“For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”
― Thomas More, Utopia
“…But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
― Martin Luther King
Last semester, on December 13th at 1:00pm, students held a ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstration directly in front of the red brick wall. Dozens of students, staff, and faculty came with banners and cardboard signs. Led by Cale Holmes ’16, Student Goverment President Evan Smith ’15, and Abigail Smith ’14, we shouted “I can’t breathe”, “No Justice, No Peace”, “Black Lives Matter”, etc. Drivers slowed to watch us warily, honked for support, took pictures with their phones, and even parked to join us.
About an hour in, multiple police cars arrived on the scene (video recorded by via cell phone above). They approached Evan Smith and Cale Holmes, asking if our protest had a city permit. We did, and I firmly believe that they knew this beforehand. We were peaceful, but our actions didn’t matter. We were approached with automatic suspicion.
Abigail Smith later stated, “That demonstration was a time for me to realize what it meant to be black in the United States, and to ally with my African American brothers and sisters.”
Protests like this have been seen throughout Lynchburg, as well as the rest of the globe. In the beginning, when thousands attended Freddie Grey’s funeral, there was little to no coverage. Were people genuinely more interested in the shenanigans of the White House Correspondent’s Dinner? No. Yet the mainstream media didn’t spread word about protesting until things turned violent.
The media isn’t interested in justice. It isn’t interested in peaceful protests. It’s interested in destruction, bigotry, and painting with a broad brush. Reporters attempt to bait interviewees into either condemning the rioting/looting or praising it (as seen below). So many speak as though wanting to end police brutality is the equivalent of hating the police (it’s basically a repeat of #NotAllMen). African American protesters are stereotyped as “thugs”. The media is placing more importance on burning buildings and broken windows than on the victims of a systemically oppressive system. White and black suspects are treated very differently even while engaging in similar illegal activity by police and the media. While destruction and violence is unfortunate and heartbreaking, these riots are the desperate act of a desolate, abused, and forsaken community. Monday, Amandla Stenberg (famous for her role in the Hunger Games) stated on twitter, “Don’t condemn our anger. Don’t denounce our pain as savage. What’s savage is the cruel inhumanity and brutality of the police. Condemn that.”
The most hypocritical part of it all? Violent riots have hugely effected change throughout our world’s history. Remember the Boston Tea Party? Or Colonial America’s reaction to the Stamp Act in 1765? Remember the Stonewall Riots, the Brixton Riot of 1981, the Niarbi Kenya Riots of 2007, and the Boston Massacre? This is how history has been altered.
Rather than judging the oppressed for attempting to create change, let’s focus our energy to solve the real problem at hand. We can work together, as equals, instead of drawing lines in the sand. This will be in our grandchildren’s history books. When they ask you questions about what it was like, what will you be able to tell them?
(Below, more photos from Randolph’s #BlackLivesMatter Demonstration, taken by Olivia Reed and Nikolas Oliver:)