This morning's news brings disturbing reports of protest turning to riots and unrest in Charlotte. I'm saddened by the riots, because people are being hurt, and cops are using tear gas, and the long-term damage is more likely to affect the oppressed, not the oppressor. All of that makes me sad and frustrated.
It's in moments like this that I seek understanding, and that understanding most often comes from the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Among a great deal of the "advocacy for non-violent protest" we're seeing today, he said, "A riot is the language of the unheard."
We see nonviolent protest every day, and we see those who practice it dismissed, insulted, and threatened. Beyonce puts statements about police brutality, and the loved ones of those killed by police, into her art and she's criticised for being 'antagonistic' and 'too political'. Non-violent protests block a roadway, and people shout and scream that they're disruptive and shouldn't inconvenience people 'just to make their point'. Colin Kaepernick refuses to stand for the national anthem as a protest and other players and teams follow suit; people lose their damn minds, threatening him and burning his jersey in effigy. When people offer peaceful social protest, we tell them to be quiet, that 'now is not the time' or 'that is not the way' to make that statement.
We see police unions advocating a refusal to protect those who use nonviolent protest to challenge their authority. Aside from the fact that such a refusal is shameful when compared to the Dallas police who gave their lives earlier this year to protect peaceful protesters, it validates the position of those who distrust police and say that access to justice is restricted by institutional racism in law enforcement.
Rioting is the language of the unheard. That suggests to me that if we want to stop people from rioting, listening will be a hell of a lot more effective than tear gas. If we want to prevent the next riot, we need to work towards changing the things that keep people from being heard. If we want to decry violence, we need to support, openly and actively, those who choose nonviolence.
So, if you've got something to say about rioting, I damn sure hope you had something to say in support of that nonviolent protest you're now advocating, when you had the opportunity. I'll go so far as to say that if I've heard anything less than support and advocacy for people who use peaceful protest to speak against injustice, I don't want to hear a word from you about riots.
If you aren't hearing and amplifying the voices that ask for justice with peace in their hearts, you don't have any right to condemn those who demand it in anger.