I’m tired of people sharing pictures of folks in Ferguson who are stopping looting.

While I understand the impulse, attempting to show that there are a multiplicity of responses to the verdict and that not everyone feels the same about property destruction, it also seems to repeat the criminalizing of folks who do loot and suggest a certain respectable propriety as what the “good” protestors are doing.

This continues a similar delegitimizing of property destruction and looting that the mainstream media panders in. But property destruction and looting are not senseless. They’re not dumb. They’re a response. An uncomfortable response for a society who thinks private property is an extension of our bodies.

But given that those who are descendents of people who were property, those dispossessed who through policing are made out to be property for the state, it would seem in the looting and property destruction is a critique of private property as the invention that produces public property, which is black flesh. And this production of public property as blackness is the production of its profitability as its expendability. Darren Wilson received 500k in support of his defense of this division of property, paid leave, a marriage celebration, and a public interview to top it off.

Is it any surprise, then, that so many public services, schools, healthcare, WIC, etc., have been made synonymous with black people and thus able to be hollowed out, evacuated, defunded, disregarded? This is precisely how poor black flesh is treated by the state.

Until we can come to terms with the fact that our faith in capitalist divisions of property, labor, and flesh, is faith in what keeps black lives expendable we will continue reading these disruptions to property as senseless. But perhaps these property destroyers are something akin to Jesus entering the temple and overturning the moneychangers tables, proclaiming “my house shall be called a house of prayer, but you’ve turned it into a den of thieves.” We all know that Ferguson’s/STL/The Nation’s political officials are nothing if not a den of thieves.

Why, then, do we keep talking down to and trying to distance ourselves from folks who know where the thieving is going on and point it out? And turn tables? And try to herd the robbers out of the sacred spaces of their homes?

If nonviolence as a strategy is only able to recognize property destruction as an act of violence it has already given it’s language over to a logic it claims to oppose, and doing so has repeated the cut that takes its legs, the dispossessed and despised, out from under it.

13 thoughts

  1. This is an interesting and thought provoking post.

    I don’t think property destruction is senseless and the gospels tell with approval Jesus’ actions in the temple, the destruction of the fig tree (a symbol of dead religion), and the drowning of the 5000 pigs (a symbol of Imperial military violence).

    I think that in times like this, the people of God need to actively support those on the streets protesting and to strongly oppose property destruction as a counterproductive strategy which simply plays into the narrative of “we need police brutality to protect us from these violent mobs”. MLK and Malcolm X explained this well.

    Pretty much all popular resistance to oppression goes thru a stage of violence (the young Moses, the early trade unions etc), but bitter street experience and spiritual growth has taught us that this is not an effective or morally valid response; for that we need to build a non-violent mass movement for social justice.

    The Real violence here is the shooting of people, theologically speaking, property destruction is not, properly sparking, violence. People, made in the image of God, are always more important than property.

    God bless

  2. “But perhaps these property destroyers are something akin to Jesus entering the temple and overturning the moneychangers tables ” Tables can be put upright and livestock can be recollected. How does one repair a building out of ashes after it has been burned down?

      1. And who pays the wages of the workers in those businesses in the time it takes to rebuild? Or do you imagine a pizza architect is equally good at construction?

  3. I hear this and I agree to some extent that sharing these images can be playing respectability politics. I also think that some of the image sharing of the diverse responses are not meant to show a judgment of good vs. bad or moral vs. immoral as far as the responses themselves, but to show that the media coverage, the narrative by which much of the world is experiencing the responses, is not objective, comprehensive, fair, balanced, but telling a very particular story. It’s meant to be an indictment of the media and capitalism in the media.

  4. I too despise the sacralization of private property and don’t think one can commit violence against inanimate objects. The problem with property destruction is that one must be selective, otherwise everyday working class folks are harmed economically.

  5. Jesus went against those who were doing the sin. On the other hand, the rioters in Ferguson are indiscriminate and in many cases are hurting minorities and minority owned businesses. Do you still wish to make this analogy?

  6. What I find somewhat difficult to comprehend is that the focus on the property damage clearly ‘prioritizes’ a certain narrative arc. I wonder what would happen if they should various images of police ‘brutality’ as a way to ‘contextualize’ the actions of the community. I think part of the problem has been a consciously cultivated ‘disconnect’ between the rage expressed and the lived and existential reality of those involved in these communities.

    1. ” focus on the property damage clearly ‘prioritizes’ a certain narrative arc. I wonder what would happen if they showed various images of police ‘brutality’ as a way to ‘contextualize’ the actions of the community”

      Totally agree with you!

  7. With all due respect, to liken Ferguson riots and looting to Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers is ludicrous. Jesus was angry at religious leadership of the day for turning the Temple into a “house of merchandise”. He wasn’t “looting” the temple to protest treatment of the Jewish people.

    To the contrary, he taught to “turn the other cheek” and “do good to those who despitefully use you”. I can’t find anyplace where He taught “if you are despitefully used, destroy the property of random, innocent citizens just so people pay more attention to you”.

    Furthermore, I read where He rebuked Peter in the garden after the disciple hacked-off a man’s ear in his violent rage.

    Likening Ferguson violence to Jesus in the temple is taking scripture out of context and twisting it to try to make a point. It would be the same as saying that when Jesus turned the water into wine, He was teaching us we shouldn’t drink water. Respectfully, it doesn’t make sense.

  8. Yes, the media uses this as a way to question the legitimacy of the protests. From informal conversations I have heard it, unfortunately seems to be working. It seems to be giving white liberals an excuse for going on to other things. Actually the best description of liberals is still afforded by the (now) old song, Love Me I’m a Liberal

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