First, is the guilt for riots exclusively that of Negroes? And are they a natural development to a new stage of struggle? A million words will be written and spoken to dissect the ghetto outbreaks. But for a perceptive and vivid expression of culpability I would like to submit two sentences that many of you have probably heard me quote before from the pen of Victor Hugo. “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin but he who causes the darkness.” The policy-makers of the white society have caused the darkness. It was they who created the frustrating slums. They perpetuate unemployment and poverty and oppression. Perhaps it is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes, but these are essentially derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society. – Martin Luther King, Jr. – A New Sense of Direction (1968)
Rioting is not helpful. But you can hardly end the conversation there. And to say, the rioters “should be shot on sight. then they would quit this crap!” is not reasonable. Sure, if the UK wasn’t a victim-ready zone (through state firearm prohibition), the riots probably wouldn’t have lasted so long. But shooting people with grievances just magnifies the grievance. It doesn’t solve anything.
A deeper analysis is required. Why are these people rioting? Darcus Howe suggests in this BBC broadcast that police stop and search tactics are partly to blame. In this Al Jazeera report on the riots, commentators note that youth clubs and other forms of state funding is being cut back. Also of interest in the Al Jazeera piece is the claim that of all the people in a certain oppressed neighborhood, 99 per cent are not participating in the riots.
Cops are brutes. Stop and search is like having the TSA everywhere, but only targeted at certain races or age groups. It is deeply insulting. Add to that the frustration at growing up in poverty in the midst of a material paradise. Who wouldn’t be upset?
The fact is that the state and corporations collude to limit opportunities through the use of licensing and small business regulations, papework, fees, shutting down “illegal” businesses. All the while, advertising of a great material world is piped into people’s homes via TV. Their candle is being burned at both ends. Their expectations are being raised at the same that their reality is being crushed.
As MLK notes in the quote above, they have been cast into darkness. Not unlike many people across the world. See for example the Walmart factory where employees are being raped. It is the responsibility of those of us who can see past the darkness to do something about this.
Our ideas, our methods, our community is uniquely placed to have an impact. We need to organize a network of trainers, psychologists, inspirational speakers and embedded activists to go to places in trouble like the UK, Egypt, Chicago, etc and help these people find the spark they need to get out of the darkness. Many of us wanted to go to Egypt. That was really a leap of faith. But the UK is easier. We share a language and some history. We need a plan. We need participants and funding. Who will take the lead on this project?