Published on April 30th, 20152
Chidike Okeem: Rioting Is Not Worse Than Killing Blacks
After the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray at the hands of police officers, rioting and looting broke out across the city of Baltimore, Maryland. Stores were unceremoniously burned down and businesses were destroyed. The violence was to such a degree that the National Guard had to be deployed to Baltimore in an attempt to quell the chaos. Unpredictably, many mainstream conservatives, who are sympathetic to murderous police officers, are the most vocal critics of the rioters. Focusing on rioting while ignoring savage police brutality is demonstrative of sheer moral bankruptcy.
Black lives are worth more than property. Expressing nonchalance about the death of Freddie Gray while expressing deep concern about the destruction of police cars and businesses demonstrates a colossal lack of morality. The fact of the matter is that without abusive policing, there would no riots in Baltimore. Understanding that abusive policing is the trigger cause of the rioting is important. Rioters, as immoral as they are, did not wake up in the morning and decide to burn Baltimore to the ground. Their rioting is a reaction to something serious and real. Those who trivialize the cause of the rioting are unserious about making sure that it does not happen again.
The fundamental reason why rioting and looting is immoral is not because of the inherent value of the property being destroyed. What makes rioting profoundly immoral is because of the people who own the property. Destroying property and looting stores makes life difficult for innocent human beings.
Erecting a business and making it a successful economic venture often takes years of blood, sweat, and tears. Depriving people of their property is immoral because of the burden it places on human beings by diminishing the quality of their lives. In essence, the human attached to the property is the fundamental reason why damaging property is immoral. Given this, it makes absolutely no sense for any moral person to be incensed about the destruction of property while demonstrating nonchalance about the annihilation of life by government actors. People with functioning moral compasses must necessarily be more outraged that we live in a society in which police officers feel as though they have the right to extirpate life with wanton disregard than they are about rioting and looting. Pretending that rioting and destruction of property is worthy of more moral outrage than the eradication of black life is a toxic concoction of consumerism and anti-blackness. It is this kind of consumerism that gives the free-market ideology a bad name.
Demanding that people put the violence and carnage being created by rioters in Baltimore in perspective is not tantamount to being an apologist for such criminality. Explaining and understanding why a situation is occurring is not the same thing as being a champion of that situation. One can empathize with the anger of the rioters over the abusive policing that has become all too common in inner cities while completely disavowing the immoral tactic of burning down stores and destroying property that has absolutely nothing to do with police violence. Even from a logical standpoint, if one were to agree with the immoral tactic of rioting, it would make sense to limit attacks to things that are directly related to police interests. Aimlessly burning down an entire city and looting local CVS stores for toilet paper does not make a point or create meaningful change.
It demonstrates moral cowardice to ignore the situation that triggered the Baltimore riots while superciliously attacking rioters and demonstrating staged moral outrage. On a moral scale, rioters who destroy property are markedly less opprobrious than police officers who take oaths to uphold the law and use their trusted positions to engage in extrajudicial assassinations of suspects—all while hiding behind their shiny badges to avoid accountability for their actions. Destruction of material goods can never arise to the same level of moral reprehensibility as savagely ending a human life—irrespective of however many property or drug crimes that person may have committed. There’s a place for people who commit copious drug and property crimes. That place is called a jail cell. It is not a sepulcher.
Republican presidential nominee Sen. Rand Paul, who claimed to be a warrior on criminal justice reform and the unconstitutionality of police brutality, went silent about criminal justice issues as soon as he started running for the GOP nomination for president. To make things worse, he appeared on Laura Ingraham’s radio show and did not say a word about abusive policing when asked to comment on the cause of the Baltimore riots. Rather, he claimed that the Baltimore riots were caused by an absence of fathers. Granted, the absence of fathers in the home is an important issue, but to make that the key issue vis-à-vis the Baltimore riots without centering police officers snapping the spinal cord of Freddie Gray and killing him is a case study in political calculation and moral invertebracy. If Rand Paul wins the Republican nomination, he will go into black communities whispering sweet nothings into black people’s ears in order to win votes. He will be fittingly laughed out those communities after exposing himself as a naked fraud regarding Baltimore.
Importantly, one must note the alacrity with which people view and promote images of blacks rioting in Baltimore, but we live in a country where most people do not have the foggiest clue about the details of the Tulsa race riot of 1921—a brutally violent riot in which racist whites burned down the most prosperous black business area in the United States known as Black Wall Street in Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Although rioting is an injudicious strategy for dealing with the problem of police brutality, it is imperative to recognize that, unlike the racial hatred that was the driving force behind the Tulsa race riots, the trigger cause of the rioting in Baltimore is both serious and legitimate. Aside from rioting out of sheer envy of black economic progress, some white Americans have rioted because of displeasure with the outcome of sports games, as recently occurred when predominantly white college students from the University of Kentucky engaged in atrocious rioting in protest of being . Blacks in Baltimore are rioting in protest of police brutality, which is a matter of life and death. They are not protesting an unfortunate sports game result.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) argued that relations between police and urban communities is one of the key defining civil rights issues of today. He is incontestably correct. In addition to police brutality being one of the greatest constitutional crises in America today, it is also one of the greatest moral issues in America today. It is reprehensible that there is a new case of a black American citizen being wantonly killed by police almost every week. What is worse is that the spilled blood of these black victims are often treated with the same indifference as a party foul at a weekend college frat gathering. This is undeniably shameful. Those who see these continued injustices and still, with puerile patriotic fervor, mendaciously proclaim that America’s criminal justice system is the best in the world are shameless.
Tearing apart a city and destroying property is an indisputable moral evil, but it cannot now, or ever, compare to the ignominy, immorality, and iniquity of using one’s trusted position as a law enforcement officer to unjustifiably end human life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chidike Okeem is a conservative writer. Born in Nigeria, raised in London, England, and now living in California, he writes about race, culture, religion, and politics. You can follow him on Twitter @VOICEOFCHID and read the rest of his writings on his website at www.voiceofchid.com.