Riots Made America #Ferguson

A 1922 drawing by Heinrich Vogeler

A 1922 drawing by Heinrich Vogeler

Riots are easy to dismiss. They are also easy to demonize.

However, Robert Stephens II makes a case at Jacobin magazine for viewing riot as both meaningful and significant political acts.

From Jacobin:

Riots, like other forms of political action, can build solidarity. They can create strong feelings of common identity. The outrage in Ferguson quickly attracted marginalized people throughout the region. Rather than evidence of illegitimacy, the presence of these “outsiders” reflected the magnetic power of the political moment.


From the outset, the anti-police police rallies that preceded the riots had a clear “us versus them” dynamic. At one point during the rally, the woman holding the camera says, “Where the thugs at? Where the street tribes when we need y’all?” and the crowd then begins to call on various street gangs to abandon “black-on-black” violence and unite in struggle against oppression. The community was unified and ready to take action. The police were the problem, and they had to be stopped.


The crowd was not irrational and apolitical. They were attempting to use this opportunity to address their broader political needs. They knew that intraracial violence within the community was also an issue, and that in most cases the perpetrators of violence are the communities’ own children, cousins, friends, and neighbors. Though many claim that black people don’t care about violence within our communities, the crowd’s calls for gang unity demonstrate that anti-police uprisings provide unique opportunities to unite people in ways that seek to resolve long-term issues like gang violence.


Farther down the article, Stephens points out why rioting might at times be the only method of political expression available.

What both the local news interviewees and the crowd at the scene of Brown’s death seemed to understand was that they needed to disrupt the interplay between racial subjugation and capitalism. They felt that a march or some other acceptable form of benign indignation would not address their political needs — and they weren’t wrong.


Many of us rush to condemn these types of disruptions because we’re actually content with neoliberalism’s post-racial illusion…


Stephens also points out that riots have played an important part in our accepted political narrative.

From the Boston Tea Party to Shays’ Rebellion, riots made America, for better or worse. In the past, white rioters have had access to institutional power, which allowed some of their grievances to be legitimized and politically resolved, at least to extent possible in a capitalist society. The key for the Ferguson uprising, as with any unsustainable political moment, is to transition outrage and disruption into constructive political organization. Easier said than done — but it’s a better reaction than dismissing the riots and only making it more difficult for the people to accomplish this herculean task.

Riots not only happen, they are sometimes necessary. The Ferguson riots of the last few days appear to fall into this category.

Read the full article “In Defense of the Ferguson Riots” here.

Categories: Feature, Politics

8 replies »

  1. I have watched the protests with great interest, and I have hope that a lot of good can come out of them. The best thing would be a focus on community policing and not militarization. I think that the unity of a community comes when they feel occupied by an outside force.

  2. When participants in the riot were asked why they looted and burned the convenience store, they said because the manager there had “snitched” on Michael Brown for the earlier burglary. He had the audaacity to call the police. This was payback. The message: If one of “us” steals from “you” then “you’d” better keep quiet, or else. So much for the “magnetic power of the political moment”.

    What is it about the left that seems all too quick to assign some higher purpose, some great and noble cause to what is often nothing more than displays of ignorance and self-serving behavior. (As happened a year or two ago with the last group of lefty darlings, the Occupy Wallstreet movement.) The thugs and street gangs that carried out this most recent violence had no more concept “that they needed to disrupt the interplay between racial subjugation and capitalism” than they had of high school algebra. What does “the interplay between racial subjugation and capitalism” mean, anyway?

    Newsflash: Capitalism liberates. Capitalism brings jobs to communities. Capitalism lifts the poor out of poverty and elevates citizens to greater levels of achievement. Please name even one principle of Capitalism that requires, supports, or advocates for racial subjugation? You want an example of racial subjugation, I give you Detroit. Can anyone dispute the fact that as capitalism was systematically dismantled, and socialist policies enacted by left-leaning black politicians, that the black community itself was “subjugated”?

    Capitalism in its pure form does not subjugate, enslave, or racially discriminate. On the contrary, it breaks the bonds of dependency, it liberates the hearts and minds of the oppressed, and it cares not whether a capitalist is white, brown, yellow, or red. The principles of Capitalism are what has made this country great.

    This is not to say that racial issues cannot and do not exist in a capitalistic society. They do. But they do not derive from capitalistic precepts. They derive from the hearts and minds of men who subscribe to elitist notions of “we know best” and / or “my kind” is better than “your kind”. You know, like the socialists at Jacobin who would prefer a society where power emanates not from the individuals (“We the people…”) but from bureaucrats and political power brokers who get to pick the winners and losers.

    I’m not buying it.

    • Whisperer, whichever alternate universe you are in, but I would like to visit it sometime so I can learn about this “capitalism” that you speak of. Here in our universe that name is given to a system that was built on the backs of slave laborers, and still only works because most of the world slaves for wages that allow them only enough to live, with the constant fear that they are one calamity away from death.

      • Great, then come to Texas, where true capitalism is alive and well, having created over 1,000,000 net new jobs since the recession. I’d be happy to school you on our brand of (mostly) free enterprise. Perhaps we can even tour a plantation or two where you can speak to some of our real live slave laborers. 😉

        Oh, and in case you haven’t noticed, We have a 600 mile border with our mostly socialist neighbors to the south. You may have heard that people down here are crossing the border by the thousands, actually by the tens of thousands, to escape the tyranny of liberal socialist governments and to get their shot at the American dream. Last I heard, there were no migrants voluntarily fleeing the oppression of race and slavery heading south.

        In the real world, capitalists like me risk real capital in order to create opportunities to sell products that actually benefit those who purchase them, all at prices that reflect a fair value exchange. As our products deliver value for our customers, our sales and markets grow and we naturally seek to hire more workers to help us grow. If my products don’t deliver, sales dry up and my hard earned capital is lost. Employees don’t risk capital. If the company fails, they move on to their next job, while I go broke. Big difference.

        Nobody forces anyone to work for my companies. If I don’t pay well or treat my employees right, then my employees will leave and I’ll have much higher costs due to turnover. Far better for us greedy capitalists to pay well and retain great workers. And while we’re at it, in a free market, even if I wanted to be greedy and raise my prices to take advantage of my customers, I always have to be mindful of competition, which will always seek to gain market share by cutting prices and improving service.

        That’s life here in my alternate universe.

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