Violence in the Streets Won’t Help

Wreaking havoc in the streets in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal is not wise, smart or needed.

It’s OK to be angry; it’s expected. But engaging in violence on the streets is counter-productive, to those who engage in it and to those who are affected by it.

I remember when, in the height of the Civil Rights Movement, riots broke out all over the country. I lived in Detroit. The riots began after police arrested a group of people who were in an after-hours club, celebrating the return of some men from Vietnam. Police apparently arrested everyone in the club. (http://www.67riots.rutgers.edu/d_events.htm) After the police left with those who had been arrested, a couple of people, angry because the club was closed and they now no longer had someplace to go, broke a window at a clothing store which was next to the club. The riot erupted from there and lasted for 5 days. At the end of the riot, 43 people were dead, and close to 1200 were injured and nearly 7000 had been arrested.

The riot began on Clairmount Avenue. Clairmount was clearly in the black section of the city, and I knew the area well. My pediatrician’s office was blocks from there, on Clairemount and Dexter Avenue. What bothered me is that the rioters were angry but were taking their anger out on black folks! It was black business that was affected most. Black neighborhoods were devastated. After the riots were over, my parents took all of us (5 children) into the “war zone,” my father called it. The neighborhood was gone. Everything we had grown up seeing was gone, burned to the ground. It was as though war planes had come and dropped bombs.

It was counter productive then and it’s counter productive now.  What we need, when there is injustice or something we perceive as being unjust, is strategy so that we can “speak truth to power.”   We know that many youth in the streets are brilliant, even if their education has not been good. This is a time where their brilliance could be used to make a difference in the communities in which there is so much injustice. We need to figure out a way to stop black-on-black crime. Although the comments of Robert Zimmerman, George Zimmerman’s brother, sounded arrogant to me, I hated it that he could and did mention that scores of black youth are shot on a daily basis and nobody is ever arrested! That is a sad fact and it is up to us to change it. Anger is not a bad thing. It shouldn’t be suppressed, because suppressed anger converts into depression …We don’t need communities with any more depressed people …but we do need change and the anger that is “out there” now because of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin can be used to bring some real change in the lives of too many kids. I don’t care what the politicians say; there is a need for gun control in this nation, and there is a bigger need for gun control in black, brown and poor communities…and that’s only PART of the work we need to do.

On Sunday, the day after the Zimmerman verdict, I sat in a church service with a predominantly white membership. The occasion was celebration of Freedom Schools, an amazing program begun by Ella Baker in 1974 and taken up by Marian Wright Edelman, head of the Children’s Defense Fund.  The CDF Freedom Schools program is a six-week program which takes kids in, infuses them with a love of  and for themselves, uses college kids to teach them not only to read but to love to learn. Children come in with heads down, often, because of what they cannot do and leave with heads up, because they have learned that they can do more than they ever thought they could.

On Sunday, three of the college kids, teachers to the kids, called “Student Leader Interns,” spoke. All three, two African-American men and one Hispanic woman, spoke about the Zimmerman verdict and how it was a call to action. The Hispanic woman wept as she talked; I wept throughout the service. These three young people called for this to be a time for action, and they are right…not violence in the streets, but action so that those who are children now will have different struggles to deal with, not senseless gun violence in their communities, or laws that work to their detriment.

There is a song the Freedom School students sing, “Something Inside.”  They sing the song every day. The opening words are, “Something inside so strong… I know that I can make it, though you’re doing me wrong, so wrong…” The hope, or my hope, is that those words “take” and become the propulsion for the kids and for those of us who love them …to become the agents for change we need in this world which has not been, let’s face it,  fair when it comes to poor people and people of color.

Get off the streets, guys, and use that anger in a way that is going to produce positive change. Help turn a nation’s mourning …into dancing. It is so needed. Ella Baker said, when she was still alive, “Until the death of black men, black mothers’ sons, is as important as the death of white men, white mothers’  sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest…” We cannot rest, not yet.  We have to value ourselves and our “sons” and the work needed is immense…and it is needed now…

A candid observation …

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2 thoughts on “Violence in the Streets Won’t Help

  1. Violence is never the answer, and it’s exactly what they expect from the black community. Don’t give them what they expect. They will be there with their gases and guns, and at the end of the day, the rioters will not win. Times like this have to be about banding together and attacking the legal structure that allowed this injustice to happen.

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