04/30/2015 08:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Anatomy of a Riot



Why do babies cry? Why do toddlers suddenly go limp and throw themselves onto the shiny white floor of the soap aisle in Target? Why do drunk men fight at bars?

Why do oppressed young men riot?

The inability to communicate breeds frustration and anger. I know this firsthand as I watched my mountain of an ex-cop grandfather struggle for years after suffering a stroke a couple of years after retiring from the force. His ability to speak had deteriorated to such a point that he would routinely throw a fit in frustration over family members not understanding what he was saying. It was hard to see, but we understood his anger.

This is why the baby cries. This is why the four-year-old screams for seemingly no real or valid reason. This is why young men -- white, black, or brown -- riot. Because for whatever reason, their ability to verbalize is clouded behind the thick walls of failed government and social policies.

It is why calling them "thugs," as CNN's Erin Burnett wanted to do, is inaccurate.

What would be accurate is to suggest that the "thugs" are those who have been in charge of the city of Baltimore for the past four decades, who by all accounts, haven't done a thing to improve their city since the riots of '68 happened following the death of Martin Luther King Jr. The aftermath of those riots is still seen by the abandoned buildings and burned out businesses that still litter the city.

Burning cars and looting businesses is just a method built out of convenience. Rioters will use whatever is near for them to use, as was the case in Keene, NH last year when college kids (mainly white suburban kids) used pumpkins and beer cans to hurl at police during the town's Great Pumpkin Festival. They, too, overturned and set cars on fire.

Many thought Paul Revere was a thug. Yes, that Paul Revere. The man who warned us that the British were coming was a constant thorn in Britain's side. He was also a rebel and hung out with "the wrong crowd" (even by 18th century standards). He was a thief, and by all accounts, yes, a thug. Had the Boston Massacre taken place 200 years later, we'd have seen cars burned, a CVS looted, and a motorcycle gang popping wheelies in and out of a euphoric group of protesters. Among the canisters of tear gas and burning gasoline, we'd probably see Paul Revere.

Let us not focus on how we riot, but why we riot.

Why do we riot?


Chris Peak is a freelance writer from Boston. He blogs at Huffington Post, and has contributed to Gawker, GOOD Magazine, Deadspin, and Point Magazine. 

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AP Photo/David Goldman