Rioting In Black and White
By N Oji Mzilikazi
(Originally published in Montreal Community Contact Volume 21, Number 19)
September 15, 2011
The recent riots in Britain, spurred by the police killing of Mark Duggan who was innocent of any wrongdoing at the time and their lie about an exchange of gunfire got me thinking, isn’t it about time Blacks start to imitate whites and riot just for fun or over entertainment?
A cursory look at the catalysts for Blacks rioting in Canada, Britain and the United States are injustices, often with police action setting the spark.
Cases in point: Four Miami-Dade County police officers were acquitted by an all-white jury in the December 17, 1979, beating death of ex-marine Arthur McDuffie. Liberty City, Miami’s largest Black neighbourhood erupted. The three-day riot resulted in 18 deaths, over 400 injured and more than $100 million in property damage.
The acquittal of Sgt. Stacey Koon, Officers Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseno and Timothy Wind of their March 3, 1991, beating of Rodney King by all-white jury led to April 1992 riots in Los Angeles. Fifty-three people died, a billion dollars worth of damage was done, and thousands were injured.
After the investigation, the Christopher Commission declared that the Los Angeles police Department (LAPD) was rife with racism and abuse.
Britain’s 1981 Brixton riot and the 1985 Handsworth riot in Birmingham as well as their stop-and-search laws that targeted Blacks were enshrined in song and poetry by many. (LKJ) Linton Kwesi Johnson “Di Great Insoreckshan” and “Sonny’s Letter,” and Steel Pulse “Handsworth Revolution” have achieved classic status.
Overwhelmingly, when whites’ riot, it’s not for change or over things that repress, oppress, exploit or discriminate against them in any shape or form. They’d riot because they live bored, pampered lives.
To deflect from the proclivity of whites to “riot for entertainment,” municipal authorities, the police and the media made a habit of blaming anarchists, hooligans and thugs.
Kingston, Ontario, Queen’s University 2005 homecoming festivities turned into what news agencies described as “an alcohol-fuelled riot.” Police officers were stoned with beer bottles; a car was set alight and so on. Racial slurs and racial invectives rained down on a Black police officer.
Repeated homecoming parties were so out of control, in 2008 the University decided to cancel homecoming for the next two years.
When the Canadiens won the 1986 Stanley Cup in Calgary, thousands of hockey fans went on a rampage through Montreal downtown. In the face of indiscriminate rioting and looting, Guy Descary, chairman of the MUC public security committee was quoted in the May 26, 1996, Gazette saying, “People were just having fun. They were enjoying themselves.”
On June 9, 1993, the Canadiens won their 24th Stanley Cup. In their enjoyment, parked cars were overturned and set on fire, bonfires were lit, 152 stores looted, 15 city buses and 47 police cars were destroyed.
Upon the Canadiens eliminating Boston Bruins in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, fans bent on having fun smashed store windows to loot, and set fires to police cruisers.
When the Canadiens defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins on May 12, 2010, thousands of hockey fans descended on Montreal downtown core. Despite the ensuing hooliganism, police characterized the reaction as tame compared to previous celebrations.
The Canucks loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals resulted in widespread rioting in downtown Vancouver. The Canucks loss to the New York Rangers in 1994 Game 7 Stanley Cup Finals also resulted in rioting. So it’s not as if the city/police couldn’t see it coming and be proactive.
Cellphone camera technology and CCTV cameras along with social media have made identifying rioters easier. Huge numbers of upstanding working, middle-class citizens, professionals, students and athletes were identified and charged in the recent riots in Vancouver and Britain as opposed to supposed thugs and miscreants.
While Vancouverites happily rioted over hockey, the October 2007 death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski by the hands of the RCMP at the Vancouver International Airport was not a worthy cause worth rioting over.
In August 2008, Montreal North erupted in flames over Constable Jean-Loup Lapointe killing of Fredy Villaneuva, and the shootings of Denis Meas and Jeffrey Sagor-Météllus- all Hispanics. The rioting was summarily condemned. Anti-immigrant sentiments and racism against “visible minorities” were openly expressed.
The Boston Globe of July 6, 1995, carried the article, “Montreal police get reputation for violence.” That truism was reconfirmed in June 2011, when police shot and killed Mario Hamel, a mentally ill homeless man who was slitting roadside garbage bags with a knife.
Their wild volley of bullets also killed Patrick Limoges who was on his way to work.
Consider that in 2008, a still unnamed Montreal police officer ran into the gym across the street from a police station and terrorized everyone within. He destroyed fitness equipment, broke glass doors and mirrors, and fired eight bullets into the ceiling and walls.
In spite of the extreme danger posed by an out-of-control officer with a gun, the officers on the scene were gentle and protective of their own. They didn’t use deadly force. They used rubber bullets to subdue him.
How can a man with a knife die and one with a gun trained in its usage, and who used it live? Ergo, there is no justification for the deadly force that led to the deaths of Hamel and Limoges.
White Montrealers didn’t see their deaths as worth a riot. Anti-police protests drew a measly 200 persons.
While the senselessness of Duggan’s death as well as police attitudes resulted in riots spreading to other cities across Britain, the demographic moved beyond aggrieved Blacks. Huge numbers of whites participated.
Given the amount of white professionals and the like arrested, one must conclude that adventure, fun, and opportunism to get goods for free were motivators.
In spite of evidence to the contrary, Yahoo Canada sought to racialise the riots. The 4th story on its home page automatic image and synopsis of story slider of August 11, at 8h00 was “London police raid houses in riot crackdown.” The accompanying photo was that of an arrested Black male in the company of two officers.
On the other hand, its parent company, Yahoo.com story that same day and titled, “London police raiding houses over UK riots,” carried two photos. One was of riot police holding their shields and the other was that of a white guy and the caption- “Police officers question a man during a routine stop and search operation.”
Protectors of racial bias will resort to anything for justification. As way of explaining the overwhelming amount of whites who participated in the riots, historian and broadcaster David Starkey told his BBC audience that “the whites have become black.”
Clearly, he positioned Blacks as having the monopoly on rioting and looting and a corrupting influence.
December 16, 1773, is an important day in American history. Under the banner of “No taxation without representation,” white colonists dressed as Indians boarded three ships in Boston Harbour loaded with tea belonging to the British government and threw them overboard. The event is known as The Boston Tea Party.
For certainty, if Blacks had engaged in such sabotage, half of that tea would’ve made it back to shore and in their homes and shops. That’s how we do.
Based on historical evidence, whites have a penchant for destroying things for the sake of destroying, to punish or to keep prices high.
Thus unused clothing from megastores and brands that could go to charitable organizations, homeless shelters or the nation’s poor end up either shredded or defaced so unusable. It is not unusual for surplus food and produce to end up in landfills rather than the marketplace. That’s the politics of business.
Interestingly, despite representation, and taxation that benefits both the state and federal governments, Americans disgruntled by Obama’s presence in the White House took their bearings from that 1773 event, hence the Tea Party label.
They cannot reconcile having to respect the office of the president whilst feeling inherently superior to the holder of that office. (Any person of African descent in power positions can attest to having experienced white subordinates with lesser qualification doing their best to undermine them. I can.)
Given the tenor of the discourse, the Tea Party and Republicans would rather see America turn into a banana republic than Obama win another term. Chances are the next riot is going to be of angry white men seeking to uphold privilege.