Rioting Can Be Such a Riot!

Image: Police at a riot in 2008 © Alison Klein, WEBN News 2008, via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0.

On Sunday evening, football fans took to the streets of Denver in a brutishly celebratory riot following the Denver Bronco’s Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers. These rioters, who threw trash cans, tore down a goal post, and shattered police car windows, were later described as “excited fans.”

As the majority of the crowd rioting was white, the reactions of the police and media were saddening, but not shocking. That is, they were all too casual and light-hearted. Instead of being painted as dangerous thugs, as an African American crowd undoubtedly would have been, the rioters were simply deemed “excited.”

In response to this injustice, it is tempting to say that a riot is just a riot, and should be universally treated as such. But motive and context matter immensely, and not every riot should be treated the same.

Many times in recent history, when black people have taken to the streets to stand up against injustice, they are met with violence and are deemed thugs in the eyes of the media. For example, upon the commencement of the Baltimore riots after the killing of Freddie Gray, ABC News used the word “thug” to depict these rioters close to 800 times.

Yes, 17 people were arrested on Sunday evening, streets were blocked off, and pepper spray was used, but certainly, no shots were fired. Of course, any lessening of violence is a good thing, but we must ask ourselves: would police have been so apprehensive to reach for their guns had this been a mostly black crowd?

Drunken, egotistical, and adrenaline-filled football fans pose a much greater threat to public safety than level-headed individuals standing up for their basic human rights. If ample precautions are taken towards Black Lives Matter protests, then the same amount should have to be taken for a Super Bowl riot, as these rioters have actually proven to exert more violence. While the first group is motivated by ego and a desire to feel superior, the latter is charged by a desire to be treated humanely.

It is necessary to examine closely the society we live in—one that criminalizes activists, while merely slapping the wrists of criminals. White rioters barbarically flooded the streets of Downtown Denver explicitly in pursuit of unsettling public safety, and the media portrayed them as nothing worse than excited fans. This deviation in treatment is undeniable and it is time that we all open our eyes, for no problem has ever been solved before first acknowledging that it is, in fact, a problem.

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