Words Matter When Talking About Race, Unrest, Experts SayHistorians in the News
tags: racism, urban history, riots, policing
Historians and sociologists said reflexively condemning the actions as reckless or self-defeating minimizes the extent of people's rage. Floyd's death has become part of an all too familiar pattern of confrontations between police and African Americans who lose their lives over minor offenses. For all the denouncements, there are many who defend riots as the actions of those who have exhausted every other way to be heard.
"I'm 58 years old now. I don't remember a year that there wasn't half a dozen cases, spectacular cases of police violence. You could do a New York Times front page, just like you did of the COVID deaths, and easily get 100,000 names, beginning in 1960, of people who died," said Robin Kelley, a professor of history at UCLA who studies social movements in the USA. "My wife asked me this question last night, 'Do you think this is right?' I said, 'What other choice do people have?' "
The riots, experts said, are demands for justice among those who claim they've been unfairly targeted for years. They ignite when people feel as though they have nothing left to lose, when the usual channels for affecting change in a democracy – nonviolent protest, voting – have been ineffective.
People need not condone the riots, experts said, but they ought to understand them.
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