Public Assets Institute > Blog > ‘A riot is the language of the unheard’

‘A riot is the language of the unheard’

The national unrest of the last week has added a layer of pain to what many Vermonters were already experiencing during the pandemic: economic hardship, inequitable access to public resources and health care, and the stress of being isolated from family and friends.

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests that have followed over the past week, including in Burlington and Montpelier, have forced us to reckon with the reality that our state does not work for every resident, particularly for Black Vermonters.

This is not the Vermont we want.

Our state is 94 percent white. But Black Vermonters experience poverty at twice the rate of the rest of the state, despite being more likely to work. And as the efforts by many to collect and disseminate policing statistics across the state have made clear, Black Vermonters are much more likely to be stopped by police, to be searched, and to be incarcerated. And Black Vermonters have a higher rate of COVID-19 than any other group.

None of this is an accident. And none of this is new. This is the result of centuries of policies intended to enslave, target, and exclude Black Americans to protect the power of the white majority, and it is embedded in Vermont’s economic, education, and justice systems.

We applaud Gov. Phil Scott for acknowledging Vermont’s systemic racism at his press conference yesterday and the ongoing challenge of dismantling it.

Dismantling systemic racism is urgent. It demands that each of us act now: listen, learn, protest, ask questions of elected officials and each other. There are opportunities to be part of community conversations in Vermont. Panel and Organizing for Racial Justice in Vermont will be held online tonight at 6:00. #GeorgeFloyd and The State of The Nation: What Are You Going to Do? is Wednesday at 5:00. Hidden in Plain Sight: The Truth About Systemic Racism, a webinar open to anyone, will be held this Thursday at 6:00 PM. Use of Force: How Much is Enough and How Do We Know it? will be Monday, June 8th at 5:00.

It was notable that at his press conference the governor cited the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

Here’s more of what Dr. King said at Stanford University on April 14, 1967:

“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

Posted by Paul Cillo on June 2, 2020 at 1:01 pm

4 Responses to “‘A riot is the language of the unheard’”

  1. Steve Hill says:

    Thank you Paul and Public Assets Institute. I appreciate this post, the data you presented, the links to community conversations so that we all can listen and educate ourselves.

  2. Clive Gray says:

    Congratulations, Paul!

  3. Wanda Arce says:

    Trevor Noah of the Daily Show has a critical analysis of the the cause and outcomes of a society that does not uphold the social contract. I encourage everyone to watch it.

  4. Wendell Coleman says:

    Yes, but keep in mind that most of those on the streets the last few days were not rioters, they were peaceful protesters. The rioters have been a very small percentage of those on the streets and most of them were there for reasons that had little in common with reasons of the protestors.