad, indeed.

You must be tired after a week of nightly looting; help yourself to Gatorade from the burned-down Quik Trip convenience store. The revolution relies on electrolytes. Hydration in the face of tyranny is more important to your community than the security of local businesses (and your neighbors’ houses).

If you find a free minute, maybe clarify the purpose of your riot. To express anger over the shooting death of Michael Brown? If so (and if there is a purpose to looting, other than opportunistic greed), what is the basis of that anger? That an unarmed black man was shot by a white policeman? Unless you know more than the rest of us, those three facts (the race of the decedent, the race of the policeman, and the lack of equal arms) seem sufficient by themselves to have driven you to a murderous rampage – to the extent that one of your number, when asked whether she would be satisfied with a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting and appropriate punishment, said “I will be satisfied when that cop is executed for murder.”

But are a black decedent and a white shooter synonymous with guilt? It seems so, in your mind. Never mind that the circumstances surrounding the shooting are almost entirely unknown – whether Mr. Brown attacked or threatened the officer, reached for the officer’s gun, rushed him, etc. These are things that might be useful to know before calling for an execution, but you seem not to mind not knowing them. Bravo, for your single-minded pursuit of revenge in the face of a complete ignorance of relevant and potentially mitigating information. Apparently, the only evidence you require for conviction is race. In earlier days, this was called racism: a readiness to convict and execute based on race alone. It was an evil then, but apparently you’ve found a loophole: when the shooter is white, a jump to conclusions and call for vengeance based on race isn’t racism, it’s justice. Good work thinking outside the box.

And attacking entirely unrelated policemen, including Missouri State Highway Patrol officers who couldn’t have found your suburb on a map last month and have only arrived now because of your unwillingness to leave your neighbors in peace? Assuredly, you have a clever motive for it – and you have been equally clever in criticizing officers for appearing overly militarized; that is, wearing tactical riot gear and driving Hummers. You would have them remove the gear to appear friendlier toward the community. Perhaps if the community wants friendlier cops, the community should stop throwing bricks at them? A discussion for another day.

Maybe, however, it is time your wish was granted; maybe police officers should withdraw entirely from your town. It seems to be what your placards reading “Cops Kill Kids” demand. In that case, you will be free to continue looting whatever the best looters have not already gotten. And when those folks, turning away from empty storefronts, start walking toward your house, you can call… somebody.


Dear English Rioter

August 10, 2011

Dear English Rioter:

Congratulations on your riot! Always an original and intelligent means of expression. In fact, most of the great political philosophies have come about through riots. Socrates used to go over to Aristotle’s house and riot all over the place. Historically speaking, you’ve chosen the most articulate, thoughtful way to communicate your ideas. Bloody well done.

What was it again that set you off? Oh, right: English policemen shot and killed a drug dealer in a car who had a gun which he hadn’t fired. That’s worth rioting over… in your country, where handgun laws are so strict that the regular police have only batons, drug dealers likely have all kinds of legitimate reasons for keeping guns in their cars. He probably used it to check his oil.

But really, what a riot you’ve put on! Be proud. If there’s one thing that tells policemen you’re fed up with their heavy-handed methods, it’s setting fire to your own homes and grocery stores. Nothing makes authority the world over re-consider its tactics like throwing rocks at the place your grandmother goes to buy lottery tickets.

And the looting! Brilliant. How else are you supposed to know when tyranny has been thrown off, if not for the news on your new flat-screen TV? The old one was too small for the revolution!

So, when they let you out of prison and you go home – rightfully proud of the blow you struck for justice! – and you can’t find your apartment because your friend who lives down the street (a soul as passionate about freedom as you!) burned it down (oops!), remember: you have struck a mighty, educated, and responsible blow for… something or other. Bravo!

Best,

The Editors


Feeding Fires

April 26, 2011

Some weeks ago, a Florida swamplands preacher burned a Koran, ostensibly in protest of that book’s promotion of violence. The same preacher had threatened the same burning a year ago, but relented in the face of widespread disapproval.

Almost as soon as match touched page, Muslims half a planet away began rioting. Arab Muslims, incensed at the libricide, took to the streets and killed seven United Nations workers in northern Afghanistan.

Neither camp learned much from the biblioclasmic events, especially with regard to public relations. Floridian swamp-preachers, having long labored under accusations of ignorant fear-mongering and rabble rousering, gained no ground to the contrary. And Arab Muslims, accused by one of those preachers of revering a book which promotes violence, certainly did their international image no favors killing seven innocent UN relief workers several continents removed from the event.

The lesson neither team absorbed is: when you labor under stereotypes on behalf of a cause, you do that cause no favors by playing into those images.