My Thoughts On Riots…More Heartbreak…More Damage

In wake of recent events, I think few of us have escaped the images on our screens and newspapers after the rioting broke out. No matter what your view of the Ferguson decision is, I think we can all agree that the rioting is heartbreaking. News stories like these grab the attention of even the most sheltered news consumer.

I have often been guilty of turning off the TV during times like these. To shut it out and pretend it isn’t happening. My life is easier that way. My soul, lighter. But this summer the news of persecution in Iraq threw me for a loop and I was challenged to approach difficult news differently. While I don’t write about emotionally charged topics like these often, sometimes I can’t sleep until I do. In fact, I’ve written and rewritten this post several times, searching for peace-of-mind over these events in the haven of writing. Here are my thoughts and reflections – I apologize in advance that they are a bit jumbled; this is hard to wrap my head around.

According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, “ri·ot (noun): is a situation in which a large group of people behave in a violent and uncontrolled way”

I guess if rioting had a purpose, it would be to attract attention. So, in that way, I guess the rioters in Ferguson achieved their purpose.

Attention.

However, I must say, the effectiveness of rioting goes no further. The kind of attention they have drawn does nothing for their ’cause’.

Now, I am a suburb-living, stay-at-home mom, living a generally sheltered life. So let me be CLEAR that I make ZERO claim to know whether this decision served justice or not. It is not mine to decide and I am so far removed that I would consider myself far too ignorant to pass judgement. Please don’t read into these words as me saying what was right or wrong about the incident that sparked these riots. What I am pondering here is the riot that ensued. What I know is that what has resulted from the decision is utter chaos.

And yes, rioters, we are ALL seeing this; WE SEE YOU.

But instead of making me want to understand what has transpired, and who has been hurt and why, I find myself shrinking back, and just SAD. This behavior isn’t going to change or fix anything. A riot is painful to watch; painful to ponder.

Damage being done to the physical property of residents of the community, BY other residents. And to what end? Neighbor against neighbor. Creating a greater rift between the people and those who swear to protect it. And which of those store owners who were looted were involved in the event that sparked this? On what planet did their store and livelihood deserve to be the punching bag for your unleashed anger?

Where healing is needed…an already deep wound is instead ripped open. Exposed. Infected.

Uncontrolled anger and hate is a tangled and sticky web, snatching up more as it spreads. Those whose lives were already at risk serving the people are at even greater risk of harm.  In danger, just because of their uniform as people stew in emotion.  A riot can begin from just ONE person, intent on violence. I wonder if those who began this riot were trying to express an opinion, or just to stir up trouble and cause chaos? I wonder if the decision had been different if the riot would have occurred anyway?

Whether the anger and hurt are justified or not, these actions are NOT.

I’m sure some who joined in the chaos did so because they got swept up in the moment and did what others were doing.  I’m guessing many ended up where they maybe didn’t intend to be. These hurt, frustrated, and at-the-end-of-their-rope people rioting in the streets, requiring force to be subdued to restore the peace. People finding themselves arrested. Jailed. Now a part of criminal acts against their own city. For many, a city they actually love.

Was it worth it?

As the national guard and police restore the calm…the peace is fleeting. A mask. Covering the swell of emotion, rising up, and uncontrolled. Deep rooted. Bubbling over. What has been accomplished here? Nothing. Just more damage.

The damage is much more than bruises, burned cars, and broken glass. The cost is higher than the insurance claims. Riots perpetuate despair. Afterwards, all eyes have seen the emotions, but little has been accomplished. Now those who have felt wronged are seen as wrong.  Their purpose of being seen has certainly been accomplished, but they’ve tarnished our empathy. The problem isn’t their emotions; they may have been justified in feeling hurt, angry, bitter. In fact, I have no doubt that the emotion they felt was powerful and painful and awful…it was the ACTIONS that were born out of those emotions that were not right.

Now they have taken what is already a deep-seated issue that needs miraculous healing and have made it worse. Adding to the pain. Adding to the fear. Adding to the damage. Collateral damage. There was no healing here. No pain was relieved. Instead, this historical, emotional pain leaves another physical scar.

And it breaks my heart.

Riots for this reason are not new. Perhaps you remember Cincinnati in 2001. It has happened before but we haven’t prevented more from happening. And as of now, I don’t see an easy way to prevent this from occurring again. This is not a post saying I know how to fix this. I don’t. The solution is not clear-cut. It will take WORK from all in our country, or history will repeat itself in a different city, as it has before.

So while I can’t fix this, I can do my part to step back and ponder if I can do my part to love others. If I can do my part to make sure my actions do not cause others to hurt, or to feel that lashing out is OK. On days like these, especially before a holiday when we’re supposed to gather together and express our gratefulness, we must consider how our actions affect others.

We must realize that justice is only rightly served by God. People are, well, human. Flawed. And our system is equally flawed. Regardless of the issue being decided, someone will always disagree. This is WHY we have courts to decide these things, or we’d have vigilantes deciding for us. The emotions will be strong any time a life has been lost and people have been hurt. Because we love and miss what is lost. I know the rioters are hurting. I have no words to soothe them.

When we lose what we love, why respond with hate? No matter how much it hurts, hating never brings a GOOD solution. It brings more darkness. More pain. More grief. We must THINK before we ACT. And see the long-term consequences of our actions. We must learn that emotions betray us and that they can lead us down a very dark, and destructive path. We must think about how our actions teach children, and how they will learn to either promote peace, or chaos by our actions. 

Chaos and hate are dangerous things. Adding to pain, fueling the fire where emotion has been smoldering, waiting for a chance to erupt.

There are some deep and very real issues at the root of this riot. As a society, we must acknowledge those issues and the hurt and pain associated with them. As a Christian, I know that we are the ones who need to lead the way. We are called to LOVE others by the one who CREATED love. And we are called to love with not just a ‘feeling’ but with action – With a sacrificial, laying-down-MY-rights-for-another kind of love. When so much hurt and hate has ruminated like this for so long…only love can overcome.

While I am saddened by these riots, I find myself angry. But I don’t see how my anger helps anything. I’ve written this post 4 or 5 times in the past couple days, and pretty much every word has been typed, deleted, and rewritten. As I mentioned at the beginning, it has been very difficult for me to write about this, to find words, any words, that adequately describe the mixed emotions I have been thinking and feeling. And now that it’s written, I am sure I could rewrite it again a few more times, but at some point, I need to move on. To think of happier things.

To move to action. But what action? Here are the best I can come up with for now:

First I need to set aside my own anger. While the riots do infuriate me, today I set aside my anger and say that I know I don’t understand where the rioters are coming from. Who am I to judge? I have no right to judge them. So while I do not condone the actions performed by the rioters, I also know that they are hurting. Not a surface level hurt, but a deep and profound, hurt. I won’t diminish it. They don’t know what else to do. I decide to love them and to pray for them. And I ashamedly admit that I was not ready to pray for them yesterday – I know that isn’t right. Lord, forgive me for my OWN anger. It only adds to the problem.

Today, I pray for softened hearts around the country. Hearts open for healing. Hearts willing to seek change and to lift others up when hurting, rather than lashing out and causing more harm. And I pray for the country to stand up and choose hope and love over hurt and hate.

And I pray for a mighty healing work to overcome the hate, so the next riot doesn’t happen. 

I’d love to live in a world without riots. Wouldn’t you?

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3 thoughts on “My Thoughts On Riots…More Heartbreak…More Damage

    • Good question. I honestly can’t say I HAVE a good answer…the pain experienced by many in our country is so deep rooted, complicated, and real. I can’t claim I understand it. For now, all I can do is look at my own behavior and attitudes and make sure I am loving others as much as possible. And to acknowledge that while their behavior isn’t productive, I recognize their frustration and hurt is real and not to be downplayed. Prayer is a tool with power to change MY own heart, and to be asking for larger eye opening and change in our community and country as well.

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