• Keonnie Janae

The Riot is Public Lament


Art by @Fvkhead


To condemn riots is to silence cries for justice.


Characterizing any organized disturbance of the peace that does not center white and capitalist comfort as a riot and therefore immoral or wrong is an intentional tool of silencing dissent and hindering coalition building. Definitively, a protest is a statement or action declaring disapproval. A march is one of those specific actions-a walk on public roads to express disapproval of something. A riot is a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd.


“The riot is the language of the unheard...the mood of the Negro community now is one of urgency, one of saying ‘we aren’t going to wait’, ‘we’ve got to have our freedom, we’ve waited too long’. ” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

I, for one, will not sit in a “peace” that does not atone for racism. I will not sit in a “peace” that does not charge the church for its role in white supremacy. I will not sit in a “peace” that hesitates in accountability for lynching, execution and murder of specifically black and brown bodies. I will not sit in it. I will not stomach it. I will not maintain silence and complicity to allow it.


This status quo called peace is not that at all. There is no peace without justice. There is no peace without public lament. There is no peace without atonement and accountability. There is no peace without a repentant Church. There is no peace without community and coalition for the benefit of all. There is no peace here.


So for those who would like to call this peace, to keep this “peace”- there must be a reckoning, there must be a wake up call. Wake up, O sleeper! Wake up to the reality of a peaceless, justiceless, accountability less, repentance less lived experience of the black community on this land. Wake up to this idea of peace that killed Ahmaud and Sean and Breonna and Nina and George and Tony, that threatens black boys and black girls in their desks at school, that refuses to hear black mothers in distress as they give birth, that locks up young black men in cages at six times the rate of white men.


What about violence, then?


America operates on the praxis of justified violence. This nation is a result of the violent removal of Native and Indigenous communities because European colonizers justified their right to stolen land. This nation is a result of the violent refusal of those same colonists to submit to overreaching greedy authority. This nation is a result of rising global authority after asserting violence over smaller, less politically and financially stable, countries because their systems were different than ours and therefore, wrong. This nation continues to assert violence, refuse to comply, withdraw from anything it deems disadvantageous or unjust. See Paris Climate Accords, NAFTA, WHO, China Trade agreements. This nation has no moral, historical or political credibility to condemn a people group for refusing to comply with an unjust system, withdrawing from social norms that are meant to silence and oppress them and asserting violence to ensure their voice is heard.


Christianity is a belief system that fundamentally supports violent removal and communal rebirth. God, on behalf of the Israelites’ liberation, inflicted violent plagues on Egypt. Consequently, the Israelites withdrew from the social structure of Egypt. The Old Testament is marked by the tension of the Israelites conquering others by violence to maintain their liberation or God siding with the armies of non Israelites to violently condemn the Israelites for this disobedience. Jesus conquered death, hell and sin only by way of his violent death and abrupt resurrection. It was only after the violent death of Jesus that the wealth-sharing, diverse and just early church formed.


God ain’t out here killing people or nations anymore but you expect black people to believe THAT God is shaking his head in disapproval as another people group in need of liberation breaks some windows and burns some vehicles?


What even is violence? Violence is defined as swift and intense force. So it was with violence that Reuben and Jacob’s mourned Joseph’s sale into slavery. It was with violence that David mourned Saul and Jonathan’s death in battle. It was with violence that Ezra mourned the Israelites’ disobedience of the God of justice and love.


And so it is with violence that the black community of America mourns and rends cities of their pretty storefronts and expensive police stations which hide the raw, money-over-people, power-over-justice nakedness at its core.


In the last two weeks, I saw unprecedented social media attention given to the unjust lived experience of black people in this nation. I received personal texts and direct messages from white people atoning for past racist harm and committing to a different future. I saw the beginning of coalitions forming to push through personal discomfort to a more just nation.


But as the new day tried to actually break through, to swiftly and forcefully remove all that does not serve justice, racist narratives of American social control picked up their familiar tools: out of control Blacks and “unjustified” violence.


“The widespread myth of the violent, aggressive, and physically overdeveloped Black buck has been used for centuries in the United States to justify racist social control practices, including slavery, Jim Crow, lynching and mass incarceration.” - Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes


History wants you to believe that the raising of black voices is inhumane, organized, counterproductive if it isn’t done in the way that keeps “peace”, that maintains status quo. But you tell me, which is more effective to focus on justice- this myth of black beast or the swift and forceful movement for black liberation? Which is more effective for continued white supremacy?


Some will say: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Sure, we will give Caesar what is rightly his. We will give Caesar jury duty and stops at red lights. We will give Caesar our children’s daily attendance to school and our vote. We will even give Caesar a portion of every paycheck and a yearly report on our location.


We will not give Caesar our teenage boys bleeding in the streets.


We will not give Caesar our husbands shot in the car seat next to us.


We will not give Caesar our bodies. We will not give Caesar our breath. We will not give Caesar trauma for taxes and towers.


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