Tuesday, April 28, 2015

This Life is a Riot

I lived through race riots in my home town of Michigan City, IN in the '60s. Brutal police actions led to unrest, which was fanned into flames by outside agitators, and the National Guard had to come in to cool things off for a few days.

I lived through race riots in my adopted city of Boston in the '70s. White people rioted, burned and looted so their schools wouldn't be integrated. It took the better part of a year for this to cool down and for the buses to roll as directed.

I lived through race riots here in Los Angeles in the '90s. Brutal police actions and a complicit judicial system led to almost immediate action, almost as if rioting, looting, and burning were planned.

None of this was warranted or necessary.

Race is almost impossible to talk about here in the U.S. We have such an awful history - genocide on native peoples, wholesale enslavement of people imported to work for the wealthy, Jim Crow laws making sure that a century later these people still didn't have the opportunity many of us had and took for granted. It seems like half of America wants to take us back to the status quo of 1950 or 1850, and we are a brutish and un-exceptional nation because of this.

Young people are very much less likely to care about anyone's race, but it's the old and wealthy that have the power and systematically deny Freedom and opportunity to those without wealth and power - non-whites, immigrants, those not of your religion, different sexual and gender orientation...

Even the brutality of the police - along with horrible Stand-Your-Ground murders, our obsession with firearms and our generation-long war on drugs which is becoming simply a pipeline from school to for-profit prisons - is just a symptom. Our economic divisions and imposition of belief over Human Rights is fundamentally the cause.

It would be naive to believe we can get either side to change overnight. Working to get rid of systematic policies like Stop and Frisk and Stand Your Ground would be a start. Ensuring free and appropriate public education and health care for all would be a great step. We can only do this if we choose, little by little, to put aside differences and embrace what Unites us.