I lived through the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Those riots were a series of uprisings, lootings, arsons and civil disturbance that occurred in Los Angeles County, California in 1992, following the acquittal of police officers on trial regarding a videotaped and widely-covered police brutality incident.
I’m reminded of LA while watching riots in Ferguson, Missouri. A vigil on Sunday for Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager shot and killed by a police officer, was followed by protesters taking to the streets, looting stores, vandalizing cars and confronting the police.
There’s an eerie similarity between the 1992 LA Riots and the riot in Saint Louis. Images, videos captured on cellphones and posted on social media, as well as local media reports showed people spray-painting and looting a number of stores. One Saint Louis television report captured video showing looters running away from stores with their arms full of shoes. Another demonstrated rioters carrying two cases of Budweiser Beer.
The looter pictured in this blog with baggy rapper style pants and no shirt did nothing to honor Mr. Brown or his legacy. In fact, all he did was become the ‘poster-child’ of repugnant.
Rioting does little to remember the victim. Having lived through LA’s Riots, the aftermath will bring a series ‘commissions’ designed to defuse tension; initiatives will be announced, programs launched. News personalities such as Al Sharpton will arrive and protest the insanity, cruelty and abuse. Melissa Harris-Perry may shed a few more tears and we’ll view these feints with suspicious eyes, for such performances marginally advance public interest.
I do not celebrate any of these events. I simply acknowledge they happen. Yet riots themselves tell us something important: that grievances long ignored have to be accounted for; that there is a new boldness found within those no longer content to suffer in silence.
It would tear apart any person who is humane to see what riot victims suffer. What makes all of this even more punitive is the endless wait for justice by the families of those who’ve died in the mindless violence perpetrated by one of their own. Both the Brown family and business victims will experience a seemingly endless wait for justice. It will be years before anyone gets a sense of legal closure.
Buddhism is about love, both personal and communal. Immediately after the 2011 riots, Vancouver residents began erasing the bad memories from the streets by cleaning them up. The citizens started to write words on the wooden boards that momentarily replaced shop windows. These messages included apologies, messages of love addressed to the Canucks hockey team, to the city of Vancouver, or simply to other people.
Why? Because this is how you act when you feel like you’re part of a community. This is the true soul of community. This is the beauty of America.
May all of us find such a community.