I almost actively try not to follow the details of police shootings, if for no other reason than to avoid rehashing disparate facts and hearsay that are supposed to magically justify or admonish others in a tragedy — or even to argue if a life lost IS a tragedy. I can’t stomach it. But the reality is that be it mostly factual or perceived or media-enlarged, people are not accepting the level of justice provided by the State. The riots in Baltimore are nothing new. We see all the finger-pointing and anecdotal excuses for racist accusations it provides — “an excuse for looting”, “white men don’t riot”, and so forth.

But something feels different about this. Even commentating isn’t the usual.

As far as race-baiting goes, I haven’t seen the usual suspects, such as Jesse Jackson, rear their heads opportunistically. And then we have the gangs, including ever-rival Crips and Bloods, publicly speak out against violence and looting and actually protecting citizens and businesses in their communities. Has the world turned upside down, or are our assumptions wrong about how the world really works? When even street gangs take a step back and make a stand with the people (and not even against the police), something is amiss.

On the other hand, we have moms collaring their kids off the streets, and politicians telling people to “stay home“. Ben Carson suggests

As a former resident of the city of Baltimore, it is very sad and unfortunate to see the destruction taking place by irresponsible individuals … It is vital to remember that the best way to create positive change is through peaceful conversation and policy ideas that display a commitment to resolution

Not quite Malcolm X, or even Dr. King, who both as a baseline violated and obstructed the law to affect change they did not believe would occur simply by letter-writing and voting. They didn’t stay home. Ben Carson, by suggesting this, is denying the very nature of the problem. In fact, he is part of it, propping up the increasingly questionable legitimacy of the institutions that have rarely changed on their own, if at all.

It seems to hearken back to the social upheaval of the 60s (though I don’t pretend to have first-hand experience of that). There was a place for sit-ins and marches, but by others there was a line drawn of “No Justice, No Peace.” One must wonder if change would have occurred without both.

But there’s a broader context in which to understand this. Our Founding Fathers refused authority by force they felt was necessary, and it wasn’t just after some official Declaration, but in and by communities who had enough. The Tea Party was its own sort of riot, though pre-meditated. And then there’s the Battle of Athens in 1946, where county citizens raided the armory and took into their own custody the whole local government in defiance of a political machine arguably not unlike many places in America today.

If these don’t count, maybe the main reason is because it doesn’t fit our mainstream underlying notions of who rioters are — “Black thugs”. Our subconsciously racist revulsion prevents us from seeing parallels to the past and the necessity of the present.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best, and speaks to us today:

I contend that the cry of “black power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.

Dr. King preached that such violence is “impractical and immoral”, but like some politicians more in touch with the realities of the street, they cannot omit the centrality of the true cause of it. If our government and its agencies fail us — repeatedly and without recourse or hope for timely change — we cannot expect citizens to have confidence and use the political channels of those very same institutions. We may not condone violence, but we should understand and respect why it occurs.

We can say “all cops aren’t bad” just like “all black kids with their pants hanging down aren’t thugs” but there is a sharp difference between the two groups — power. Some are worried that it might become “open season” for cops. In some communities, people feel like it’s open season on them THEIR WHOLE LIVES. If there is no accountability in law enforcement — no recourse for the individual who can’t afford the best lawyer after the fact — even the “good cops” aren’t going to be trusted, and are at risk of being targeted as the “bad guy”. Just like people don’t chose to have “White Privilege”, officers have “Blue Privilege” whether they abuse it or not. It is the powers within that must take responsibility for putting their people at risk when they “protect” them from the consequences of errors and downright evil actions. If they don’t clean house, they shouldn’t play victim when the torches and pitchforks show up. The police have a choice and ability to do the right thing. The people have no choice but to live in a community at the mercy of policy — or fight back.

This isn’t just a race issue.

Today King may have said citizen militias (instead of “Black Power”) are a reaction to power (instead of just “White Power”) refusing to make necessary changes to provide justice and protect rather than selectively dole out rights and liberties. Today, racial lines are far less drawn. More and more “White” people feel the sting of oppression and disenfranchisement, economically and politically — and very often the former because of the latter. Everyone’s children were groped by the TSA, and anyone’s teenager could be harassed (or far worse) just because of the way they dress or being in the “wrong place” or “talking back” or whatever other excuse lesser minds will find to justify such things.

I suggest another line is being drawn. There are those who are comfortable within the system and simply can’t understand why anyone should be so impatient or go outside it for change. And then there are those who do not see society as a function of government but the other way around. One believes final recourse should always be in the hands of authority; Others say it is the individual and by extension the community — the real “We the People”.

If we see government as the ultimate authority and solution for our issues, or cannot maintain a healthy distinction between government and society, then we can stay in our armchairs and wonder why the city burns. If we believe government gives power to people instead of the other way around, we’ve forgotten everything our ancestors fought and died for. We fight for scraps of rights and freedoms to fall from Uncle Sam’s table, and then support that very same system, extolling its virtues like a political Uncle Tom.

We forget who created whom and don’t even understand that a government “for, by, and of” the people is still not THE PEOPLE. We still have rights irrespective of what we allegedly, collectively agreed on, and have a right to make other contracts than the ones we were born into by virtue of long-standing bureaucracy. But America is filled with people who have hope eternal that “we” are the State and that “we” can fix themselves. Under confused notions of “democracy” we’re regressing in mentality to the time of monarchs. Regardless of how we frame it ideologically, though, the tires are hitting the pavement.

Call today’s events riots, but the unspoken word on our lips is Revolution. You can fight to clean house within or without the system, but it won’t go silently unfixed any more. From cops to street gangs, mothers, and presidential hopefuls, we all need to know what is at stake. The American Dream has been deferred for so many for so long, and it’s promises are now being broken for all Americans. The only question is the end game — will the people bring enough noise and fire to frighten the machine-men of government into sprinkling enough scraps and new promises to satisfy the masses, or will we demand a more fundamental change, not just in Baltimore, but at every level and agency of government?

I hope this doesn’t end in Baltimore, or simply move on to the next media-frenzied incident. At some point people will get this isn’t about this or that young man of Color. So long as one person is oppressed, we have not ensured the blessings of the ideals we once embarked upon over 200 years ago. I stand with all those who feel backed into the corner. And if you’re still betting on the State to fix itself in some higher road of enlightened gentility, listen to the ticks and tocks of people in the streets. Time is running out.