The Color of Riots

By Anahvia Taiyib

The word “riot” has long been used as a political tool to delegitimize righteous social unrest. In response to the murder of Michael Brown, righteously angry—yet non-violent—protestors assembled in Ferguson, Missouri. They were met with tanks, tear gas, and other forms of police brutality. These unarmed protesters are provoked and attacked by the police. Yet, events such as the Bundy Ranch Standoff are not met with such force: White Bundy Ranchers—armed with guns to protest a land fees dispute—even assaulted officers without suffering the same state-sanctioned violence. Undercover government instigators have long been employed by the United States to justify brute force against various social movements and organizations, including the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords (see: COINTELPRO). The instigator’s role is to infiltrate groups, obtain confidential information about their plans, and wreak havoc–which includes taking violent actions in protests that are meant to be peaceful. The American public sees this violence as a part of the movement itself, which is the government’s desired outcome; when the government decides to take forceful, violent action, the general public supports this decision.

The ongoing protests in Ferguson are repeatedly labeled as “riots” – a word that implies unsubstantiated violence, anger, and destruction (see: here, here, and here). Yet, time and again, crowds of predominantly White participants who damage property, light couches on fire, and spray paint “FUCK THE POLICE” on cop cars are not labeled “rioters” – they’re simply celebrating their favorite sports team’s win (or commiserating a loss).

Seeing White sports fans writing and chanting “FUCK THE POLICE” on walls and cop cars and being labeled “overzealous fans” leaves me speechless. Why are they even saying “fuck the police”? When have the police ever legally and systemically targeted the White bodies of sports fans? When have White sports fans had to repeatedly mourn the loss of another White life to violent police brutality? And where’s the riot gear? What about the tear gas, the tanks? Why aren’t these people “thugs”?


Jackson, Mississippi 1965 – Highway patrolman Hughie Kohlman rips American flag away from 5 year-old Anthony Quinn during a protest at the governor’s mansion.

I already know the answers to these questions, and so does the rest of Black America. Fighting for our right for our Black bodies, and the Black bodies of our children, to move freely within the country that our ancestors built will always be labeled a “riot” – unsubstantiated violence, anger, and destruction. The US has a long-standing tradition of responding to social unrest among Black Americans with excessive force—and understandably so. Black people coming together, fighting for our rights, and gaining power poses a great threat to the capitalist, white supremacist entity that is the United States of Amerikkka.

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