Protests and Purpose: Baltimore Riots Fail

Harpers_1861_Baltimore_Riot001To be a protester, you admit that you agree with the way the system is currently running. You get your license and block a few highways, wave your signs and go home. Maybe you get really antsy and squat on some nice park for a few months; really determined to make people in power change their ways. But soon enough the riot gear comes out and the State tests just how serious you are about changing things. Most go home at this point. Maybe what you were protesting about wasn’t such a serious issue after all. Just like Occupy Wall Street, your mission fails and you all pack up and go home. Sorry, you were unable to garner enough support from your fellow citizens; try again next time.

sdfp-wall-streetSeriously though, it was a worthy effort. You were like 10% of the way there, real close guys.

But rioters are different. They want to demolish the state. If they agreed with the laws and the political system they lived within, they would be ‘peaceful’ protestors. But instead they choose to break stuff because protests aren’t enough in their eyes. Riots fail because they are do not garner enough support from the surrounding citizens. They are unable to convince more people to join in the looting/demolishing of the state. But to be fair, this is pretty tough to do, but when it happens, man change happens quickly. It took Egypt 2 weeks and 3 days to remove its sitting president.

So the question I always ask myself, do our rioters truly hate the system enough to die in the streets? To demolish their community? To charge a police line in riot gear? And most importantly, do they care enough about this issue to sacrifice their own lives by throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at people with automatic weapons.


Most of the time, the answer to that last question is a resounding “Hell no.” But everynow and then something happens that just really pisses everyone off. Or, to put it bluntly, a series of events happen to get a lot of media attention and people get furious about it. These emotions build upon decades of true or imagined discrimination, injustice, and general ill will.

Enter Trevon Martin, Michael Brown, and of course Freddie Gray in Baltimore. The killing of Trevon didn’t trigger any riots, but the intense media attention acted as a catalyst for racial anger across the United States. Each successive injustice done to another person of color acted as more fuel to the riot fire. To be truthful, most racism injustices are ambiguous enough that it’s hard to get to riled up over. But once in a blue moon we get a couple which are particularly difficult to hide from.

So, inevitably we get our two matches for our fire. Michael Brown shot dead on August 2014, and Freddie Gray died in custody, April 2015. A lot of people really love to sink their teeth into the details of these cases.

Were the cops justified? Did these kids encourage the police to treat them so harshly? Was the trial just? What do their parents have to say about all this???

If you ask these questions you are burying yourself in pointless rabble; save hours of your life watching MSNBC or FOX, it is all irrelevant. Go outside and stare at a tree, it would be more productive than analyzing these cases. Because friends, the fact that they’ve made it this far in our modern intrusive media machine probably means either the State is completely in the wrong OR there is a reasonable chance they still screwed up big time.

042715_judgenapKFSo now we’re rioting again. A bunch of people pick up some pitch forks, topple some cars, and start destroying shit. What will the world’s most powerful military State do, in the face of such ‘senseless’ violence against its orderly rules? It’ll stomp on it, obviously. It always has, and it always will. States exist for this sole purpose; to crush opposition with a monopoly of force.

The Brown riots (in Feurgeson 2014) had two waves, one right after the death (August 9 – 25) then another after our justice system decided the cop was justified in the shooting (November 24 – December 4). Cue the National Guard, a few bottles of tear gas, some arrests, some broken bones, all the rioters go home. They never saw the ‘upswell’ of the silent majority. They failed in their mission. Better luck next time. So this story shouldn’t be surprising in Baltimore. Some people protest, other people riot. The riots get a little crazy, so we call in the National Guard again. People don’t feel like throwing rocks at people with automatic weapons so they go home and once more our silent majority stay silent.

They never took to the streets to take up this noble cause of eradicating the state. Shoot. Better luck next time. Maybe some commenters of this blog can correct me, but I have yet to see a case in the US where race riots were actually successful. The civil rights movement was a protest, sure they were treated as rioters to people who wanted to crush them with force; but facts remain facts, they were largely peaceful and operated within… most of the laws we have. Additionally the civil rights movement has simple, understandable goals. These proposed goals were easy to meld into public policy on paper, so it’s easy to get behind.

These riots will never succeed because people don’t care about racial injustice enough to start burning down city blocks. Let’s get honest, our silent majority is mainly white. And if you can’t even convince the silent majority of african americans to take up arms against the State, you might as well just go home early. America doesn’t have a radicalized left wing who can capitalize on these incidents. People don’t see burning down the state as a solution to racism or racial injustice. So why would they risk their lives to fight for it via rioting? Maybe a protest would be more beneficial, given that you actually have some policy demands to protest for. But until we see that rather than some ambiguous “Justice for X!” or “Stop racism now!” you will continue to fail; because you aren’t proposing any solutions worth dieing for.



  1. You make a great point about riots never being “successful” in the sense that they don’t bring about change. But I’m not sure that people who resort to rioting are really even thinking about change. I think it is mainly a reflex, a way to release years of pent up frustration and a way not to feel so “invisible” any more. I don’t know that people who engage in riots ever expect anything to really change, they just want someone to “see” their anger and pain.

    1. I guess it depends on the type of ‘riot’ and what is defined as a ‘riot’. Anarchist riots in Europe are certainly much different from consumerist riots in the US; where the net result is a bunch of televisions stolen (and the worst outcome is the destruction of private property, as the media tells us).

      Depending on how loose your definition, there are instances in history where ‘riots’ were really organized attempts at overthrowing the government. A good example are the riots in the Ukraine which led to the removal of the sitting president and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea. But I suppose an argument could be made to call this a ‘protest’. we are on ambiguous ground here so it can go either way.

  2. If then we consult history for a successful riot in the so-called United States, we are led to the so-called Boston Massacre of 5 December 1770. You are, Collectivist Duck, enough of a historian to take the cue (as it were) and go on from there.

    1. I guess in this case I can hide behind a technicality, since the US didn’t really exist in 1770 :).

      However, it depends on your interpretation here, was the riot after the Boston massacre successful? It’s tough to say the American revolution would have/wouldn’t have happened with/without it. That’s certainly speculation because it’s not the riot which was the lynchpin of the american revolution, it was the massacre itself.

      The direct result was a formal legal trial and the withdrawal of troops. In the way I would say you are correct, these riots were successful in getting what Boston wanted; troops out of their city (if you agree that was the goal). Otherwise it’s tough to say

    1. Hi Judy,
      I agree the difference between a riot and a protest is a difficult one to pin down. In this post i hint at a definition; protests follow the majority of the laws in the state (a little violence is okay), marches are organized into groups, list of demands exist. A riot is an uncontrolled free for all with people destroying and stealing from others.

      To the second point, what do you think the role of the media is in reporting these events? I think my stance would be a bit unsurprising to the readers here. The media wants the existing order to continue, so they’ll demonize anything seen as a threat to it.

      Thanks for your comment, I hope to hear from you again!

  3. While not rioting here in Australia we are having a series of unprecedentedly successful protests in regards to Indigenous land rights and a number of other issues. Successful in the sense that those participating come from all parts of our society. The problem we are facing here is a government who, despite this very obvious unrest amongst all classes and racial groups, is determined to proceed on an agenda they were not elected on and that they are not sharing with the rest of the country.

    We have a PM who ridicules sanction by the UN and other international bodies re our policies on Asylum seekers and whose response to reports of sexual, psychical and psychological abuse in those camps is to pass laws making it illegal to provide information in the public forum about the workings of those camps with sentences of up to two years for whistle-blowers.

    He is now putting through legislation that can strip dual nationals of Australian citizenship if they are ‘believed’ to be involved in areas determined to be conflict areas by our department of defense. For example going to visit a family member in Syria you may find yourself unable to return to Australia or if you do you may be stripped of your citizenship even if you have no ties to any particular groups.

    He is also wanting to re-write the pledge of allegiance made when taking Australian citizenship. It has not included ‘god’ prior to this but under the new rules it will. Australia has a proud history of separation of church and state and such pledge has no place in a country made up of so many differing religions and cultures. Sadly our PM who left seminary school because he felt the Catholic Church to be too progressive – yep you heard me he thought the Catholic Church to be too radical – seems determined to turn his time as PM into the beginnings of a crusade.

    We have a populace uniting on several fronts and a government who couldn’t care less. What comes next well I don’t think anyone really understands how very quickly things could turn violent. What to do when a united populace is ignored by its own government and in the mainstream media?

    1. Hi Jenni, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. The power of the mob is very strong in western nations, the troublesome part is getting people out in the streets in such numbers that you get what you want.

      If the media is against this cause then it’s likely our silent majority is against it or apathetic toward it also. The media is just another form of business, they are selling a product (in this case, information). If enough people tune off the news because they aren’t reflecting the majorities views then I would bet almost anything that they would change how they present current events.

      Good luck in the down under, it’s an uphill fight from beginning till end to enact change this way; but I respect the people who care enough about their nation to participate peacefully. Good luck!

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