If you take some time to do a little research, you’ll see there have been about 500 or so instances of civil unrest (academic for riots) in American history. Give or take.
We’ve rioted over employment, public transportation, taxes, whiskey distribution, drinking in general, even prostitution. Rioting is a racially and culturally inclusive activity. Irish, Italian, Black, Latino, Catholic, Protestant, you name it, we’ve rioted.
Our most concentrated period of rioting came in the 20th century, around the time when we had just about had it with state sanctioned racism. Well, at least most of us had. Rioting didn’t start there though. There were 85 or so documented instances of civil unrest in the 19th century. And since we white folk had the market on, well everything, we also had the market on rioting back then.
Oddly, there are only three documented instances of civil unrest in the 18th century. If you look closer, there’s some more to be found. There’s four if you count the Boston Tea Party. Five if you count that whole Revolution riot. Those didn’t make the list though, probably because of who we were civilly unresting against.
I know its crazy to lump our historic origins in with our uniquely modern problems, but if you read what those imperialist Brits said about us unruly, uneducated colonists, it sounds disturbingly like what I read on my Facebook feed the night the rioting started in Ferguson. The Brits, like many of us a few months ago missed the message. Parliament responded by passing the “Intolerable Acts” declaring military rule on the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It did not have the desired effect. The rest belongs to text books.
People don’t riot because they are poor or because it’s a part of their culture or because they don’t know any better. There are poor people that don’t know any better all over the world tonight of every culture sleeping peacefully in their beds, civilly resting. People riot because they feel, right, wrong or indifferent, that they have no voice. That they have, no representation.
This is the clear common thread that materializes throughout history. Those pure patriots in Boston even took the time to make up a snappy rhyme about it. Taxation….representation…something like that. When people have no voice, eventually, it comes to a head.
It starts with civil outrage and unrest and if we’re smart it transitions into a dialogue. If we’re not, it eventually degrades into something worse. The Arab Spring may feel like extreme reference, but it’s fundamentally a similar argument. The variable is what sort of dialogue comes out of it.