When I was dating a man who had a serious alcohol addiction, when I was letting myself be called names and coming home to find him passed out and unable to be awakened, when I was crying every night because I could not find my way out, I did some less than stellar things, said some unkind words, did some violence with my car at dusk on dark highways.

Why Judging the Rioters is the Easy Way Out

© 2010 Wall in Palestine, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

When my mom died and I felt like the universe was ripped open end to end, when I flashed back to the moment days before she died and she asked me why we were trying to kill her, when I walked for months barely seeing, I acted poorly and made bad choices and broke quite a few things, including my own heart.

So as I watch a few – a FEW – people break off from peaceful protests in Baltimore and begin to hurl rocks and break windows, when I see the violence that has been written into their lives and their very DNA come out in their arms and legs and faces, I understand. . . . or at least, I understand in my much more privileged, much less extreme experience.  I understand how pain that scars you deep cannot always be contained in decorum and conversation.

I don’t condone violence, but I do understand it. I especially understand it as a result of 400 years of systematic oppression and violence.  I get that completely.

What I do not understand is why so many people are so very quick to sit in judgment on the acts of rioting and equally quick to look away from the violence that spurred the protests and the anger. 

If we are angered because people are throwing rocks at police officers, why are we not livid when police officers throw bullets at the backs of young men and women?

If we are angered because innocent people might get injured in a riot, why are we not furious when innocent people are shot down for walking through a neighborhood that some think they shouldn’t be in?

If we are angered because some one might get bruised and battered, why are we not raging when a young man suffers spinal injuries, is denied his inhaler, and dies in the police custody?

Okay, I’ll be honest: I do understand why.  I understand that white people in particular find it much easier to sit above the violence and condemn it than we do to climb into the fray and experience some of what our African American brothers and sisters live EVERY DAY. When we can dismiss pain – as we do grief – because people need to “get over it” or “find more constructive ways to handle it,” we have put a barrier of superiority between us and our “better way” and them and their “poor choices.”

Our privilege as white people, as wealthy people, as people who have been graced with a life free of violence makes it hard for us to understand the lives of people whose experiences do not mirror our own. I understand that.

But I don’t accept it.

It’s time we push past our privilege, give up some of it, let ourselves live in the truth that we live in a nation that runs on white supremacist systems, systems that come directly from the legacy of chattel slavery in our country.

Young black men and women are shot today because we live in a system that says their lives do not matter as much as the lives of white people. 

And when we put our own righteousness, our own privilege, our own condemnation on the people who have found themselves unable to contain their sorrow and anger any longer, we perpetuate that system.

We don’t have to accept violence as the best way in order to understand that sometimes a person simply gets past the point where walking quietly and singing songs and staging protests is enough.  We don’t have to accept violence to realize we are ALL capable of it when we find our resources and other options inadequate to express the pain in our spirits.

Here’s my challenge to all of us:

  • Let’s remember the times when the pain of our own experiences has led us to choices we might not make in times of ease.
  • Let’s hold our tongues when our desire is to protect our own privilege by taking the easy of way of judgment against actions we do not and will not try to understand.
  • Instead, let’s speak truth into a system that has for 400 years says that a black life – a life of a person in color – is worth less than a white one.
  • Let’s speak for justice and see if we might not quell ALL the violence in our time.

If you would like to engage in conversation and discovery about the systems of racial oppression in the U.S., about the legacy of slavery, and about ways to help us all heal, I invite you to join us at Coming to the Table. Join our Facebook page if you would like. All are welcome at the table.  


Friends, I welcome your comments here whether you agree or disagree, but language that equates human beings to animals, calls them “thugs,” or demeans the very value of their lives will not be tolerated.  Such comments will be deleted without mention.