May 30, 2020 Abdul Haqq

Incendiary Rage & the Remnants of Self-Destruction

As we observe the aftermath of George Floyd’s very public murder, the anticipated analyses regarding the efficacy of the riots and looting that ensued have, once again, become the focus of discussion.[1] Although an important one, it serves to obfuscate – albeit inadvertently – other developments that should be under intense media and public scrutiny. In my most recent article, I referred to probable diversionary strategies that would attempt to attribute Floyd’s cause of death to underlying health issues, as opposed to asphyxiation by ex-police officer, Derek Chauvin.[2] Hennepin County Attorney’s Office criminal complaint against Chauvin has since revealed the autopsy conclusions, which appear to confirm this:

The autopsy revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation. Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease… The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.[3]

Ignoring smokescreens, like the autopsy referred to above, amounts to nothing short of a disservice and neglect of victims subjected to such state-legislated strategies that serve to prepare grounds of support for law enforcement officials following fatal incidents like these. In any event, the ambit of this article is not to dwell on what have become established malpractices and maladministration at the highest level of government; indeed, one only has to recount Trump’s latest endorsement for states to commence shooting rioters, for evidence of the above derelictions; ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts.’[4] Instead, it will endeavour to explore what has become the default response to fatal incidents involving Black populations.

Mississippi Burning? No, It’s Minneapolis!

Following the funeral of Freddie Gray – another Black individual killed at the hands of police while in custody[5] – president Barack Obama renounced the supervening violence, stating:

There’s no excuse” for the kind of violence that erupted in Baltimore on Monday and “it is counterproductive… It is not a protest. It is not a statement. It is a handful of people taking advantage of the situation…” [6]

While asserting this, he did however acknowledge:

“We can’t just leave this to the police… We as a country have to do some soul-searching… If our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could, but it requires everybody saying this is important…and that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns.” [7]

Five years on, and with a new [p]resident who has arguably further ignited an already burning ember under race relations in the US, it remains evident that matters are firmly in the hands (and knees) of law enforcement agencies. As one columnist correctly observes:

It is impossible to justify the violence, looting, arson and vandalism that took place in Minneapolis and other cities after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. Smashing windows, torching buildings and plundering stores do nothing to improve police behavior or help the African American community. They amount to useless destruction. Impossible to justify, yes. Impossible to understand? Not at all. Police have participated in a quiet riot against black people for generations.[8]

He conceded:

“It would certainly be more constructive for the city’s African Americans to respond to this outrage in a civil manner, as befits citizens of a democratic society. But when peaceful requests consistently fail to elicit changes that are a matter of life and death, we shouldn’t expect endless forbearance from the victims.[9]

This sentiment is not new. Shortly after the death of Malcolm X, his contemporary, Martin Luther King, witnessed the nightmare the former had been enunciating for so long. In fact, King’s emerging experiences lead to a paradigmatic adjustment to his oratory:

…it is clear that a radical change was taking place in King’s thinking about America, a transformation that was moving him along a revolutionary path that surprised many… He began to speak more and more of America as a morally “sick society” and of his dream of 1963 being turned into a nightmare. The only solution, he concluded, was to restructure the whole of America so that all of its people would have food and shelter for their bodies and dignity and self-respect for their spirits.[10]

It is important to recognise the impetus behind King’s subtle but important gravitation towards Malcolm X’s vision (as it is equally important to acknowledge the latter’s inclination toward the former’s before his assassination):

In 1963…in Washington, DC…I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess…that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare…just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful…Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama.

I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes’ problem of poverty.

I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem…Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes. [11]

King’s acceptance of this stark reality was profound due to the subsequent effect it would have on the Civil Rights Movement. Indeed, his statement,  …a riot is the language of the unheard,continues to reverberate today.[12] George Floyd’s desperate pleas to live, the fact he could not breathe and finally, his heart-rendering cry for his mother,[13] are all encapsulated within King’s statement. In actuality, these current riots – like others that have preceded after similar injustices – represent the language of those unheard victims and while hazardous, their ultimate objective is for social reform:

Riots are the culmination of…underlying issues. They might be catalyzed by one particular cause – such as a police shooting – but they’re also the result of long-held angers – broader police abuse, residential segregation, economic inequality, and racial tensions… What’s more, riots can lead to serious attention and change.[14]

“Burn Hollywood, Burn…I smell a riot going on.”[15]

As already highlighted in the above excerpt of King’s speech, despite civil rights victories during the 60’s, police abuse, alongside economic disparities, only exacerbated the sense of frustration felt among Black urban communities. This resulted in uprisings across cities, such as Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia and Baltimore:[16]

On 11th August 1965, five days after President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Bill, Malcolm X’s predicted nightmare exploded in the Watts ghetto in Los Angeles, leaving 34 people dead, 4,000 arrested, and whole blocks of buildings burned to the ground. An army of 14,000 National Guardsmen and 1,600 policemen invaded Watts to restore order. It was like a war zone, with many blacks roaming the streets shouting, “Burn, baby, burn” and “Long live Malcolm X.” Some blacks, in the spirit and rhetoric of black nationalism, referred to the violence as an insurrection and not as a riot.[17]

Fast-forward 26 years to 3rd March 1991 when the world witnessed the shocking barbarism of US law enforcement upon black populations. Rodney King was brutally beaten on a highway in one of the cities that had previously experienced civil unrest:

Rodney King led police on a high-speed chase through the streets of Los Angeles County before eventually surrendering. Intoxicated and uncooperative, King resisted arrest and was brutally beaten by police officers Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseno, and Timothy Wind. Unbeknownst to the police, a citizen with a personal video camera was filming the arrest, and the 89-second video caught the police beating King with their batons and kicking him long after he was capable of resistance. The video, released to the press, caused outrage around the country and triggered a national debate on police brutality.[18]

The video recording predated social media and smartphones; however, it revealed the unpleasant reality behind what black minorities had complained about for decades – indiscriminate targeting and violence against their communities at the hands and batons of the police. Rodney King survived and was eventually awarded substantial damages for what he had endured. However, what transpired regarding the offending officers’, who were later charged, was considered a travesty of justice, and there are now legitimate concerns of history repeating itself with the latest incident:

On April 29, 1992, the 12-person jury issued its verdicts: not guilty on all counts, except for one assault charge against Powell that ended in a hung jury.[19]

Unsurprisingly, these verdicts were the catalyst to what followed. Many will remember awaiting the inevitable outpouring of rage that was also captured live by media outlets on the ground (and air):

The acquittals touched off the L.A. riots, which grew into the most destructive U.S. civil disturbance of the 20th century… By the morning, hundreds of fires were burning across the city, more than a dozen people had been killed, and hundreds were injured.[20]

Fifty-five years on from the Watts riots and twenty-eight since the Rodney King debacle, cities are once again inflamed – both literally and metaphorically speaking. Little appears to have changed in more than half a century and the only plausible explanation for this has to be the systemic repression of a population descended from slavery. After all:

The idea of racial inferiority was created to justify unequal treatment; belief in racial inferiority is not what triggered unequal treatment. Nor was fear of difference. As Ta-Nehisi Coates states, ‘…race is the child of racism, not the father.’ He means that first we exploited people for their resources, not according to how they looked. Exploitation came first, and then the ideology of unequal races to justify this exploitation followed.”[21]

Burn Babylon: A Call to Arms? Not Quite

The Black British experience of police heavy-handedness is not an unfamiliar one and previous riots in Toxteth, Liverpool, Brixton and Tottenham, in south and north London respectively, attest to this. These disturbances resulted in far-reaching policy changes across UK statutory institutions in the 1980s[22] but the scope of this article is not to compare parallel experiences, although a number exist. Instead, I will elaborate on previous intimations describing unified community responses to police aggression. As mentioned in recent social media posts, the following accounts are not a call to violence and should not be construed or misinterpreted as such; they are however illustrative of definitive strategies of action that yielded the desired results.

1st Incident: Police Confrontation – During my 15 year tenure as chairman and leader of an estimated 1,000 plus convert community, one such incident that required affirmative action was following the police storming our place of worship, en masse, while in pursuit of a north African (Algerian) community member. In the process of arresting him, they disturbed the congregation who were preparing for prayer. Consensus was reached to postpone the congregational prayer in order to confront and address the police intrusion and arrest of the community member. A group entered the police station – also en masse – occupying the entire police reception area.  Demands for the release of the detained member were made, with an undertaking that the police station would not be vacated until the request had been complied to. The Duty Officer in charge on that occasion, upon being made aware of situation, immediately escorted me to where our colleague was being detained in order to assure me of his well-being. The relevant paperwork was processed for release and apologies were conveyed for the arrest and intrusion onto our premises. Community members subsequently returned to the mosque to complete final prayers.

2nd Incident: Stockwell Park Estate[23]

Incidents of this nature culminated in a confrontation between Mosque members and the police when a non – Muslim robbed and attempted to assault a female Muslim community member during the summer of 1997. This was met with a robust response from the Mosque with members visiting the Stockwell Park estate and entering the premises of the assailant who was well known in the area. This action resulted in the wider non-Muslim community threatening reprisals against the Muslim community and a direct threat against Muslim residents living on the estate. The Mosque leadership held an emergency meeting with some community members and it was interesting to note that two opinions emerged on how to deal with the prevailing circumstances, which threatened to escalate. Never before had the Brixton Muslim community taken such a public stance, highlighting unequivocally its identity, and emphasising the significance of its presence as a distinctive but integral part of the wider non-Muslim populace. However, one opinion, emanating from the elders was to calm things down and apologise for entering the assailant’s home. The other contrary opinion was that a firm stance should be maintained to reflect the seriousness of the situation at hand. The leadership decided to incorporate both positions and devised an appropriate strategy. The ensuing confrontation with armed police resulted in a directive that the group of Muslims present disband immediately or face arrest. This request was rejected on the premise that the police refused to provide security for the Muslim family that lived on the estate where the initial robbery and attempted assault had taken place. Undeterred by threats of action, community members remained. The confrontation passed without further incident and police withdrawal from the estate.

3rd Incident: Friday Prayer Confrontation

Following the weekly Friday (Jumuah) prayers, the busiest time during the week for all mosques, I was informed of an altercation outside the premises between parking ticket attendants and a community member. I was requested to intervene due to the rapid escalation and police presence as a result of the attendants’ alarmist call for assistance. The confrontation had escalated to the degree of physical conflict with neither side prepared to curb tensions. In fact, the police did not anticipate the solidarity and resolve of community members and this lead to the senior officer on the scene, Inspector Cragg, requesting an immediate solution to deescalate and resolve the conflict. He was provided with one; namely, to discharge the community member unlawfully detained during the melee, after which other colleagues would be advised to cease hostilities. This was to be followed by a meeting, pending the mosque’s official complaint, to investigate police conduct and their failure to ascertain causes behind the initial altercation. These terms were agreed.

Conclusion: Talk isn’t always cheap nor silence always golden…

Invariably, there are occasions for advocacy, diplomacy and negotiations. Conversely, in the absence of  adequate progress or change, other approaches become necessary:

Rioting may be the wrong way to persuade authorities or white Americans to bring about long-needed changes. But that raises the question: What is the right way? The problem for African Americans is that most whites have never been sympathetic to the methods used in the long fight for racial equality. [24]

As Malcolm X stated when responding to a question posed by a predominantly white audience at the Militant Labor Forum in 1964:

I’m the man you think you are… If we’re both human beings, we’ll both do the same thing. And if you want to know what I’ll do, figure out what you’ll do. I’ll do the same thing – only more of it.” [25]





[1] Chapman, S: ‘Column: If riots are not the answer, what is?’ Chicago Tribune, 29th May 2020:

[2] Baker, A H: ‘The Kneed for Justice: When taking a knee is an abuse of justice,’ 28th May 2020:

 [3] Ries, B: ‘8 notable details in the criminal complaint against ex-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin,’ CNN, 29th May 2020:

 [4] Colvin, J & Long, C: ‘President Trump tweets on Minneapolis unrest, calls protestors ‘thugs,’ vows action: ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts,’ Chicago Tribune, 29th May 2020:

[5] Allen, K: ‘Baltimore declares state of emergency amid protests,’ CNBC, 27th April 2015:

[6] Berkowitz, B & Allen, K: ‘Obama: Baltimore riots ‘counterproductive’ and ‘no excuse’ for it,’ CNBC, 28th April 2015:

[7] Ibid

[8] Chapman, S: ‘Column: If riots are not the answer, what is?’ Chicago Tribune, 29th May 2020:

[9] Ibid

[10] Cone, J H: ‘Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare,’ ORBIS, November 2018, p. 225

[11] Ibid, p. 213 reproducing excerpts of King’s speech in Atlanta, Georgia on 24th December 1967

[12] 60 Minutes Overtime: ‘MLK: A Riot is the Language of the Unheard’, CBS News, 25thAugust 2013:

[13] O’Neal, L: ‘George Floyd’s mother was not there, but he used her as a sacred invocation,’ The Undefeated, 28th May 2020:

[14] Lopez, G: ‘Riots are destructive, dangerous, and scary – but can lead to serious social reforms,’ VOX, 22nd September 2016:

[15] Public Enemy: ‘Burn Hollywood, Burn’, YouTube:

[16] Ibid

[17] Cone, J H: ‘Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare,’ ORBIS, November 2018, p. 221

[18] ‘29th April 1992: Riots erupt in Los Angeles after police are acquitted in Rodney King trial,’ site last accessed 30th May 2020.

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] DiAngelo, R: ‘White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism’ citing Coates, T-N; ‘Between The World And Me’ Kindle Edition

[22] Parker, S & Atkinson, R: ‘Disorderly cities and the policy-making field: the 1981 English riots and the management of urban decline,’ Springer, 11thSeptember 2018:

[23] Baker, A: ‘Countering Terrorism in the UK: A Convert Community Perspective,’ University of Exeter, PhD, 2009, pp. 42-3

[24] Chapman, S: ‘Column: If riots are not the answer, what is?’ Chicago Tribune, 29th May 2020:

[25] Cone, J H: ‘Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare,’ ORBIS, November 2018, p. 196



WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By :