The looting in Ferguson is, at its root, a rational response of a people who have been economically oppressed for years and driven to anger by police terrorism. Looting has the same root causes as all crime within poor minority communities: lack of access to productive capital and housing ghettoization. It demands to be treated as an economic inevitability, not as a mental illness or some lack of self-control among a minority population.
Of course, the looters in Ferguson are only a minority of the local population, and many community members have actively defended the property the looters were attempting to redistribute. Despite this, one cannot wholly discount the phenomenon — I can’t help but feel the pain of community leaders as they struggle to frame the response to the execution of Mike Brown as a peaceful protest with reasonable demands, only to have that progress dismantled when the crowd turns to looting and vandalism.
Inevitably, these leaders realize white folks from the area and white media around the nation will use this minority to tar the entire movement, and implicitly all black people as irresponsible and uncontrollable. They will use this looting as yet another feather in their cap of justifying police brutality and white suppression of and ownership of black bodies. The onus, however, falls upon white observers and their ability to properly contextualize this response. No white person, including myself, can ever truly know how it feels to come up in an atmosphere of socio-economic oppression and to be threatened daily by white supremacist power structures, such as the police and local government. So what business do these people have criticizing the response of the Ferguson community? Claims by white critics to “objective” moral judgments smack of privileged logic, overly convenient to the status quo.
It’s easy to be critical while cranking Iggy Azalea from the basement in your parents’ house in the white suburbs, but until you’ve experienced what members of the Ferguson community have experienced, been targeted and terrorized by authorities day in and day out, been forced to live in ghettos and take low-paying jobs, been forced to endure your son’s murder for walking down the street and had half of America justifying it, then you cannot condemn their response.
The only people with legitimate claims to criticizing looting and violent protesting in Ferguson are members of the local black community. I repeat: the only people who can criticize the looting are members of the Ferguson black community. What should disturb everyone, even remotely sympathetic to the plight of black Americans, is the fact that evidently many white people value property over the lives of black people. Perhaps if the looters were killing people, I might understand the condemnation. The only thing being harmed, however, is private property. The neoliberal values of market capitalism being espoused seem to privilege capital over human lives, and that is absolutely revolting.
Everyone analyzing this situation should be far more concerned about the history of anti-black police brutality in the area and the lives these racist officers have stolen, rather than about the looting sparked by community members’ collective outrage. And, if you’re a white person chomping at the bit to criticize the Ferguson community, just stop. Until you’ve experienced that, you have no right.
Robert McAuliffe is a junior international studies major from St. Louis.