Riot, public insurrections, activism: the definitions are as debatably charged as the modern hyper-prisms people look at politics through in this day and age, so henceforth, I’m referring to these things as “events.”

Before we parse event factors or merits (or lack thereof) let’s look at the event situation as it develops tactically: for whatever reason, once police patrols are outnumbered and under attack, they must concentrate for their own protection. In this stance, they can protect nothing but themselves. Mobs appear and create their own gravity, sucking in more and more people; mob is synonymous with individuals forgoing their ethical humanity for a reason. The distributed police presence in their area of control evaporates; the rest of the emergency services must withdraw to the police protection. Fires break out and spread, and medical emergencies go unanswered. I was part of the Washington Heights riots. I remember hearing calls for medical help going out on the radio, but being impotent to answer for lack of a strong, protective police cordon. At one point, someone threw a toilet bowl at us from the roof of a building, disabusing me of the notion that a riot (an event) might be something other than atavism; the person who called for help sure didn’t throw it. I’ve also seen the anguish of a family delivering their dying member to the hospital, on their own. A century’s worth of evolution in modern medical care just evaporated. Please think of these unseen consequences the next time an event breaks out.

There has never in history been a community election to decide to stage an “event.” Nobody wants to have their neighborhood reduced to the pre-modern. From my point of view, elite media and political structures can rest assured that event participants rarely “speak” for many. Same as any other form of political culture, there seems a distorted, highly presumptuous elitism on what “they” (the community the event is happening in), wants. In the modern, interconnected world, demonstrators often travel to the event, from all over, which was a feature of the Charlottesville situation. There, the community, readers are reminded, had democratically decided to rid themselves of the offending civil war monuments, and voted to change the name of the park from Robert E. Lee, to Emancipation, just as they should, according to what the counter-protesters say they want. Lost in the media coverage, is how these citizens were repaid, in damage to their community, and widespread mayhem, for their pains. This is great metaphor for how protesting activists speak, for whom they speak, and to whom.

Coincide or coincidence? That seems the main political divide in riot ruminations. Events may have (indirect to the people living in a riot zone, same as a war zone) an undercurrent of legitimate grievance, but they certainly don’t have to be about anything reasonable. These English riots are a case in point of the latter, where the British police conducted themselves, along with the openness of the subsequent investigation, in a manner we Americans can only envy.

Riots can regularly break out in the USA over perfectly justified police conduct, like the recent St. Louis shooting, or the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson. In that case, the actual shooting was legitimate, but the aftermath reflected patterns of abuse which should have been addressed decades ago.

This resource is an interesting overview on the conditions and “causations” of riots.

From the resource list two solid conclusions can be discerned in the patterns of events, irrespective of the bipartisan hyperbole: 1) The police are largely estranged from the communities they police, and this situation needs repair, regardless of the of the facts of events considered individually. By definition, a breakdown of community trust must be addressed as a harmful communication breakdown. 2) Quis custodiet ipsos custodes (who watches the watchmen)? This is a question as old as systematic philosophy, and is, in my view, the central question of political development, in macro and micro. In macro, the American constitutional “checks and balances” Madisonian clockwork restrictions on political power has given our nation the evolutionary framework of freedom our progress has grown into. In micro, as applied to our current situation vis a vis our event frequency, we should realize we have an urgent need to reform our mechanisms of policing the police. One has to be a sort of hobbyist (because of the fickle nature of famous notoriety) to keep track of police crimes, some of which are just astonishing. In this one, largely ignored by mass media, the police beat a homeless man to death. While the beating went on, the psychotic man (as established by court) was begging an apology and calling out for his pa (the video of the killing is easily found online, if you can handle it). The incident would have me protesting in the street, if not for my experience in dealing with the unintended consequences of street protests. Here is an example, via the New York Times, of a scandal involving NYPD planting guns.

There are many proposals out there about how to reform our police policing, ranging from an increased use of body cams to Federal police offenders data bases to trimming police union agreements on how their misconduct is investigated. It would be obvious to say that with increasing distrust from the community, many of these privileges are now in dire need of reconsideration The question should arise: why should a community trust police investigative techniques as fair if the police do not use them to police themselves? To me, this question answers itself.

Event rights and wrongs, pluses and negatives, don’t cancel each other like in an algebra equation.

The libertarian gadfly must also buzz that the police should not be trusted by the community if their mandate is to farm them for revenue, and force them into socially acceptable modes of behavior the community does not want to comply with.

Eugene Darden Nicholas

About Eugene Darden Nicholas

Eugene Darden (Ed) Nicholas is from Flushing Queens, where he grew up sheltered from the hard world, learning the true things after graduating college and becoming a paramedic in Harlem. School continues to inform and entertain in all its true, Shakespearean glory. It's a lot of fun, really. In that career, dozens of people walk the earth now who would not be otherwise. (The number depends on how literally or figuratively you choose to add). He added a beloved wife to his little family, which is healthy. He is also well blessed in friends and colleagues.


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