Check out these images from largely sports-related riots in the U.S. and Canada over the past 22 years and compare our reactions to these riots with our reactions to protests in Ferguson and Baltimore over the past year.
When I look at these photos, I’m reminded of Janet Abu-Lughod’s book Race, Space, & Riots in Chicago, New York, & Los Angeles, and specifically lessons she learns by contrasting Chicago’s “white riot” at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the rioting that took place on the west side of the city after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The police reaction, as well as responses from the mayor and the media, was sharply different. That difference, among other evidence presented in the book, leads Abu-Lughod to the conclusion that race has been “the decisive variable” in Chicago social relations. If we’re to take seriously the full range of issues highlighted by this past year of outrage (some peaceful, some violent) at disparities in the use of force by our police, we will have to reckon with the meaning of our different reactions to different protests. What do the contrasts mean? And does race remain the decisive variable in U.S. social relations?