In the past couple of days I have observed with fascination and interest the way some protesters have behaved in the wake of the George Floyd murder.
In frustration, some have vandalised and destroyed private property, burning down buildings and looting shops in the process. The claim is to show that black lives matter.
Millions of people are angry. They are angered by a system that seems to be perpetuating systemic racism. A system that is protecting racists that wear the police uniform. They racially profile, brutalise and murder black people.
Many people black and white are appalled by this and are outraged, they are angry. The question is: What do we do with this feeling? Do we act on it? Do we keep it bottled in inside of us? If we act on our anger, we could hurt other people. If we keep our anger bottled in, studies show that adrenaline and cortisol which are our stress hormones will be secreted, making us more prone to infections and cardiovascular disease. Thus, instead of hurting other people, we will hurt ourselves.
But why do some protesters want to destroy or burn things when upset? And does it actually help?
The release of tension that brings us to acts of aggression when we’re mad is thought to be stress-relieving. Yelling, screaming, ‘[email protected] the police’, overturning police cars, overrunning a police precinct —these are all considered to have the same venting effect. Whether this sending a message that you are appalled by racially inspired police killings of black people, police brutality and profiling of black people or enraged by the corrupt system —these things can make you furious. In your rage, you may be shaking. Your heart may be pounding, your ears ringing, and you’re sweaty, hot and ready to burn and smash something. You can’t think clearly, but you just know you need to release the anger and frustration on to something, some object that represents the system you resent. You want to direct your anger towards that instead of a person, in this case (The former Minneapolis Police officer who pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck and many others who have gotten away scot-free) you vandalise, loot and burn police cars.
Problem is, these seemingly wanton acts of vandalism and violence are really not a solution. While they may or may not help you in the immediate moment with a cathartic release of stress, they are nonetheless criminal.
In fact, a look into the recent past with regards such incidents suggests to me that people who engage in such acts of vandalism to showcase frustration and rage when upset actually became angrier and more aggressive later on than those who choose to be peaceful demonstrators.
There are definitely better ways to release your frustration and distress instead of engaging in activities that lead to acts of vandalism, looting and distraction of public and private property. All of which could lead you into trouble with the law, if it’s public property damage remember two wrongs don’t make a right.
Indeed some would argue that at this stage violence is the only language ‘the system’ understands and it is the only way to force change.
Many news headlines used the word “violent” to chronicle the escalating protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.
However if I was to play devils advocate for a moment and question the use of term “violence” as used in the mainstream media to define the attacks against property, rather than against people.
When you contrast that to the visual of
the white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he pleaded for his life, gasping for air and calling for his mother. Most rioters who set fires, sprayed graffiti and smashed vehicles would argue real violence is what Chauvin did. Property can be replaced graffiti washed off, but life can not be replaced.
So, even though people tend to think confrontational protests do not work it has been shown that their assessment changes when an authority is seen to be corrupt and immoral. In truth even the average punter may come to see violence as more acceptable if the authorities respond in a way that seems unjustified and disproportionate.
But that said there still has to be a better way to affect change than the current route of riots or rebellion.
Indeed, at a time like this language choices matter: The term “riot” is indeed loaded, and this is why some opt to use “rebellion,” instead. One suggests reckless violence. The other signifies political resistance to oppression.
The term ‘riot’ tends to connote a senseless venting of frustration, of destroying your own community and all these other things that are counterproductive, as if there couldn’t be political value in urban unrest and forcing the system to examine itself.
People are angry they want change, fairness and above all justice. And if the price for achieving or attaining this is through burning and destruction of property there will always be takers. The argument is that freedom has a price and requires sacrifice.
The anger on society is palpable there has to be a way to deal with this anger. Some would argue the best way to deal with anger is to express it in a healthy way and turn this negative and possibly destructive feeling into a positive, constructive action.
Thusly, choose to peacefully protest. Indeed, a culture of peaceful protests needs to be championed and vigorously promoted. We owe it to our youth and those who are young and impressionable.
We learn our problem-solving skills from our parents and other role models. The good news is that learned behavior can be replaced with new, more appropriate learned behavior. So the culture of violence and vandalism to display outrage can be changed. We need role models that can champion peaceful ways of protesting.
However, the authorities should take note that people are angry and any heavy-handed responses from police can provoke more violent responses from otherwise peaceful protesters.
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