Rioting for fun and profit

One of the best sociology books ever written was a wonderfully insightful text written by the late Edward Banfield, which deeply explored the issues of dealing with crime and problems in the inner city. The Unheavenly City Revisited was written in 1974 and one of the deep issues the nation was facing and had faced was a variety of rioting in the preceding ten years. Banfield held there were four types of riots and, in light of the Mehserle verdict, it is useful in understanding what some of our brothers and sisters faced last night.

The “Rampage” is a riot comprised of mostly young males and is created by some trigger event. It may be a championship, a moon landing, a verdict, a shooting - whatever. But it is merely a justification for young men to tear things up that the mass media will gladly embrace.

A “Rampage” riot has very randomized violence and one of the prime targets is always the police. Not because they are trying to keep the peace, but because it is part of thrill of a rampaging riot. The young male factor has been noted for centuries and it will always be part of any riot for as long as our species exists.

The second riot that will usually occur with a trigger event and concurrent with a “Rampage” riot is known as “The Foray for Pillage” and is the most common of all riots since it is comprised of youths and lower class individuals who see the riot as chance to for personal gain through looting.

As Banfield pointed out, rarely is a riot purely one type, and some will certainly classify last night’s events in Oakland as an “Outburst of Righteous Indignation Riot.” I disagree with that classification in the case of Oakland, for several reasons. “Outburst of Righteous Indignation Riots” have no leaders and are spontaneous, not preplanned and prepared for events. Oakland was always going to have a riot as sure as the sun will rise, and no ruling would have sufficed or satisfied a “cocked and locked” criminal underclass.

None of this means there aren’t people of will upset by the verdict, but the riot is a beast of energy and danger, fueled by testosterone, youth, and people with no long term optimism in their lives. Modern American scholars will forever contemplate the root causes of our social ills and law enforcement will always bear the brunt of problems created by them and often be blamed for the failure of solutions for them, but we must keep our wits about us and focus on doing our jobs.

The media will lament the root causes and politicians will use the various events to their advantage, but we commend our brothers and sisters for facing the rampage and bringing a swift and safe end to the crisis.

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