Janet Abu-Lughod compares riots that take place in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles in her book, “Race, Space, and Riots.” She looks at the race riots in these cities from the locally political standpoint and considers factors such as demography, economics, and community relationships. When Abu-Lughod speaks about the riots in Chicago, she discusses the race riot in 1919, which was initiated when a white rock thrower hit and drowned an African American boy who was swimming in Lake Michigan named Eugene Williams. As with the other riots examined, deeper issues stemmed from this. The main issue was the power struggle between ethnic whites and African Americans over housing, politics, and most certainly unemployment.
Boundaries between white and black were hardened in Chicago following the riots. The city pursued the “Atlanta Solution” where spatial segregation was the goal; to protect white areas from black intrusion. Residential areas as well as workplaces and social institutions were made separate for the races. The Black Belt was expanded and the border was made more firm in its boundaries. Throughout this civil rights struggle to change the segregation in Chicago, a second riot was sparked after Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. This riot occurred in the poorer West side of Chicago and resulted in expansion of the ghetto to the outskirts of the city.
In comparison to riots in areas such as Ferguson and Baltimore, the underlying dynamic is racial discrimination. In these cities, riots broke out due to the death of African American men who were in police custody. Not only were they in the hands of police, but they were victims of police brutality due to their race. Similar to the riots in Chicago, Baltimore created a white society through federal, state, and local government. Racial laws and policies kept blacks living separately from whites. As we’ve seen in class in the movie, “Crips and Bloods,” the individuals described their absence of identity in their community. With unequal treatment and racial profiling by the police, they formed groups for a sense of belonging, which were labeled as “gangs.” Experiencing this racial discrimination creates a barrier of tension and loss of community. Riots occur because of this built-up anger and tension. In result, innocent people’s homes, businesses and properties are destroyed.
The placement of power in a community is crucial for making local decisions that affect its members. It is especially important that elected officials are representative of their community and are making decisions with the people’s best interests in mind. As we see in riots, many times, members of a community feel powerless and resort to unnecessary extremes in order to get their message across. If communities and people in power could acknowledge and address the deeper issues at hand, there could be better progress towards ending racial discrimination.
Strauss, Valerie. “From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Consequences of Government-sponsored Segregation.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 3 May 2015. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/05/03/from-ferguson-to-baltimore-the-consequences-of-government-sponsored-segregation/>.
Abu-Lughod, Janet L. Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.