by Gabriel Valdez
Protestors setting their community alight in acts of brazen defiance? I’m so glad people are supportive of these acts of frustrated protest. That such civil disobedience can raise $121 million in our country over a weekend is remarkable. Truly, we understand our long history of protest against a justice system established to find the poor and downtrodden guilty of being poor and downtrodden, that ghettoizes minorities, and reports on those less fortunate as if they were animals.
Those successful riots and acts of defiance were in The Hunger Games, though. Why do we find those acts compelling on a movie screen and, days later, turn around and condemn them in Ferguson, Missouri?
We just had our hearts moved by the struggle of a people who feel oppressed and must violently rebel. We saw the sacrifices they had to make in order to do so, sacrifices that most of us have never had to face and might not be willing to make. We just saw it in a movie, now it’s happening in real life, and we have the gall as a people to feel more empathy for the characters who are made up with names like Katniss and Peeta?
We look on in horror at buildings burning, at tear gas in the streets, at injured being loaded into cars and rushed to the hospital. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I don’t want anyone’s livelihood to be ruined. Yet in many ways I am thankful this is happening. I was worried this would fizzle out, that people would shrug and go back home and there would be protests but they would have lost their heart. Instead, people who were willing to risk life and limb in order to display their frustration with a broken justice system forced this conversation to be front and center. Today, we cannot ignore it.
They did it using the very tools we so often cheer on screen. Why can’t we cheer them the same way here?
When any of us don’t get what we feel we deserve in our lives, sometimes we get angry. On a city-wide (or nation-wide) scale, when what you want is justice, equal treatment, and a fair trial according to the rule of our land, getting angry is going to mean fires and rocks and lord knows what else. But you know what? Every ethnicity – Irish, Germans, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, African-Americans, every single ethnicity – has had to get monumentally angry at some point in our history in order to get heard. To say your ethnicity’s moment of anger was somehow more warranted than this one doesn’t leave the door open behind you.
When the system so clearly breaks, moments of such widespread anger are the only thing capable of causing change over time. To pretend as if the residents of Ferguson are doing anything different than what every race has a long history of doing in the United States is, to put it quite simply, insanely racist.
Is Ferguson’s reaction too violent? Is it too destructive? You know what? I’m not going through what they’re going through. I am not qualified to be their judge. If you’re sitting at home, watching news anchors call them traitors or field reporters trespass to shove cameras in the faces of those suffering, then chances are you are not qualified to be their judges either. Whether they intend to or not, Ferguson burned down their city last night for so many other cities that face the same struggle. That their city burned down last night means other cities might not. If we cheer their cause. If we pay attention.
You want to be exactly like your heroes on screen, like Katniss and Peeta and Luke and Han and Leia and Maleficent and Captain America? You cheer on this cause. You don’t avert your eyes. You witness it. You let it burn into you so that you remember how damaging and painful injustice is. This moment can be a memory that changes something, that makes all that pain worth it. Or it can be a moment that happens again and again and again.
There is no difference between what happens on-screen in a movie and what happens in real life, except this: You can change what happens in real life. You can be the hero. All a hero is made of is the willingness to help. Don’t waste this opportunity to make your voice known. Don’t waste this opportunity to stand up for people who are suffering. A city burned. How much pain do you have to feel to burn your city? Do something about that pain. Be brave, make mistakes, but do something about that pain.