Although many Americans, especially those who are white, are quick to decry the rioting and looting in predominately black neighborhoods and communities, it should be noted that those involved are simply following a long-standing American tradition. Indeed, the act that inflamed tensions and led to the Revolutionary War was a riot of angry taxpayers looting tea from British ships and dumping it in the Boston harbor.
In 1794, President Washington led federal troops to put down the Whiskey Rebellion when some Americans resorted to violence in order to prevent federal agents from collecting taxes on whiskey. In 1829, Irish immigrants rioted against African-Americans over jobs in Cincinnati. In 1834, Irish immigrants rioted against abolitionists in New York City. In 1835, there was a riot in Baltimore over the failure of the Bank of Maryland. And in 1836, there was yet another riot against African-Americans over jobs in Cincinnati.
There have been riots over beer, rum, flour, housing and military conscription. There have been riots in Alabama, Arkansas, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. There have been riots of whites against blacks, whites against Chinese and blacks against whites. There have been riots of natives against immigrants, rich against poor and poor against rich.
It was rioting that ended child labor and the abusive practices of factory owners. It was rioting that created labor unions, giving us the 5-day, 40-hour work week. Rioting followed the closing of banks during the Great Depression. Riots began and ended prohibition. Riots ended the Vietnam War. And it was the rioting of white racists against peaceful civil rights marchers that led to African-Americans gaining the right to vote.
The fact is, Americans will find almost any excuse to riot. We riot when our favorite sports team wins a championship and we riot when it loses. College students riot during Spring Break. Shoppers riot when the doors don’t open on time for Black Friday.
Rioting is in our DNA.
So it should come as no surprise that, when communities in places like Baltimore and St. Louis have long suffered from poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunities, lack of representation and a lack judicial fairness that the people living in those communities riot. The spontaneous reaction to injustice, either real or perceived, is not the result of some character flaw in people of color. It is merely the result of being human; of being American.