The North Star has dropped its paywall during this COVID-19 crisis so that pertinent information and analysis is available to everyone during this time. This is only possible because of the generous support of our members. We rely on these funds to pay our staff to continue to provide high-quality content. If you are able to support, we invite you to do so here.
Riot is defined as: a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd.
As violence erupts across the nation in response to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and really in response to centuries of systematic police violence against people of color, the word riot is being attached almost exclusively to Black protestors. The thousands of videos emerging from these riots every single day paint a very different picture.
What continues to be made abundantly clear is that it is not the protestors who are the rioters, but the law enforcement officers who greet their peace with tear gas and rubber bullets which they employ with reckless abandon. It is their presence that causes the “violent disturbance of the peace” that defines riots, escalating peaceful protests to lootings, burning, and destruction.
Philadelphia Police released tear gas and shot rubber bullets into a peaceful crowd as hundreds they ran for their lives.
Buffalo Police assaulted a senior citizen, leaving him to bleed out on the sidewalk.
Grand Rapids Police sprayed pepper spray in a mans eyes, then fired a metal tear gas canister directly into his face.
Austin Police shot 16-year-old Brad Levi Ayala in the head with a rubber bullet. He had to be rushed to emergency surgery.
Denver Police fired tear gas at a man who was driving his pregnant wife home. When the man is asked why he was stopped, they continue to fire more tear gas.
Riots are traditionally American, like apple pie and Tom Hanks and unfounded nationalist arrogance. The war that gained this country’s independence began with a series of riots over import taxes. The Boston Tea Party was a riot. Labor parties rioted for better pay and 8-hour workdays. Suffragettes rioted for the right to vote. LGBTQ+ activists rioted against unjust police raids of gay clubs, bars, and other safe gathering spaces in what would later be known as the Stonewall Riots.
The irony of those condemning riots when their rights were founded upon them is astounding, but let’s be clear: if someone must be held accountable for the riots we are seeing now, it should be the law enforcement officers escalating peaceful protests, not the Black and Brown people who continue to be brutalized, murdered, and forced to shoulder the blame for the violence they face.