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Thursday, August 21, 2014

In Defense of Rioting

Ferguson protesters behind banner with names of young people killed by the police. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Ferguson protesters behind banner with names of young people killed by the police. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News
20 August 14

he community of Ferguson, Missouri, has every right to take back their streets from the occupying military force also known as the Ferguson Police Department. This means not respecting any infringements on their rights, like local curfews, or retreating in response to displays of excessive force like flash bang grenades, tear gas, and LRAD sound cannons.

Before you decry the riots of Ferguson, open a history book and read about how we initially gained our freedom from the occupying military force of the British crown. We didn’t gain First Amendment rights like free speech, free assembly, and free press by peacefully petitioning our oppressors, but by raising hell. And if you say you’re okay with the white founding fathers’ acts of insurrection in response to British oppression, but not okay with a black community’s indignant response to a child’s execution, check your racism.

The Boston Tea Party was, at its core, an act of willful destruction of corporate property. Those who participated in the act protested the East India Tea Company, which was the chief symbol of crony capitalism in its time. They had lobbyists who worked the British Parliament, many wealthy aristocrats and high government officials owned shares in their company, and they were able to secure an international trade monopoly as a result of their connections in government.

In the 1770s, the East India Tea Company was fighting to stay out of bankruptcy. The British Government passed the Tea Act in 1773, allowing the company to skirt trade costs that its competitors were forced to pay. The Tea Act also validated the Townshend Acts, which were meant to keep colonial officials in the pocket of the British crown, and which was thought to be a prelude to further financial obligations to the crown paid by residents of the colonies. American merchants vowed to boycott the company, and anger against the East India Tea Company culminated in the Boston Tea Party.

The British wouldn’t stand for such insurrection from the colonists, and subsequently passed the Coercive Acts, repealed the sovereignty of Boston’s local government, and shut off the city’s commerce. Local protesters responded by forming the first Continental Congress and demanding a repeal of the acts. Protests escalated in all 13 colonies. And two years after the Tea Act was passed, the Revolutionary War began in Boston. The rest is history.

When Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown six times, twice in the head, while the teen was on his knees with his hands in the air, he did it without orders from a superior, and without any knowledge of Brown’s alleged involvement in an incident at a nearby convenience store. And in 1770, the British soldiers who shot several civilians to death in the Boston Massacre likewise did it without orders from their superior officer. Did the city of Boston have the right to riot and raise hell in their streets after the Boston Massacre? Do Ferguson residents have the right to take back their streets using any means necessary after the shooting of Michael Brown? You bet your ass.

Amnesty International has condemned the actions of police in Ferguson, who they allege are actively violating basic human rights. After multiple documented incidents of police willfully arresting journalists for not staying within cordoned-off areas far away from protests, Vox.com suggested that police are making a political statement that they have the absolute right to control the movements of everyone in their jurisdiction (click here for a list of the journalists arrested in Ferguson). As more and more police departments all over the country gain new military equipment, it could be said that Ferguson is a prototype of martial law in the United States that could be applied in all cities in the event of a mass civil breakdown.

Critics of rioters argue that civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks didn’t resort to such tactics to gain lasting social change like the end of public segregation and passage of the Voting Rights Act. And while protest movements of past decades had to subject themselves to beatings, fire hoses, and mass arrests to gain those victories, they also didn’t have to go up against heavily-militarized police forces armed to the teeth with assault weapons and tear gas. Today’s post-9/11 law enforcement agencies are well trained and well equipped to disperse crowds of nonviolent protesters peacefully exercising their rights. When they escalate their tactics, we have every justification and every obligation to do the same if we want to take our streets back.

If police are so concerned about stopping looters, all they need to do is charge Darren Wilson with homicide in the killing of Mike Brown, track him down from wherever he’s hiding, and show Mike Brown’s family and the Ferguson community that justice will be served in the event of an unjustified killing. Then, the protesters demanding justice for Mike Brown’s death will be satisfied, and the only ones left will be the ones taking advantage of the situation to commit petty crimes. Those people won’t have the backing of the community, and will be dealt with in their own way.

When a child’s life is taken by rampant gun violence, whether in Ferguson or Sandy Hook, whether by a serial killer with access to assault rifles or a killer with a badge, we have the right to demand justice. When our cries for justice are met with violent repression and violations of basic human rights, we have the right to escalate. Sometimes escalation means rioting. Sometimes it means arming militias to organize a revolution against an occupying military force. Hopefully Ferguson won’t come to that. But historical precedent will always be on the side of the rioters.




Carl Gibson, 27, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nonviolent grassroots movement that mobilized thousands to protest corporate tax dodging and budget cuts in the months leading up to Occupy Wall Street. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary We're Not Broke, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Carl is also the author of How to Oust a Congressman, an instructional manual on getting rid of corrupt members of Congress and state legislatures based on his experience in the 2012 elections in New Hampshire. He lives in Sacramento, California.

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