Perspective. The thin balance that can unite or divide human beings. It can create empires or tear them down. It’s what causes one single thing to be seen in a million different ways giving birth to a million different opinions. The most recent example of the power of perspective happened in our own backyard, a major city in the U.S.
As soon as you turn on the TV it is almost impossible not to hear about the angry mobs or view footage of a CVS being looted. You hear the FOX news reporter talking about the destruction caused, the loss of property damage and the bestiality that seems to have descended over the city, especially regarding African Americans. You hear terms such as “thugs,” and the average perspective of the situation is negative. People can be heard ridiculing them, proclaiming that they were stupid and senseless to destroy their own city, their own neighborhoods. Underlying these comments is the arrogant racism that led to this situation in the first place. White Americans look on with scorn at the struggles of the inner-city African American and condemn the reaction against the alleged police brutality.
However, as this country was built on the backs of African Americans, continued to segregate and discriminate against them and still continues to exercise racism in an era where gay marriage is legal, I think the situation deserves another look past what it appears to be on the surface. To put it simply, it must be seen from their perspective.
To see from their perspective is to be able to really understand what it’s like to live in a rough neighborhood, surrounded by negative influences that can easily lead a young impressionable youth down the wrong path. It is to understand the daily struggles of living in poverty, in an area desolated by the drug war, and understand the internal conflict of still being discriminated against even in our modern world. Even with all our technological wonders and 21st century attitudes of acceptance and respect for culture, there is still a huge problem of racism in the heart of our country.
People judge the decision to riot and protest, but they never stop to ask themselves the question, what made them do it? The answer isn’t simple, it is a mixture of feelings of anger, sadness, injustice, pride. The communities are standing together to support the idea that their lives are equal to anyone else’s. Regardless of race or class, they still deserve basic human rights. With centuries of build up and increased national attention, the tension in Baltimore reached a breaking point, and with a righteous burst, it boiled over into the social mess that we watch on the news.
Another element that seems to be missing from the news, while portraying the madness and destruction, is other riots that have plagued this country in recent years. The list is shocking, for more reasons than one.
The one event most people would refer to was the 1992 Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King verdict, as well as the Oakland riots in 2009 with the police shooting of Oscar Grant. Both of these riots involved violence and destruction of property as well as many arrests. Overall, they did not do much to help the social injustice and only further condemned the cause in the eyes of white America.
But what people seem to forget is that African Americans aren’t the only ones who riot. In fact, they don’t even seem to enjoy it. These major riots were based on racial injustice and complex social issues. On the other hand, let’s examine some other reasons people riot. Just last year, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series and the revelers took the streets, breaking and burning. There was destruction of property, violence, arrests — and yet this was not characterized as a riot. In 2011, the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup, and the fans took to the streets, where the statistics showed over 100 people arrested, over 150 injured and property damage into the millions. This too, was not characterized in the same negative manner as a “riot.” There are many more examples just like this, with mostly white citizens using violence, causing destruction and harm to their homes…all because their hockey team lost. These all slide under the radar, are not viewed with such a negative image and are excused as celebrations gone wrong. The media coverage never once mentioned the term “thugs” or “criminals” as was so closely associated with the Baltimore riots, rather referring to them as “revelers” or fans. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Another major flaw with the attitude towards the Baltimore riots is what the media has been covering. If you turn on the channel to FOX news you could see the CVS being looted or the fires and lines of policeman. But what it doesn’t show are the people who live there — their personal lives, responses and actions in the city that never make it on national television: the line of colored people standing guard in front of the police, the community orchestra that comes out to keep people’s spirits up, the brotherhood that is shown in their darkest times, the peaceful protests and demonstrations, the sacrifices people make for each other.
When people turn on their TV to watch news about the riots, they see darkness and senselessness. They don’t see the love the residents have for each other that made this protest possible. They don’t understand that these are not bad people, but normal Americans just like you and me. They just have a cause they are fighting for. Most don’t condone the violence that accompanies social upheaval like this and try and do their part to support their communities peacefully. They are the heart of the city, the blood that runs through its concrete veins. The riots, and in respect the people of Baltimore, should not be viewed as a problem, an ugly disgrace; they should be seen as martyrs, revolutionaries, freedom fighters. It all depends on perspective.