CNN Commentator Marc Lamont Hill argued that while “I’m not saying we should be hurting people, I’m not saying we should be killing people,” “we do have to understand that resistance looks different ways to different people” “the city is not burning because of protesters. The city is burning because the police killed Freddie Gray” during CNN’s coverage of the riots in Baltimore on Monday.
Hill said, “there shouldn’t be calm tonight. Black people are dying, have been dying in the streets for months, years, decades, centuries. I think there can be resistance to oppression. And when resistance occurs, you can’t circumscribe resistance. You can’t schedule a planned resistance. You can’t tell people where to die in, where to resist, how to resist, and how to protest. Now, I do think that there should be an ethics attached to this. But we have to watch our own ethics and be careful not to get more upset about the destruction of property than the destruction of black bodies, and that seems to me to be what’s happening over the last few hours, and that’s very troublesome. We also, I think, have to be very careful about the language that we use to talk about this. I’m not calling these people rioters. I’m calling these uprisings, and I think it’s an important distinction to make. This is not a riot, there have been uprisings in major cities and smaller cities around this country for the last year because of the state violence that’s been waged against black female and male bodies forever. And I think that’s what it’s important, here. I agree with you, Don, we can’t ignore the fact that the city’s burning, but we need to be talking about why it’s burning, and not romanticize peace, and not romanticize marching as the only way to function. I’m not saying we should be hurting people, I’m not saying we should be killing people, but we do have to understand that resistance looks different ways to different people. And part of what it means to say ‘black lives matter,’ is to assert our right to have rage, and righteous rage, and righteous indignation in the face of state violence and extrajudicial killing. Freddie Gray is dead. That’s why the city is burning, and let’s make that clear, the city is not burning because of protesters. The city is burning because the police killed Freddie Gray.”
Fellow commentator Van Jones took a slightly different position, stating, “I would say that we can take a moral position. and say that there’s some kinds of protests that are effective and some kinds that are less effective. There are some that are more desired and some that are not desired. I think it’s important for us to say, ‘I don’t think that property destruction in poor communities that are trying to come back, is a valid form of protest’…we should be trying to show some moral leadership and saying, I keep hearing ‘riots are the language of the unheard.’ The reality is, in this situation, the voices, at least about police brutality, have been heard. Certainly, CNN and other news agencies have been giving space to these voices.” And “yes, it is true Dr. King said, riots are the language of the unheard. It is, in fact, true, and important that people recognize that the conditions in Baltimore for black teens, according to one study, are worse than conditions for teens in Nigeria. So, the outrage should be, of course, about the incredible injustice, both from the police, but also the economic deprivation. And I want to have that conversation, but I do want to be able to draw a line to say that the righteous outrage — we can take a moral position, as a part of this movement. Black lives matter, but you know what black jobs matter, and black businesses matter, and black neighborhoods matter. And I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to give any kind of suggestion that the destruction of black communities is a positive or can be positive in this context.”
Hill responded, “I’m not saying we should see the destruction of black communities as positive. I’m saying that we can’t have such a narrow — too narrow a conception of what the destruction of black communities mean, and it seems to me, that we exhaust all of our moral outrage tonight and not the 364 days before tonight.”
He added, “we can’t pathologize people who after decades and centuries of police terrorism have decided to respond in this way. And when we use the language of thugs, when we use the language of riots, we make it seems as if it’s this morally haphazard, pathological, illogical, dysfunctional, counterproductive practice.”
New York Times columnist Charles Blow argued that he doesn’t think everyone is working toward the same ends, and people who want to be violent shouldn’t be conflated with people who want to do good.
After the discussion, Hill tweeted that “resistance doesn’t mean ‘anything goes.'”
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t space for moral and ethical boundaries. Resistance doesn’t mean “anything goes.”
— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) April 28, 2015
Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett