The importance of media during protests and riots cannot be overstated. We depend on media to bring us the events taking place. Whether we choose to believe what we see and what we’re told is up to us. Determining what is accurate and credible is difficult, but determining whether something is a riot or a protest may be more difficult.
Useem explains the ideas of breakdown theory and resource mobilization and when they are typically used. Breakdown theory is essentially when the mechanisms of social control(cops) lose restraining power and are disruptive to daily life. This theory is often associated with riots, due to the fact the events seem to be taking place based on pure emotion. Breakdown theorist do not see this as goal oriented, rather just a reaction typically meant to cause harm and damage. Resource mobilization, typically associated with protests, is when groups do things because they have a goal. These groups typically have the ability to acquire necessary resources and have planned out their actions. These two theories fail to mention the ideas that most “riots” are planned and that those involved have a plan of action. Events leading up to the uprising, typically some form of oppression, have backed groups against a wall causing them to resist. Enter the media, where any single person can shape the way the nation views the events. Whether news anchors decide to call the groups “thugs,” or “protestors” can change opinions. Whether someone on twitter posts a picture of someone taking food labeled “looters,” or “survivors” can change opinions. Peaceful protests do not grasp and hold the nations attention the same way “violent riots” do, so the best interest of news outlets is to spin the events in a way that will make people want to tune in. However, many protests/riots do contain violence and damage, which is frowned upon by a large majority of the country. President Obama, our nations leading voice, agrees saying “The president declared that justice could not be achieved by using anger at the Michael Brown verdict”(Aljazeera America). While violence may not always be the answer, many people forget the necessary violence which led to so many triumphs in our country. My favorite example of necessary violence is seen during the civil rights movement and how the government decided that Dr. King’s non-violent approach was much more favorable than the violence of Malcolm X. Due to so many of these “riots” forming in largely African American cities, we have come to typically associate the two together. This often leads to many news outlets linking Dr. King’s words to the “riots” and wondering why they wouldn’t act in the same manner as the leader of the movement.
Until America, starting with major news sources, recognize their racism, “riots” will continue to be a black issue and “protests” a white issue. Until constant oppression and inequalities toward blacks is corrected, they are going to continually decide enough is enough and resist. Until then, the media gets to decide who is rioting and protesting and who is labeled what.