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Riots wouldn't be happening if people of color hadn't been silenced for so long, but now, this is the only way to be heard.

I am white. This is relevant because, in this article, I speak in support of a movement and against deep-rooted and systematic racial injustices, yet I’ve never fallen victim to racial oppression and I’m privileged by my skin color. If you are black and believe that any points I’ve made may be misinformed, or if you care to add more to the conversation, please feel free to email me at hanekljr@dukes.jmu.edu

In recent weeks, thousands have come out in droves to protest against racial injustices in America — specifically against the perpetual murder of black Americans by police forces. While these demonstrations have been met with love and support from many, some have claimed “violence isn’t the answer” and have denounced more aggressive acts of protest like rioting. For more than one reason, an outlook that wholly condemns rioting, and not the cause of rioting, is substantially flawed.  

More Americans need to understand that rioting is a last resort approach that no one inherently wants to engage in. It’s rarely argued that rioting, which often entails the destruction of property and in extreme situations can take lives, is innately good. Yet unfortunately, black Americans have spent years peacefully and calmly protesting with limited results and have seen no end to police brutality and other major injustices. A lack of being heard has culminated to a breaking point, which is rioting. 

For example, in 2016, NFL player Colin Kaepernick protested in arguably the most peaceful way possible by taking a knee during the National Anthem — and let the backlash he received be lost on no one. Even as recently as June 6, President Trump tweeted “NO KNEELING!” The year following the first kneel, Kaepernick was no longer a part of the NFL, his stance-taking no doubt influencing this decision. It’s a riveting question to ask where all of the Americans in Kaepernick's defense were then, who are now advocating for the same peaceful protesting he engaged in that resulted in no major policy changes.  

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?” Unfortunately, these words still ring true decades later. Many Americans who’ve never needed to resort to rioting to be seen and heard are unable to view the current national state outside of the lenses of this very privilege. 

It’s mistaken to be appalled at the rioting itself, but accurate to be appalled that the perpetual state of racial injustice has progressed so strongly that some Americans must employ this approach to have a voice and make a change. One cannot condemn rioting without condemning the very cause of the rioting. One Ph.D. student, Nawal Mustafa, took to Instagram and said, “Violent protests have consequences. People will die, people will go to jail, people will lose everything they have. How far does someone have to be pushed to risk it all? Sit with that.”

Still, some Americans argue that they don’t understand how this approach is the answer. Yet, history offers a considerable timeline demonstrating how this very approach has in fact achieved results or at least shone light on unjust oppressors for those unheard. The Boston Tea Party, the Stonewall riots, even some events in the civil rights movement and more, could all be considered a form of a riot that made some change. 

In the wake of Floyd’s death, his killers have been arrested and charged. That accomplishment alone is one that Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Philando Castile and literally hundreds of other black people killed by the police or at the hands of racism, in general, haven’t seen in the wake of their death. And it took an entire revolution to achieve.

Not all protestors are rioters and looters and some committing the most extreme actions may even have a personal agenda separate from the majority, according to Psychology Today. It’s important to keep this in mind, along with the fact that random acts of violence by the police against peaceful protesters are being reported as the demonstrations press on. Riots shouldn’t have to be the answer, yet black Americans have been left with nowhere to turn to have their voices heard, as one Time article alludes to. If Americans want to see an end to the rioting, they must first revile its cause and advocate for plans of action eradicating severe racial injustices. 

Each word in this sentence is hyperlinked to different petitions and organizations that

you may consider signing or donating to in support of this movement

Josie Haneklau is a junior political science and psychology major. Contact Josie at hanekljr@dukes.jmu.edu.