You know who doesn’t riot?
• People who are stable and happy.
• People who are invested in their community.
• People who sense the system is working for them and, when it isn’t, know that the problem can be alleviated through proper channels.
• People who are worried that the fallout from committing vandalism and other violent crimes would wreck their lives.
• People who feel like they have a stake in society, and who feel that society has a stake in them.
• Most people, including the majority of those peacefully protesting in Baltimore.
One of the most terrifying mindsets a person can have (both for themselves and for the innocents around them) is the feeling that they have nothing to lose. When they feel society has failed them, from economics to the police and everything in between, they see no alternative but to lash out. They see a way to get attention, completely unencumbered by any feeling of obligation or empathy to others. And why should they care? How well did that work out for them before? Anyone who loots and commits violence harbors that feeling to some degree, even if in other circumstances they’d see such destruction for the horror that it is.
I’m in no way defending anyone who committed these crimes. They were wrong, vicious and self-defeating, and deserve to answer for each and every act.
But we as a nation must seriously examine the nothing-to-lose mindset that allows for such violence to propagate. There are endless reams of value judgments but not enough inquiries of, “Why?”
Incidents like these don’t happen in a vacuum. There’s always a root cause, and that root cause is a foreign concept to many who have had the fortune never to feel marginalized, desperate and hopeless. When you’ve never felt it, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would and it’s very easy to dismiss those who do as stupid and uncivilized.
In recent decades, America has drifted from a “We’re all in this together” attitude to, “Every person for themselves.” We’re taught that competition is all but a sacrament and that others are always trying to take away from us. Furthermore, we’re told, if it’s not working out for us, it’s all our fault. That appeals to well-off people who enjoy patting themselves on the back for their circumstances, but it’s a powder keg for those who see right through it.
People who are robbed of all hope — be it through entrenched poverty, racial prejudice, the feeling that government and law enforcement are adversaries or any other form of endless desperation — will be less inclined to keep their grievances civil. Which then leads to acts that undermine and overshadow the cause.
The solution to that lies at least partially with all of us as Americans. We need to give the hopeless hope, somehow. The first step in that process is for us to acknowledge that some people really, truly have nothing to lose, because many of us seem to be in deep denial about that. Then we must ask what particularly is fomenting such an attitude, and consider the steps we can take to mitigate the injustice. Then, and only then, can we begin to reduce such senseless violence like we’re seeing in Baltimore, and anywhere else where people resort to such horrible acts.
Let’s try it, at least.