By Guest contributor Daniel Owen.
Leading up to the highly anticipated verdict of the Zimmerman trial, corporate news media speculated rampantly about the possibility of Black people rioting in the event of acquittal. Guest contributor Daniel Owen on uprising and solidarity to dismantle mechanisms of domination.
It wasn’t the first time the mainstream media suggested African Americans would resort to rioting, should a high-profile decision fail to “go their way.” With the OJ Simpson trial, the media predicted rioting in the event of a guilty verdict. This eventuality was insisted so persistently, that in the minds of many Americans it became a real threat. After the verdict, many Americans believed that the jury had been compelled to acquit Simpson in order to avoid a repeat of the ’92 Los Angeles riots.
African Americans, according to this inverse narrative, had managed to hijack the justice system. African Americans had discovered a way to extort pro-Black judgements, by wielding the threat of rioting – the threat of unleashing collective anger and exacting revenge.
But what evidence is the basis of this media-created “riot-panic”?
The key “precedent of rioting as response to judicial failure” – the LA riots – was not carried out by African Americans exclusively, but collectively by members of the community of South East LA – a community perpetually failed and oppressed by the system. Half of the arrests made during the LA riots were of people of Hispanic descent.
The idea that the LA riots happened because “Black people retaliated because Rodney King was Black” is a myth. Attributing the ‘riot question’ to African Americans is just a way to side step the real issue: how the impoverished, neglected and abused communities in the US are and the fact that law enforcement has a hostile and adversarial relationship with these communities. The extremity of the LA riots can be attributed to the fact that the 90’s LAPD has been widely documented as one of the most corrupt police departments in US history.
By insisting that African Americans will riot, the media attempts to hijack the narrative – negating how racism interlocks with other forms of oppression. In doing so, media institutions and reporters avoid reporting on systematic injustices by limiting the scope to physical and visible mechanisms of racial domination. The media side-steps analyses of the ways in which our systems malfunction for some and work for others. It avoids undertaking a genuine journalistic effort to identity the ways our systems cause human suffering. The corporate media we now have is designed to reap benefits from the fall-out of a broken system.
At a most insidious level, the media’s speculation about riots is an attempt to divide people and instil fear. To tell White people it’s dangerous to get involved. To tell Black people: “You are on your own.”
Pitting people against each other along racial fault lines is a ploy to prevent people from uniting against an unjust status quo. I believe people are naturally inclined to rally together against injustice. The only thing stopping this from happening is fear. Insisting that protest against injustice will necessarily be violent is a way to deliver that fear.
In the Netherlands, fear is created by populist, racist rhetoric at the political level and distributed through the corporate media. Dutch people with European ancestors are pitted against Dutch people with Antillean, Surinamese, Ghanian, Moroccan, Turkish, Indonesian and other ancestors.
This hateful rhetoric is an attempt to distract from the obvious: that racial boundaries are used to uphold the status quo and that these boundaries are flimsy and artificial. It is an attempt to conceal the fact that those upholding the status quo do not have our best interest at heart and that we do have something real to fear if we fail to unite.