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Thursday, 8 January 2009


The year that I lived in Paris, a thousand cars were set ablaze in a single weekend. The cops there had chased a couple of youth, who hid in an electrical substation and got electrocuted and died. The people in the poor suburbs of Paris had enough of police harassment, and so there were riots. Cars were mostly burned out in the suburbs, but some were also set aflame in the area around my flat and, I think, on my street, although it's possible that the broken glass and scorch marks I saw were unrelated.

Shortly after that died down, an unpopular change to employment law passed. It changed the terms of contracts that could be given to people in their early 20s. There were large marches and people at the end of these marches tended to break windows and cause a mess. Then was the Mohammed cartoon in the Danish newspaper, which, as you may recall, was reprinted in France Soir and caused further unrest.

By the end of the year, French folks were getting kind of concerned about the level of unrest. But not so concerned that they didn't go ahead and elect Sarkozy, who helped spawn the initial batch of riots.

So I'm a little blasé about riots now. They happen. They're a way that a minority signals that it's really really pissed off with the way things are going politically. They're a protest turned destructive. They happen. And sometimes it's a good thing that they do happen.

Stonewall, which many regard to be the foundational moment in the modern queer rights movement, was a riot. People fought with the police. They broke stuff. They broke stuff that didn't belong to either them or the police and just happened to be there. For two nights, they rioted and broke stuff. They weren't going to take it anymore. The police had been attacking them for years and they were finally fighting back.

If you look not just at the latest BART police shooting, but also at incarceration rates in California, it's clear that poor and POC communities are under attack by the police. And when people feel rage at that, when they feel anger, when they take destructive mob action in spontaneous response, it's just as justified now as it ever has been for anyone. Oppression is not quiet or polite and it's end isn't either.

However, the news media would do well to learn, that attacking a car is not "violent." Shooting an unarmed man in the back while he lies face down, surrounded by cops is violent. Breaking a car? Not so much.

1 comment:

oakling said...

not to mention that even when the oakland police are "being good", ime what that looks like is "i'll take a report on the bad thing that happened and... that's it." uh... they're not bad at traffic stuff? there, i found something nice to say.