United States in Unrest


A protestor in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014. Source.

Ferguson Unrest: From August 9th to August 25th, 2014, the first wave of Ferguson riots followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer. From November 24th, 2014 to December 2nd, 2014, the second wave of Ferguson riots broke out after the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict the police officer.

Baltimore Unrest: From April 18th, 2015 to May 3rd, 2015, residents of Baltimore protested in front of the police station following Freddie Gray’s death (Freddie Gray sustained neck and spine injury during his arrest in a police vehicle).

Charleston Unrest: On June 17th, 2015, 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot 10 people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, which was one of the oldest black churches in the U.S.

As of today, we could officially declare that the United States is in a state of unrest. In Obama’s words: “It [racial conflicts] comes up, it seems like, once a week now, or once every couple of weeks. And so I think it’s pretty understandable why the leaders of civil rights organizations but, more importantly, moms and dads across the country, might start saying this is a crisis. What I’d say is this has been a slow-rolling crisis. This has been going on for a long time. This is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.”

Yes. Racial confrontations in the U.S. are not rare and we shouldn’t pretend that they are. Yet after the first Ferguson riot, some argue: Why are we talking about racism? We have a black President. Black people are legally protected and allowed to go to college, get a job, get married, make a living, isn’t that enough? Well, apparently it is not. Now, in our time 150 years after the Civil War, racial riots break out almost every other week. There is something fundamentally wrong.

Why is the U.S. still a hotbed for racial violence?

Some put the ultimate blame on Baltimore and Ferguson police departments and 21-year-old Dylann Roof and other perpetrators of the riots. Sure, these people committed crimes; but, as in solving any criminal case, it helps here to look at the motive(s) behind the crime.

In Ferguson, during the year before the riot broke out, 93% of arrests following car stops and 92% of police searches involved Blacks. In Baltimore, the unemployment rate for the black population is double that of the white population and as of 2007, only 35% of high school black male students graduated. 5 million dollars have been paid out for lawsuits against police brutality… predominantly towards people of color. “Racism and white supremacy are still pretty prevalent in this area” said resident Megan Summers after the Charleston shooting.

Perpetual racial disparity/tension between the black and white populations is evident in all three cities. In a city like Baltimore, when a black teen has 35% chance of graduating from high school, double the chance of unemployment than whites, it is really hard to make something out of yourself, especially when getting beaten by police seems like a pretty frequent and lucrative source of income.

Is racial disparity/tension our ultimate answer to the question of why the series of riots broke out?

I wish the answer were that easy… but unfortunately it’s not. As of 2007, 1% of the U.S. population owns 34% of the country’s total wealth. The richest 20% of the population owns 85% of the wealth; yet the wealth gap has continued to grow. As of 2014, America’s wealth gap has reached its highest on record. Here we have a nation with 80% of its population owns less than 15% of its wealth. These people, the 80% of the population are living under the struggle of maintaining jobs, buying houses, buying cars, paying for colleges and the other 20% of the population are controlling the country to make themselves wealthier and wealthier. In the city of Baltimore, 24% of the population is living below the poverty line.  24% of the population are living without hope and opportunities to lead better lives, and excluded by their city. In a way, violence and anger are inevitable and it’s just a matter of time for bigger riots to break out.

I’m not saying that the violence in Ferguson or Baltimore was justified; but we had it coming to us. Some people were living under such anger and frustration that they took them out onto their city. Their means were not the most effective and should be condemned, but their message was clear. It’s time we listen.