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by Peter Moskos

April 30, 2015

The scale of the riots

In certain circles (like my circles) it's popular to post things about how when whites riot (and they do) we call it frat boys having a good time. Now whites frat boys riot over stupid shit, like their sport's team winning, or their sport's team losing. And don't get me wrong, I'm not down with frat boy culture.

I think these situations are very different. But I don't buy the violence against oppression argument either. First let me just say I find white frat boys so completely idiotic because of their drunk stupidity without a cause. It's a party. And a lame party of that.

In Baltimore's case, there are real reasons for being pissed off. But that has nothing to do with burning down a senior center or cutting a fire house. You're allowed to be pissed off. You're not allowed to be violent. And if you can't be the former without doing the latter, then you're a child. This has nothing do to with protests. Looting is also a party. A destructive party. But it's actually a decent party.

The difference between college riots and Baltimore's riot is the scale and magnitude of violence. And this may reflect the culture of the rioters. Frat boys: a little violent, very drunk, college educated, very stupid, disrespectful, often come from good families, don't generally kill each other. Ghetto boys: more violent, less drunk, high-school drop outs, less stupid, disrespectful, often come from horribly dysfunctional families, and they too often do kill each other.

To say we're only making a big deal out of this because of race is absurd. People need perspective. They also need to understand the scale of destruction here. Any one of these incidents would have been news in a college paper (and probably not much else). A bonfire and a tipped car and broken store are not good. But it is what it is. It destroys neither the college nor the downtown.

This was different. And it bothers me how quickly people are willing to take fact and rumor and whatever else they want from Baltimore when they have no idea what really happened in Baltimore.

The Baltimore Sun has a nice little interactive map on the violence (similar to their great map of city homicide).


Doug McGinnis said...

Agreed. Still, as I was saying in the other thread, I think it's useful to keep that in mind if for no other reason than to notice how we talk about each group of people, especially in the media. But yeah, it's something different. The business at UCLA I described, for example, was limited to a couple blocks around Landfair Avenue if I'm recalling that correctly. And even the larger scale examples like the one in Vancouver following the Stanley Cup don't quite lasted exactly one night. They're definitely different beasts.

Thos Wallace said...

Agree with Doug.

I didn't realize that this observation was so popular in academic circles.. I have made a comment about the weather and how it brings out rebellion. But more as a casual observation.

I also realize that you are using the term, 'Frat Boy' to characterize a social group rather than literally members of Fraternities. It is open season on them. Exhibit 1 being the University of Virginia. A popular comment regarding the fraudulent gang rape accusation, was that even if it didn't happen, it COULD have happened and besides that, there is a pervasive rape vulture among all male college age students. All this one month after a brutal rape murder of a UVA female student by someone that wasn't a student.

Along with the belief that it 'could have happened', so why sweat the details. And these college boys are 'privileged' means it can't really cause any damage.

The reason this isn't totally off topic is that if anyone should be concerned about evidence, empiricism, attention to detail, etc it should be academics. Fortunately the social scientists that do ethnology and participant observer research can't help but being grounded in reality . and usually very focused on reality. Otherwise they could just become Continental social theorists and chat about liminality. Instead of going to Madagascar or New Guinea. Or the Baltimore Police Force. Can a grad student do some participant / observer study of campus rape culture?

But frats and rape culture are across the damn street!.

I have a theory that the less someone knows about a complex area of human behavior or social institutions , the more confident they are in their own opinions. A big part of your coverage of this is an attempt to inject some reality into media driven simplifications.

Anyone that sees fit to even watch television knows that this is serious business and not remotely equivalent to anything that happens on US campuses. And since the subject of honestly taking about race in the US is taboo, this erodes any possibility of broadening the appeal of social justice oriented policies.

I have written briefly, back when it was front page news, that certain nobel prize economists know less about banking than the most junior loan officer at your local branch bank. And does anyone not know that income taxes are only paid when you (or a corporation) has earnings . like above zero earnings? Maybe when they are throwing around numbers like a trillion that, from a common sense perspective it is effectively a zillion and facts don't matter.

Peter Moskos said...

I love this line:

"The less someone knows about a complex area of human behavior or social institutions, the more confident they are in their own opinions."

IrishPirate aint gonna riot without a sweater said...

and I love stories about Carl Sandberg reporting on the 1919 Chicago race riots.........pre riots.


Post one of the Blackhawks more recent Stanley Cup wins your frat boy types broke some windows and did some minor looting at some stores in Chicago's Lincoln Park and Lakeview hoods. Probably turned over some cars, called each other "bragh", and did some other stupid shit too. That being said it was done and over in a few hours.

They're so drunk they can't keep it up for long and as the crowds dissipate the likelihood of arrest goes up. Plus it's generally cool or cold at night. Can't riot long term if it's chilly and your sweater is at home.

Now in upscale hoods the windows get replaced and the stores are back in operation in a day or two. In Baltimore maybe the CVS rebuilds because of pressure put on the corporation, but the smaller stores which are few in number anyway, are not likely to reopen.

What really annoys me is a subset of the protesters who are at the solidarity with Baltimore rallies across the nation. Some of them are actively hoping for shit to go off. From the Chicago twitterverse many such idiots are of the white and grew up in nice neighborhoods variety.

Anonymous said...

Daily Bruin account of the 2006 "riot"


Doug McGinnis said...

I never called it a riot.

Noumenon said...

"The less someone knows about a complex area of human behavior or social institutions, the more confident they are in their own opinions."

Promptly followed by "I and indeed any junior loan officer know more about the economy than Nobel Prize winners." Thanks for the illustration, now I know what you mean. lol

Alex Elkins said...

I think the fear and concern among many of my academic colleagues is that emphasizing the criminality of rioters nourishes a longstanding politics of racial reaction at the expense of social policies that would alleviate some of the conditions that the rioters and their apologists, to use Peter’s term, are responding to. That said, I share the discomfort expressed here with privileged white people cheering on underclass revolt safely removed from the consequences. I haven’t seen too much of that, however. I see more compassion than excuse-making.
For Peter, and others here, I wonder what your ideal response would be. Is it more a question of emphasis? Of where this conversation begins? Do we get off to the wrong start, in your view, when we start to explain the riots with a lecture on segregation or police brutality? I ask because I think at least Peter ends up in a similar place as many lefty academics: pro-public investment in cities, anti-drug war, pro-punishment for bad cops.
I worry, however, that a “ghetto” explanation will directly undermine those aims and lead to more police crackdowns and militarization, etc. I’m less worried that some armchair revolutionary will somehow deplete public empathy for the police. My guess is that far more Americans are willing to give the police the benefit of the doubt.

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