Excusing Riots In The Wake Of The Ferguson Decision

“Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.” – G. K. Chesterton

I plan this to be my one and only foray into the Ferguson question. Nothing is so aggravating to me personally or destructive to the pursuit of justice than the nationalization and politicization of a single, local news story. A person’s conception of the facts of an incident becomes a litmus test of his ideological bona fides.

Our forefathers – British, American and otherwise – were wise enough to develop a system of due process and a jury of peers in order to avoid cases being decided according to the public’s or the politically desired outcome. As a human institution, it is not perfect – and that is the point. It is the one found most likely to inoculate justice against human fallibility.

However, one point of the Left warrants my response. In response to criticisms of the rioters and looters in Ferguson following the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, New York Magazine published a Twitter collection of “White People Rioting for No Reason.”

The implied point was one or both of the following: 1) White people have rioted for worse reasons than a jury decision, so don’t criticize people in Ferguson however futile and destructive their actions, or 2) white people riot too, so calling out the largely-black rioters in Ferguson is racist.

Context needs to be taken into consideration here. Almost all of the riots included in the New York Magazine article were in response to sporting events – an incredibly stupid reason to riot, of course. I have said the same many times. What I have not done, however, is written an article or even a blog post on the subject. Why? Because they weren’t a part of a news story that has been stoked by the national media for months.

Ironically, the media obsessed with making Ferguson a national narrative ensured that the largely black group of protestors would be subject to critical examination.

Regardless of the size of the news story, what kind of argument is it to say, well, others have done it, so it’s okay. Any kid who has used that excuse when doing something they knew was wrong has heard the parental reply, “And what if everyone else was jumping off a bridge? Would you too?” Collective participation has never been an excuse for wrongful behavior.

Finally, how does rioting pointlessly – as in the case of those who do following a sporting event – excuse or justify rioting ineffectually in Ferguson (or rioting in general)? Just because the riots are because of a more important reason, it doesn’t make them above criticism. Actions must ultimately be judged by their effects as well.

What will be the result of protest by looting? Will there be less racism? Is there a reform to the justice system that is sought? If so, it must be articulated. Martin Luther King and his followers protested peacefully in pursuit of specific, substantive changes to civil rights legislation. Theirs is the example to be emulated.

(On a side note, by comparison with the Ferguson response, the protests in the aftermath of Eric Garner’s death seem much more peaceful. The Washington Post reports no looting or violence and few, if any injuries.)

It could be argued that blacks in America have less political power and therefore need to seek other means of expression to get things done. Ironically, black voters throw the political power they have more unanimously behind a party – the Democrats – than any other demographic. Perhaps if that power were shifted to support another party or other candidates, the right kind of change would occur.