AS RIOTS RAGE, MANY WONDER WHAT EXACTLY THEY ARE ABOUT

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by Gennady Shkliarevsky

The wave of riots and looting that have erupted in this country has paralyzed many American cities.  It has caused a great deal of destruction and even losses of human life.  The amount of damage is staggering and continues to climb.  More importantly, we have no idea when these riots will stop.

As Americans go through this ordeal, many have been wondering, what is all this about?  It is obvious that the death of George Floyd, however regretful and unfortunate, could not have caused this pandemonium.  The emotions and energy of these riots suggest that their causes lie deeper.

There is no doubt that students of social protest movements in America will eventually provide a comprehensive and objective account of the causes that led to these disturbances.  However, in order to deal with these riots now and find a solution, we need to have at least some answers right now, even if they may not be as comprehensive as we would like them to be.

So what are the demands that the rioters put forward?  What are they trying to achieve and are the means they have chosen for achieving their goals adequate?

In order to answer these questions, there is no better place to turn than the Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC)—an organization in north Minneapolis that coordinates the protests in the city and formulates their agenda.

According to Executive Director of NOC Anthony Newby, the ideas and goals of this organization fall into three main categories: education and media training, short-term demands, and long-term demands.  The proposals in the category of education and media training envisage the creation of several programs that educated residents in their rights—what they can and cannot do around police.  NOC has also created a new blog where residents can discuss their experience in dealing with police and provide videos documenting encounters between residents and police.  “Direct Action Training” is another initiative in this category.  It provides training for activists in organizing protests and demonstrations in a manner that would be safe for the participants.

The short-term goals are really short.  The organization demands the restoration of a small portion of the city budget–really small, a mere $620,000 of a $1.2 billion budget.  Some of this money was to fund initiatives in racial equity and energy saving.  In the category of long-term goals, NOC recommends hiring members of the police preferably from Minneapolis and its different neighborhoods.  As Newby explains, this approach will create the police force that will be more sensitive to different cultures and will not “misread things.”

And that’s it.  That’s all they demand and propose.  As one looks at their shopping list, one wonders if all the chaos and destruction caused in Minneapolis was really worth it and could not be proposed and negotiated in ways other than rioting.

There is, of course, a broader agenda that looms behind these proposals.  NOC feels that they can work with many members of the new city council in promoting the platforms of racial equity and racial disparities.  There are very few Americans that would disagree with this lofty goal.  However, in addressing it, NOC and we all must understand that the source of inequities is the existence of exclusion.  The source of exclusion is elite domination.  Therefore, to eliminate inequities and disparities—all inequities and disparities—we need to end elite domination and bring about universal inclusion and empowerment.

This broad agenda has preoccupied human civilization practically throughout its entire history.  One certainly cannot expect that some city riots will provide a solution to this problem.  The solution to this problem can only emerge from the collective efforts of all groups and communities that constitute American society.

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Gennady Shkliarevsky is Professor Emeritus of History at Bard College.


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