By D. Ware

“Why do they burn their own communities?” I have been asked this question a dozen times today alone. I have been asked by friends, family, co-workers, and church members. I know many of you have the same question, but may not want to ask or feel that you can’t or don’t have the right to ask for some reason. The fact that you ask does not bother me. The fact that the media, journalists, and “officials” ask does bother me, because when they pose the question, I never hear a possible solution, and that lack of resolve perpetuates the indifference of ordinary citizens. It’s the indifference—that “it don’t have nothing to do directly with me attitude”—that allows a broken system to continuously place the foot of “justice” on the necks of people and blame them for reacting and then chant, “STOP THE VIOLENCE!!”

I don’t claim to have all the answers, nor am I the spokesperson for the African American experience in this country, but this I know for sure: a riot is what pain, frustration, and fear look like when a community does not trust that there is any other option.

Below is an expressed viewpoint that offers a glimpse of “why” it is what it is. My hope is that this will help you with understanding the perspective of the people of Ferguson and all of the other communities that have erupted in violence, as a reaction to injustice. Maybe this will help you with your questions, maybe it won’t. At best, my hope is that when this does happen again, that the thought of what “could have” been avoided at least crosses your mind.

Although gravely disappointed, I still believe that there is still peace in the possibility that change can be a reality.

Excerpt below from “Why do they burn down their own neighborhood?” by antifaFollow, originally published in the Daily Kos on 11/25/2014 [caution, strong language in the full post]:

It’s Tuesday, November 25th, 2014. Ferguson, Missouri is burning.

These riots will be covered in the media as yet one more historical example of black people getting mad and burning down their own neighborhood, just like in Watts and Detroit in the Sixties. Black residents burned down the very places they work at every day, shop at every day, just senselessly wrecking the small businesses of their very own community.

And there it is, that stupidest of questions, that rhetorical question most white Americans will ask one another this morning, “But why do they burn down their own neighborhood?”

And their only answer will be, as always, to shake their heads and shrug their shoulders and never, ever understand. They just can’t come up with an answer. And with no answer, there is no need, no way to seek a solution. So they don’t.

You’d have to grow up a young black male in a place like Ferguson to grasp why these stores are the immediate, prime targets for looting and flames. There are 365 days in every year, and on every day of every year of your life you’ve had to walk past these cathedrals of consumer culture and see things you don’t have and can’t get because you have no money, no real education, and very little hope of ever being employed.

You grew up tagging along with your mother or aunt to shop in these stores using food stamps, coupons, buying only things on sale, and putting up with the stares of the people around you who have real jobs, and can afford to shop without government assistance. And when you go alone into one of these stores, you are immediately followed to see if you’re going to steal anything. If you linger or look around at all, pretty soon some white cop will show up to take you outside and check out who you are and what you’re doing in the store, boy.

Before you’re ten years old you know right down to your bones that you don’t belong to the America of white people. The America you read about in the papers or view on television is not for you. It’s not ever to be yours. You’re permanently shut out of that world. What you experience is quite the opposite. So the local car dealership or chain restaurant or chain drug store is not “my neighborhood store.” It is instead the most visible symbol of your impoverished options and status that you see every day as you go without in white America, all because you decided to be black.

You loot because you don’t care for these local businesses any more than they care about you. You burn them down to exact revenge for not having a fair chance in the richest country in the history of mankind. It’s not your local store. It’s not your country. Loyalty works both ways, and it doesn’t work at all for most young black American males.

So there’s your answer, white America. If you lived 365 days a year for some 20 or so years as these young black men are forced to live, under constant racial and economic oppression, with all the nifty consumer products of white America just out of reach, for life, you’d be burning these businesses down tonight yourself.

They aren’t burning down their own neighborhood. They’re burning down the palaces of white consumer culture shoved into their neighborhood to suck away their money and labor while leaving them with nothing. No future, no safety, no life.

The views expressed by this author are their own and do not necessarily represent the
official views of Policy Research Associates, Inc.