Date line: April, 2015.
My wife and I made a little getaway to Missouri this past February. If you’ve been there in winter, there’s a good chance you’ll understand why I often call it “the state of Misery.” Anyhow, en route from Saint Louis to Hannibal we spent time in the formerly not so well-known — but now very well-known — community of Ferguson, Missouri.
Two rounds of riots there in 2014 resulted in multiple cars and buildings being burned. Businesses were ruined. These riots were the aftershocks from (1) the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, and (2) the Saint Louis County Grand Jury’s decision to NOT indict said police officer Darren Wilson.
We found the community of just over 20,000 to be really quite delightful. Churches and grocery stores and homes of all sorts: like you’d expect anywhere else. We stopped in at the Ferguson Brewing Company, a cheery micro-brewery with a full kitchen and pub menu. There we enjoyed lunch and a beverage. The place was hopping, and the beers we selected were hoppy too. The patrons were mostly pale faced, but scattered about were ebony and ivory-skinned customers, even sitting at the same tables.
We made it a point to drive through the sections of town where buildings and been torched – destroyed by fires from the riots. Laundromats, liquor stores, auto parts stores, restaurants. Pretty much without rhyme or pattern, concentrated mostly in two different parts of the city. Actually, some destruction spilled over into nearby Dellwood, MO.
We stopped at the spot where young Mr. Brown was killed. Even in February, six months after the shooting, there was still a memorial to him there, on Canfield Drive, near Copper Creek Court.
We felt it important to spend some time there: to contemplate the location and its significance. It’s only a few blocks from the Ferguson Market, on Florrisant Avenue.
[What city has TWO major streets near each other with the same name? In this case “Florrisant.” Oh yeah, Atlanta. Almost every other street is named
The Ferguson Market is where the petty theft – and physical abuse of a 120-lb weakling store clerk by 290-pound Mr. Brown – occurred that resulted in Officer Wilson locking onto a young man of Mr. Brown’s description. That theft occurred about 10 minutes before their most unfortunate fateful rendezvous.
This was all brought freshly to mind for me a few weeks ago during the NCAA basketball tournament. March Madness.
Right. The College basketball national championship tournament. Why? Because white people riot too, and for really, really stupid reasons. Over and over again.
Kentucky was the odds-on favorite to win the championship. Basketball is religion in Kentucky. The Lexington-based school has won 8 National championship titles, including as recently as 2012. They’ve been runner up twice, including 2013, and National semi-finalists, an additional four times, to my counting at least, including 2011.
That’s a pretty impressive record, given that there are, oh, I don’t know, something like 400 colleges and university basketball teams competing at the Division-I level.
But this year they lost to Wisconsin in the National semi-final match. Which means if there are 400 schools, their basketball team is better than 398 of them. So what did their fans in Lexington, Kentucky do after the semi-final match? They rioted. Burned cars. Trashed buildings. Barricaded the streets. Fought Police.
Really? — Really.
And this is nothing new. Last year, 2014, Kentucky made it all the way to the National Championship game and lost to Connecticut. Guess what?
The fans in Lexington rioted.
In 2012 Kentucky made it to the National semi-final. That time they defeated in-state super-hated arch-rival Louisville. Kentucky won the game. Win? They won? Yes, they won.
The fans in Lexington rioted.
Two nights later Kentucky was in the National championship match and won, defeating Kansas. This time another win!! A National Championship. Oh the glory.
The fans in Lexington rioted.
Back in 2011 Kentucky was defeated in the National semi-final by Connecticut (a bit of a nemesis) …
Yes, you guessed it …
The fans in Lexington rioted.
You know. Just the basic stuff. Burn cars. Tear down light posts. Throw rocks at police. Vandalize buildings. Mug passers-by.
You’d think the police and city fathers in Lexington would be a bit wise to the whole thing by now.
What is weird is that the fans are mostly well-lubricated white people rioting because the mostly black student athletes performed so well that their expectations were that they would win a Nation championship … or else. Or else what? We’ll riot either way.
In 2013 Kentucky’s record was not good enough to even get into the championship tournament (a fate that befalls the vast majority of teams). So, Kentucky pretty much sucked that year … at least by Kentucky standards. Guess what? NO RIOTS! Go figure.
White people rioting for stupid reasons (or no reason) is nothing new. Even in my current “home” metro area – Denver, CO – fans rioted when the Colorado Avalanche won the NHL’s (National Hockey League) Stanley Cup in 1996. Sure this was the first major championship in Colorado. That warrants a riot. (#sarcasm).
The next year the football Broncos won the Super Bowl. No riot. But then they won their second straight Super Bowl, 1998, … more riots. Really? Yeah. Let’s get really pissed and burn some sh*t. No riots when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup again in 2001. A whiff of sanity.
They don’t riot for no reason in Milwaukee. Or in the whole state of Wisconsin.
I do remember the summer riots of 1967: Barricades in the street. Our humble suburb blocked off at the municipal city limits. Restrictions on gasoline sales: it had to go right into auto tanks; not into portable tanks. People who wanted to mow their lawn (pre-electric mowers) had to bring the grass-cutter right to the gas station.
It was a time of tremendous social unrest – upheaval – and Milwaukee was not spared. Those ’67 riots were not senseless or without reason. They were tied in with the civil rights movement, disappointment with lack of progress from the ’64 Civil Rights Acts, and the move toward freedom of expression, and of course the anti-war movements of the ‘60s. There were a shocking 159 riots in the United States in 1967. One Hundred and Fifty-nine. Mostly race related, they broke out in LA, Cleveland, Minneapolis, everywhere it seemed. The most violent were Detroit and Newark. Too vivid. Too vivid. I remember this gruesome Life Magazine photo from the Newark riots. Burned into my RAM.
The causes, racial participants, locations and provocateurs of these riots were far ranging. From Encyclopedia.com:
“… the year 1967 ended with a final act of violence in late October, when antiwar protesters from around the country moved on Washington, D.C. Those who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on 21 October were largely white, largely middle class, largely educated, and formerly mainstream in their politics. But, when U.S. Army units met them with fixed bayonets, they took to the streets of the capital in an out-break of destructive rioting and constructive confrontation, and 650 were arrested.”
Fixed bayonets for those expressing freedom to assemble? Freedom of expression? Hell yeah, riot. We don’t turn the military on the public in the US. Riots!
Still, I don’t think that places like Wisconsin or Minneapolis have experienced totally pointless riots, like Lexington. And Denver. Maybe I’m wrong. But I doubt it.
I’ll get in trouble for this, but I can’t help but wonder if this behavior doesn’t carry some sort of genetic pass-me-down from each area’s ancestral settlers.
Wisconsin was mostly settled by the “quiet disciplined” sort. Mostly Germans. Many Poles and Norwegians. Some English, with their stiff upper lips. Work hard. Don’t make a fuss. Stick to your own business and do it well. Get it done and move quietly along to the next thing. “Don’t rock the boat” type of settlers.
Early Irish and Scottish immigrants to the New World were largely unwelcomed by the English and moved west, settling in the rugged Shenandoah and Appalachian Mountains. When the Cumberland Gap popped open they began moving into the territory that would become the states of Kentucky and Tennessee.
I’m not calling the Scots and Irish “rioters” (in fact, I love them, their culture and sense of humor), but they probably don’t have a reputation for spontaneously breaking into (a) drink, (b) song, (c) dance, and (d) fight for no reason. Germans, Poles, Norwegians … they just don’t do that. Ok, maybe they do the drinking part. ☺
Before I get in any more trouble, I’ll close with saying that Wisconsin lost in this year’s (2015) NCAA championship match to Duke University – after defeating Kentucky in the semi-finals. I’ll admit to being partial, but there were many questionable calls during the second half. It seemed that every 50/50 out-of-bounds ball was awarded to Duke, and Wisconsin frequently fouled Duke players with their chins, foreheads and eye-brows.
Nevertheless: There were no riots.
Wisconsin fans did not riot when they beat Kentucky in the semi-final, nor when they lost to Duke in the final.
For emphasis: Last year, 2014, Wisconsin made it all the way to the semi-finals, losing to Kentucky (by one point!, 74-73).
There were no riots.
Meanwhile, in late 2014, while overwhelmingly mostly peaceful riots were going on around the entire country in sympathy with the mostly peaceful protests in Ferguson, something weird was going on in Keene, New Hampshire. Keene State College – mostly white, upper class privileged kids – had their annual Pumpkin Festival.
Yes. You guessed it. … Riots broke out.
Drunken brawls. Random fires and mayhem. Burned and overturned cars. Vandalized buildings.
The media are deluding us.
Well, New Hampshire is the “Live Free, or Die” state. Love the motto. Hate the riots.
Wishing you peaceful, riot-free and headache-free spring, summer and fall.
Joe Girard © 2015
 Encyclopedia.com: 1967 Riots. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401803621.html