When white people riot — the perception is different

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(CNN) — When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they’re thought of as a “mob.”

But when white people got up in arms at the Pumpkin Festival in Keene, New Hampshire, a few weeks ago — for apparently no reason whatsoever — they were merely accused of “disruptive behavior.”

The two situations — protests in Ferguson and drunken violence in Keene — are not equivalent. However, it’s revealing how the two groups are perceived differently by society and and the media. How is it that the bad behavior of some black people is used to condemn an entire community, while the bad behavior of some white kids is excused and explained away? Maybe this is why residents of Ferguson protested in the first place.

A grand jury will decide any day now whether to indict a police officer, Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, this past August. In anticipation of possible violence, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has preemptively declared a state of emergency. It will last for 30 days unless Nixon extends it.

Nixon is taking the precaution in light of the mass protests this summer over how the investigation into the shooting was being handled. The protests were largely peaceful, but there were some looters and other troublemakers. The police were widely criticized for their over-the-top militaristic response, including riot cops in tanks with automatic rifles pointed at the protesters.

Police aggression made the protests worse. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, who was on the scene, tweeted, “This has been the consistent pattern. Unilateral police escalation prompts minor response from more volatile elements, justifying crackdown.”

Still, most protesters maintain an iron-clad commitment to nonviolence, which the New York Times noted in a detailed report.

Yet, many on social media and some in the mainstream media continue to use the isolated actions of a small number of bad protesters to smear the entire community. The smears often carry a subtle, racially tinted message. “Stunning Photos From Violent Protests in Ferguson, Mo.” read a headline on the conservative Daily Caller website, adding “Is This America?” “Ferguson Thugs Harass, Verbally Abuse Police Officers,” read a headline on the conservative website RightScoop. “We know now that thugs are thugs,” conservative radio host Laura Ingraham offered on Fox News.

Now, let’s turn to white protesters: In mid-October, during the annual Pumpkin Festival in the small New England town of Keene, New Hampshire, some white college kids apparently had too much to drink and turned violent. They were hurling broken glass and rocks at police (as well as, apparently, pumpkins). At least a dozen people were arrested and 30 injured, with 20 taken to area hospitals. The troublemakers seemed to revel in the chaos and damage they caused, with one telling a local newspaper, “It’s just like a rush. You’re revolting from the cops. It’s a blast to do things that you’re not supposed to do.”

“It demeans Ferguson and St. Louis to compare them to Pumpkin Fest,” Professor Donna Murch of Rutgers University told CNN. Which is true — and makes the contrast between how society perceives black and white behavior all the more striking.

The protesters in Ferguson were airing legitimate grievances through mostly peaceful means and yet were denigrated, while the rioters in Keene were merely part of a party that “spun out of control” — never mind that those in Keene were reportedly drunk and dangerous and disproportionately violent.

The discrepancy is so jarring that none other than Twitchy, the notoriously lock-jawed right wing website, while managing to contort the incident to bash the supposedly liberal media, agreed, “Critics of the media do have a valid point. There probably are a lot of reasons for the difference in coverage, racial bias among them.”

Just days after the Pumpkin Fest, riots erupted in the largely white town of Morgantown, West Virginia. Why? Because West Virginia University’s team beat Baylor at football. The rioters “lit fires, pushed over street lights and threw rocks, beer bottles and other items at police,” reported the local news. Police and fire vehicles were damaged. Eight people were arrested.

Were the riot police, the National Guard, or a state of emergency declared? No. the city is just considering a law to ban upholstered furniture from outdoor areas, since the “tradition” of setting fire to couches apparently fueled the protests.

Could you imagine a news story about a black community with a “tradition” of burning couches? The media would be pointing out how they’re “destroying their own community” and the right would make assertions about black people not deserving public assistance.

And there’s more. Earlier this year, students at the University of Minnesota rioted after their team lost the hockey championship. In 2013, Michigan State students rioted after their team won the Big Ten. The same year football fans at the State University of New York in Cortland rioted even before the game started. And in 2011, after the University of Connecticut won the national basketball championship, students rioted in the streets.

These occurred in places with mostly white people. In these instance there were injuries, property damage and arrests. Why aren’t we talking about the epidemic of sports-induced violence among white people? Why aren’t we calling on state and federal agencies to crack down on their clearly destructive lifestyles?

We don’t yet know what the grand jury in Ferguson will decide and how the community will respond. But residents want a public trial with transparency and accountability. If the grand jury decides not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, protests can be expected. When that happens, let’s think about the real pain that residents of Ferguson feel.

And if there’s any violence from a few angry demonstrators, let’s keep things in perspective considering the marauding bands of rowdy white football fans and rioting Pumpkin kids.

This is a commentary by Sally Kohn /CNN Political Commentator

Editor’s note: Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn


  • San Fernando Curt

    But… Nobody called the Pumpkin Riot a civil rights moment, as they did the trumped-up Ferguson version.

      • Pam


      • Manalishi

        Pam, i seem to have trouble deciphering through you caps lock. Did Sammy’s daddy rent you or yo mama or both, and /or did have do a credit check? Or was that a rent-to-own thing too?

  • Robbie

    Sally is an idiot! Did the white, drunk animals burn down buildings? Loot stores in protest to the carving of a pumpkin? Did white leaders tell the crowd that they should burn black neighborhoods down or destroy their pumpkins. Did the whites pull an innocent truck driver out of his truck and slam a rock into his head and then celebrate? Again, sally is an idiot!

    • White Drunk Punks

      You are the phucking idiot. White people always complaing about what what the hell black people doing. You see the part where Sally explained all the shyt these whities did. Burning couches,?,? What the phuck for???? Don’t get mad lol!!! Drunk a $$ whities

  • winston hancock

    point of the article, idiots come in all colors, how we perceive them depends on what color they are, make of that what you will

    • angel2

      Yes, WInston – thank you for pointing out what the article was about. Very few posters on here stick to the subject matter. All I can say is, discrimination (sp?) perpetuates discrimination (and leads to other issues…which lead back to discrimination).

  • manlishi

    This article is designed to mitigate a potential problem started by the same substandards that promoted the tolerance that brought us here. Democrats are useless at best.

    • White Drunk Punks

      This article is racist lol??? Yall white bytches kill me when it comes to what the phuck Yall dumb a $$es doing wrong. You always try to justify by saying they mentally ill, depressed, no father around. A bunch of bull shyt. Yall mother phuckers just stupid as hell. Lol

      • Jake Eagleshield

        You might get your point across better,if 1)you learned to speak English,and 2) you can do it without cursing. It does not take any intelligence to drop an f bomb every third word. I only shows how stupid you are.
        I do not intend to get into a war of words with yu. First,you are not worth the effort,second I would be accused of attacking someone who is unarmed. You can’t have a battle of wits with someone who is only half equipped.

  • Doyle Hargraves

    Whites only riot on the weekend, and only for real causes like weed, global warming, and no show bands, then it is back to work at the cubicle…can’t say the same for the Ferguson protestors.

  • Sammy

    Didn’t see any race pimps at the pumpkin fest. You mean Eric Holder didn’t show up with 50 FBI agents to help the drunks?? What will Trevon or the Brown parents think about this injustice??

  • David J

    Let’s no forget all the ritous white people at the Occupy Wall Street campouts all over the country, or those peace loving black folks in Chicago at that free concert in the city park this past summer. There are dozens of examples that can go both ways if you just keep an open mind and include them all. Neither race is better than the other when it comes to their perceived injustices.

  • Lisa

    I thought the pumpkin incident was a disgrace and all involved should be ashamed and severely punished!

    The Ferguson protesting is just as disturbing because people are rallying behind an alleged strong-armed robber who attacked a police officer. The protesters in Ferguson are a mix of white and black.

    Both indents seem to be indications of cultural collapse!

  • Mark

    What is so sad is that the facts haven’t come out and he is guilty according to many. Guaranteed that if the deceased was Caucasian regardless of officer’s color there wouldn’t be one word said. Racism has no color. Its inside of you and its so unhealthy. Im a Caucasian male and believe that if a crime ocurred then prosecute to the full extent of the law and if it was justified then pray for Ferguson.

  • azubatov

    The simple reality is that most people are more concerned about an angry protest by whatever race, whether it’s Ferguson (primarily black) or Occupy Wall Street (primarily white and non-violent) than they are about drunken idiots. The reason has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with the fact that angry protests pose the threat of more wide-scale unrest and a larger rebellion, while drunken idiots will dissipate as soon as they get tired and/or sober. But, of course, media outlets know they can get more airplay if they invent a race angle and start race-baiting. Hence, this story.

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