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A Mom's Response To Seeing Photos From the Missouri Looting Incidents

alec vanderboom

I remember watching the TV video coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots when I was a high school student in 1992. My Dad was a Political Science Professor at the time. As a result, the 6 O'Clock New Hour was a huge nightly event in our family. I remember having stacks and stacks of VHS tapes recording boring Senate Debates next to our VCR. As his daughter, I was a News Junkie before CNN became popular and the 24 Hour News cycle gained popularity. Yet Race was a topic my Dad never talked about in our all white home. I never had even one conversation with my Dad about the LA Riots while they were going on, which was a strange anomaly in my childhood.

A few years later, I majored in American History at Smith College in liberal Massachusetts.  I remember when we studied the LA riots in History Class. I looked forward to gaining clarity from a scholarly study of this historical event. I learned so much from studying the Iran Contra Scandal and Reagan's "Ketchup Counts as a Vegetable for School Lunch" controversy as a young adult. All the confusing mosaic of emotions and facts that I gathered only piecemeal as a daughter in my Father's House, got sorted, and reinterpreted in my own heart as an adult.

The American History Professor who lectured me on the LA Riots was young, male, and without tenure. He was nervous. He spoke quickly about the facts of the LA Riots--as a side note to his main lecture. I'm fairly certain this lecture happened well before the OJ Simpson Trial in 1995. Yet Race was already a tense topic in my college. (My college either invented the term Politically Correct, or was one of the first places to adopt the philosophy).  In the class discussion that followed the lecture, there were only 3 or 4 African-Americans who spoke up. This was a strange situation since my college's small class size encourages open discussions and I'd describe the typical Smith Student as "A Woman Who Holds Extremely Strong Opinions".

I raised my hand and asked my professor a questioned directly related to our reading assignment on the LA Riots. He looked at me with fear and didn't answer. He's eyes sort of said "We are not going to talk about that today!" I was confused because this man had assigned us 45 pages of reading material on the LA Riots, why were we not going to cover that event in class today?

Then I saw the glares coming from three African American woman across the circle of desks. There's is this special "Shaming Look" that can come between 19 year old women. The message of this look is more clear than a knife fight. "Don't go there girl!" I started to blush. I became accutely aware that I was white and because of my different race I was unqualified to talk about a Race Riot.

I was young. I took that shaming message to heart. I stopping talk in that class. I stopped talking up in any class where race became an issue--unless I said the "correct opinions" which is that as a white girl, I can't possibly understand the pressure of the Black Community. I shouldn't have an opinion about Riots or Looting other than to think that Police Brutality is Wrong and People are justified in showing their anger at an oppressive white system.

That's the vantage point that I've kept while reading about the Ferguson Riots in Missouri. Police Brutality is a serious sin. It happens. It's unfair and its wrong. It's our Constitutional Duty as Americans to prevent it and punish the guilty parties. One bad cop can send ripples through our society that hurts everyone--the victim, the family, the neighborhood, the good cops who now have a harder time doing their job, and millions of Americans far from the crime scene who see an erosion of basic Civil Liberties.

If I was uncomfortable with the night time looting that went on after the legitimate protests, as I white woman, I couldn't form an opinion about it. I couldn't possibly understand what it meant to be young, black, and afraid of the police killing me without reason. The looting only underscored the pain of a minority community suffering from police brutality, it didn't distract from it. So I read articles about the police brutality incident and skipped over almost all mention of the looting incidents.

Then I saw this picture from a Washington Post photographer who actually got beaten up badly while capturing this photos.

When I saw this photograph, I reacted as a Mom. My son is nearly 10. I've got enough humility to know that despite my husband and my best parenting efforts, this picture could totally be of my son at age 18. Boys have their own trouble streak that can appear whenever adrenaline and peer pressure are involved.

Yet, It's my job as a parent to tell my kids that this is NOT acceptable behavior.

I am a stay-at-home Mom in the trenches. I teach the "Thou Shall Not Steal" Commandment a thousand times every day. I say "It's not okay to sneak the Transformer Toy into Mom's Target Shopping Cart after she says No and hope she is so distracted by your 2 year old sister in the check out line that she pays for it unknowingly."

I say "It's not okay to be careless with library books because that is similar to stealing."

I say "No, you can't take your Sister's Happy Meal Toy Away from Her without asking." "No, stealing popsicles from a Baby is easy but not cool!"

When I saw that photo of the a looter, I was instantly in Mom mode. I thought "Those 3 wine bottles do not belong to you, put them back. Pull up your pants over your underwear. Put on your shirt. Walk away from Temptation--just because a crowd of friends are doing the wrong thing doesn't mean you have to join them!" Most importantly, I thought  "This is not the right way to express anger."

My kids are real people, not plastic toys. They feel injustice acutely--probably even more than me because they are young. When faced with injustice, my kids get mad at me. They get mad at their Dad. They get mad at their siblings. One of the first things they do when faced with injustice is to physically hit someone else. The toddler is mad that someone stole his favorite truck, so he slugs his playmate. The pre-teen is mad that I said No to a movie, or too short skirt or buying a new phone, so I get "Sass." As a Mom, I'm constantly teaching "Your feelings are okay, yet your expression of them is not."

Our job as adults is to hold the line. Our job is to say "there are right ways to express your anger at injustice and there are wrong ways." Peaceful assembly is good. Looting is not. Our young adults have their own minds and their own hearts. They might not always listen to us. Yet as the adults in a society, we should be unified in some common ground rules.

This morning I read the first journalism piece in six days that talked about some protesters themselves feeling saddened by the violence and looting. "It's not serving the purpose," said James Bryant, a 31-year-old from St. Louis, as he watched a young man rummage through a mobile-phone store after smashing a glass door. "The cause was to prevent police brutality."

Jarris Williams tried unsuccessfully to keep looters from the shop. As they flowed into the liquor store, the 19-year-old bent down on one knee and began to cry as he watched the destruction and theft.
"It's not about personal gain. We wanted to make it look different," he said.
God bless the Wall Street Journal because I did not hear any viewpoint like that quoted in the Post, The Times, CNN or NBC. Until reading that article this morning, I felt alone and weird--like I did as the stupid, outspoken white girl in my college history class.

We have this beautiful prayer in the Catholic Church. We pray an ancient Jewish Psalm that asks God for a day when "Justice and peace kiss each other." That is a prayer, that I'm carrying in my heart today. Please God, let "justice and peace kiss each other in Ferguson, Missouri."