The futility and catharsis of rioting

Self-expression is one of the most treasured activities humans can engage in. We love to talk about ourselves, demonstrate what we believe in and make art to attempt to communicate what’s inside. Take away an individual’s ability to express themselves, and results are immediate. People feel intense anger and helplessness when unable to properly get feelings out. Not only that, it’s plain unhealthy to keep things bottled up.

There are, however, less than ideal ways to express oneself. Plenty of students get frustrated in class, but punching out a professor will not solve anything. While computers may infuriate some to the point of white-hot rage, taking that rage out on the computer solves nothing. Rioting as well is a tremendously terrible method of self-expression.

In the aftermath of the Michael Brown decision, riots tore across Ferguson, resulting in torched businesses, rampant destruction of property and some really, really, really bad press.

The ugly truth about destructive methods of self-expression is that they are downright fun. If there were no consequences, people would love to be able to bust up some glass and make some really huge fires. There was a news story a while back about a hotel that sold customers the privilege of tearing rooms down to start a remodel. Video showed people gleefully kicking holes in walls and lashing out with sledgehammers. Because it’s fun.

Add in the inherent anonymity in group action, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody that riots occur generally whenever there is an excuse to throw one. Not to mention the free stuff that can be obtained through looting. Many people look to the footage of riots and looting and shake their heads, but at the same time, would they do different given the choice? On one hand, people get to break stuff, get free stuff, run around and have an adventure in the real world – not online or in a video game. On the other hand, there is basically zero risk.

Riots are bound to happen, it is the responsibility of authority to not give people the chance, not give them the opportunity or excuse to riot. In regards to the Ferguson decision, it was a staggeringly bad decision to have the decision be given late at night. If the decision was announced in the daylight, the cover of darkness wouldn’t make things that much easier to get away with.

Though reasoned, well-worded pleas were given by President Obama, Prosecutor McCulloch and Michael Brown Sr., simple speech is not enough to hold back the tide of emotion and opportunity. Those who consider themselves victims of racism and a faulty system have no reason to do whatever the system tells them to do, and no reason to respect what they see as that representing the system.

After all is said and done, what’s the point? As always, it is self-expression. Those who try to characterize the riots as a protest are disingenuous to the point of blindness. Not one rioter is thinking “If I burn down Walgreens, they’ll surely listen to me and change how things are going.” Their thoughts are probably something on a more primal level, “It’s fun to burn and break things and I’m pissed off.” Deliberately misinterpreting actions only paints protestors in a bad light.

Sadly, nothing is achieved in riots. No justice is served, wrongs are not made right, and the dead remain dead. Any attempt in communicating an idea is lost in the violence and chaos. Any meaning, any concept or message intended to get out won’t. The only thing these demonstrations demonstrated is the inherent unhappiness and anger at injustice.

In order for progress to be made, riots must be understood. The human need for self-expression must be acknowledged, and the massive benefits at minimal risks need to stop being glossed over. Riots can happen as easy as a ball rolls down a hill, it’s up to those in charge to remove the circumstances that lead to riots, circumstances that encourage rioting.

Above all, it’s the role of those who feel the victim to continue expressing themselves in a constructive way. If the riot can’t be stopped, then make the best of things and keep dialogue going.