White people do it all the time, said Katie Friel, who writes for Culture Map Austin. But the only time anyone calls it a riot is if it involves a large number of black people, she says.
She pointed to a 2011 punk rock concert where mostly white fans tried to tear down the chain link fence. Police sprayed pepper gas. No one, Friel argues, called that a riot, adding:
If Austin wants to grow into the creative, supportive, progressive community we claim to want to be, we need to stop thinking, seeing and reporting in black and white.
Which is strange because none of the local media reported what witnesses, Twitter, Facebook, night-vision videos and other internet sources revealed: Everyone involved in the Austin mayhem was black.
The Austin Statesman was merely following the advice of a recent article in the monthly magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists. The topic was how to cover racial violence. The advice? Don’t.
The riot that was not a riot began the Saturday night before Halloween at the annual House of Torment in the parking lot of the Highland Mall. Police arrived to find 200 “unruly” teenagers roaming the area, fighting in at least five different places.
When police ordered them to disperse, they threw rocks instead. Several rioters urged fellow miscreants to bigger and greater acts of violence. It took every officer on duty in Austin more than two hours to bring the violence under control, ultimately by dispensing generous amounts of pepper spray. Four black people were arrested and charged with crimes ranging from rioting to using a fake ID.
Seven people were treated at the scene for riot-related injuries. Much of the violence took place under a grainy black and white, night-vision police video from a helicopter that monitored the violence.
Police said they did not know why so many black people were rioting. One spokesman said the rioters were “silly.”
That is a different excuse than what we heard from a similar episode of black mob violence at a recent showing of a scary movie in a suburb of Rochester. There, a police spokeswoman explained why 500 black people were fighting in and outside of a scary movie:
They have pent-up energy from being scared in the movie theater and they come out and they don’t know what to do with that energy.
So they riot.
Local police did not offer up that explanation here, perhaps because promoters of the haunted house said none of the rioters were customers of the House of Torment, where ticket prices begin at $25.
Or maybe the ticket price is what scared them. If we depend on the sketchy local media, we may never know.
The Austin Statesman and other local media dutifully neglected to report that everyone arrested and everyone involved in the mayhem was black. Many commenters to local news sites pointed that out, but most of these remarks were removed minutes after going up.
The comments blasting the censored remarks as being racist were allowed to remain.
But at least the brave hipsters at Culture Map opened it up for some straight talk. Said one reader:
Serious question: how you gonna write about this story and leave out the fact that Highland Mall has previously called police to disperse large, mostly black crowds? Were you not here during Texas Relays a few years back?”
For non-Austinites, here is what he is talking about: In 2009, the Highland Mall and several other local businesses closed in advance of the Texas Relays — a state-wide track and field event at the nearby University of Texas.
The Austin Chronicle said the Texas Relays caused “flares of uptight resistance to the annual influx of thousands of mostly African-American visitors. The sparks raised questions – again – about the city’s too often less-than-progressive track record on race.”
The president of the local NAACP weighed in, accusing the mall owners of racism. And accusing the city of not living up to the standards for black people it created in the city council’s African American Quality of Life Initiative from 2005.
Others pointed to the track record of racial violence surrounding the Relays and compared it to the rolling racial violence of Freaknik in Atlanta — another annual gathering of black college students that the black mayor, black police and black city leaders ran out of town 13 years ago because of the large-scale violence, destruction and fights with police.
Meanwhile Richard Boland of the Peaceful Streets Project is urging anyone who feels police were too rough with the rioters in the most recent Highland Mall confrontation to file a complaint with the NAACP or the Austin Chapter of the ACLU.
Cross-posted at White Girl Bleed a Lot