Ferguson Looting: Call It for What It Is

As someone who lives a car’s ride from Ferguson, Missouri, where the rioting and looting occurred a few nights ago, I’m as dismayed by and angered at the looters as I am 18 year-old Michael Brown’s homicide at the hands of local police, the incident that sparked this all.

In my view, it’s fraudulent to frame this as a matter of property versus the value of a black life or the reaction of an oppressed and frustrated community.

Neither is it proper to suggest that our compassion for the victim’s family and our desire to see justice served swiftly somehow precludes our simultaneous disdain for the brazen lawlessness, destructiveness, vandalism and – in many instances – criminal opportunism that took place Sunday night.

Scene from Ferguson RiotThe looters deserve to hear how their outburst was broadly harmful. They didn’t just steal wheel rims, and convenience store knickknacks and hair products — they stole hope and robbed their communities of goodwill. While rioting and looting may get attention and earn some short-term relief, mostly it causes both short and long-term pain.

What do you say to the workers – at that QT, and tire shop and other stores that were looted – who’ve had their livelihoods disrupted by that band of malicious marauders? In a burst of mayhem, these piranha destroyed places where dozens of people earned a living for themselves and their families.

How many of those workers were single parents raising children who depended on those jobs? How many more lives have been impacted because the businesses that employed people disappeared in a sustained moment of selfishness and misdirected hostility?

And what about the likely long-term loss of community investment? Do we honestly think merchants will be all that eager to return to this neighborhood? Do we think new businesses will be in a rush to locate there? Rebuilding and re-investing in South Central Los Angeles, for example, required a painstaking, drawn out, costly effort following the Rodney King Riots.

Businesses see this sort of behavior and want to run. They become far more reluctant to locate in the communities where this kind of unrest occurs. At a minimum, they use such incidents as cover to justify why they won’t locate in places like Ferguson — places they likely had little interest in to begin with.

And I’m not too sure that I can blame them.

Make no mistake, the protesters are right to be angry. It’s not unreasonable that folks would blow a fuse; heck, we all should blow a fuse.

Furthermore, shame on the municipalities and police agencies that inspire public mistrust and pour fuel onto outbursts like this week’s.

They bear responsibility too and shouldn’t get a pass. Their inattentiveness and apparent lack of regard for the lives of young black males is as much to blame for what we’ve seen so far.

Shame on them for forcing it to always come to this to get real attention — to get up off their butts and do something.

Still, at the end of the day, the persons who provoked the violence are returning to neighbors that are whole, unbroken and free from harm, which is a lot more than we can say of the neighborhood the looters left behind.

-Jonathan Clarke, August 13, 2014

Photo credit: Associated Press — David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

© Copyright 2014 Jonathan Clarke, All rights reserved

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