21 November 2015
IDIS 400 Section 1
The Racialization of Property
In class, we have compared a number of articles analyzing riots and their origin, purpose, and the common themes seen throughout. What I have always pondered is the reasoning behind the destruction of property during riots. When discussing the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore that always seems to be a highlight, the overall confusion surrounding the topic of destruction in one’s own city or town, with an argument of how it seemed backwards and unhelpful, when in reality, the destruction of property can be understood through a context of the historical racialization of property. In Baltimore, after the riots that took place this past May, destruction was estimated at $9 million, with about 285 businesses damaged, with officials saying that this is only a fraction of what the total will be for the damage and economic impact (Wenger).
So why does this happen? According to the article we read in class titled “Black Riot: by Raven Rakia, nothing gets the attention of the elite like taking away or destroying what they value above all else: property (Rakia). Property has always been seen as racial in the United States, stating that for 300 years, the very ideas of a black person’s freedom was a direct threat to white men’s property. Rakia gives the example of George Zimmerman being found not guilty for killing Trayvon Martin, in fear that Martin was breaking into homes in Zimmerman’s gated, white neighborhood. “When the same system that refuses to protect black children comes out to protect windows, what is valued over black people in America becomes very clear” (Rakia). Rakia compares the riots in America to riots in Sudan, where gas prices have become so high the average person cannot afford to go to work or eat a basic meal, who then destroy gas stations and signs of wealth in a symbolic rebuttal.
Now, in Chicago, authorities are preparing for protests over an unreleased video of a fatal shooting of a black 17-year-old boy by a white police officer. The video has been described as “graphic”, “violent”, and “difficult to watch” (Smith). Leaders in Chicago have organized urgent private talks with community activists in fear of what the response to the video may bring and how best to prepare police forces. The video apparently shows Laquan McDonald being struck by 16 bullets, some hitting him after he had fallen to the ground. The lawyer handling the officer’s case, says the shooting was justified because the officer feared for the safety of himself and his colleagues. Abu-Lughod writes that “so long as minorities remain disproportionately poor, underserved at best, harshly disciplined at worst, it is not unlikely that “ghetto uprisings” and “police riots” may recur in Chicago (Abu-Lughod 117).
Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake explained that during the riots, she wanted to “give those who wished to destroy, space to do that” sparking controversy throughout the city. Rakia quotes Assata Shakur in her article saying “nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them” (Rakia). Many see these tactics as moving backwards, but in a world where African American resistance is referred to as “riots” and white resistance is referred to as “protests” it is clear why the destruction of property is a common theme.
Abu-Lughod, Janet L. Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.