Oct 11, 2006

The Legacy of an Urban Riot

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Toledo riot - Teargas and policeLeft: Riot police march through thick teargas south on Toledo's Mulberry Street toward protesters on October 15, 2005. Photo by Isis

Toledoans joined television viewers around the world on October 15, 2005 and watched in disbelief as hundreds of angry people faced off against the police for four hours on that sunny Saturday afternoon at Mulberry and Central.

After police finally dispersed the rioters, many people were content to write the incident off as the isolated work of violent, lawless hooligans and gang members.

We might take comfort in the fact that there were no fatalities, and that injuries and property damage were limited, at least in terms of American urban riots.

Some might also view the episode as a learning experience for police and city officials, as the second visit on December 10 from the neo-Nazi group known as the National Socialist Movement ended without violence or property damage (we shall set aside for the moment any concerns about freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, or other pesky constitutional issues that were raised by anti-racist activists who claim to have been denied such rights).

Unfortunately, the conditions leading up to the October 15 riot have changed little in the past year, and remain as potential fuel for another conflagration in Toledo. The presence of the swastika-wearing, goose-stepping members of the NSM was merely a lit match placed in the middle of a potentially flammable environment in the North End.

Toledo riot - Toledo protesters at Mulberry and Central Protesters at Mulberry and Central

I have spoken with many people over the past year, and there is a decided unwillingness on the part of most observers to recognize that the rioters acted with at least an element of political activism (albeit of a violent, illegal, and unconventional fashion). Most local pundits, if they even consider the possibility of political awareness among the rioting protesters, would rather blame the “outsider” socialists and anarchists for “stirring up” the youth in the North End.

Both viewpoints are sadly mistaken, and reek of condescension toward those who gathered to object to the presence of white supremacists in their neighborhood.

In addition, many protesters that I interviewed during and after the events of October 15 complained about unemployment, poor economic circumstances, and police harassment as factors that led to their involvement in the rally and subsequent riot.

Man being arrested in North Toledo riot Left: Unidentified man being arrested on Mulberry

Aside from some civic window dressing, little has changed in North Toledo since the riot. There have been some public forums, and extra attention paid to the abandoned homes that blight the area, but the economic and social conditions that created an environment primed for combustion remain.

Any future civil unrest in Toledo’s North End might not be as quickly contained, or result in as little comparative damage, as last year’s riot.

The challenge, then, is for city officials and community leaders to avoid the temptation to dismiss the events of 2005 as an aberration, and to recognize that much work remains in the process of restoring LaGrinka as a vibrant neighborhood.

Failure to do so will most assuredly be a prescription for more of what we witnessed last October.

This is an op-ed piece that appears in this week's Toledo Free Press, which reexamines the North Toledo riot one year later.

11 comments:

jerry b said...

So the rioters were like patriots or something??? Give me a break!

historymike said...

Huh?

Did you actually read the post? I clearly note that the activities or protesters were of a "violent, illegal, and unconventional fashion."

I am not glorifying the violence and mayhem, but rather pointing out that by ignoring the underlying factors (such as unemployment, poverty, and complaints about police harassment) we are quite likely to see such violence in the future.

Mark said...

Well-said, Mike.

I can't see why the revitalization of central city neighborhoods isn't a bigger hot-button issue among Toledo politicians. If I were a Toledo politician, I would put the issue on the front burner.

Reason being: I want a vibrant downtown Toledo. What major obstacles remain to creating a vibrant downtown Toledo? Downtown investment by businesses, and that commonly talked-about factor that people are afraid to go downtown.

If you're from Toledo, in private conversations with friends you've probably joked about downtown not being a safe place to walk. When visitors and locals alike pass blighted neighborhoods every day, with no effort being made to improve said neighborhoods, what's to stop people from thinking such thoughts? No, it doesn't necessarily equate that blight equals crime and violence, but the two are so inextricably intwined in the public psyche so that one necessarily implicates the other.

So fix the blight. So respond to neighborhood problems. So listen to the citizens, not just during election time, and make the improvements necessary, instead of merely promising to make them. Work from the core out: downtown is slowly coming to life again; now move to the central city and work to create jobs and fix the neighborhoods in an effort to prevent the racial tensions that happened last year.

But I'm realistic. I know that Toledo City Government doesn't spring to action so quickly. Not without a good fight first, anyway.

heglameister said...

These protest happen all over the country. The one thing they all have in common is that the so-called anti-racists(blacks.Jews and other minorities) are the ones who loot, burn, fight and riot. The white nationalists, Neo-Nazis, klansmen and skinheads are very well bahaved and are seldom arrested for violent acts. Who are the real "hate-mongers" here?

microdot said...

heglameister, can we assume that you are defending the beliefs of the white nationalists, skinheads, klansmen and neo-nazis?
Enlighten us, when did the last Jewish riot in America occur?

Dariush said...

"...when did the last Jewish riot in America occur?"

1995. Beverly Hills. After O.J. Simpson's not guilty verdict came through.

Although, if memory serves, they had their Chicano housekeepers, nannies, gardeners, etc. do the actual looting for them. :)

heglameister said...

microdot,I have simply made an observation over the years of viewing these events on the news.I think the arrest records will support my observations. I actually have more issues with the white people that run the world than I do with non-whites.

microdot said...

Well, helgameister, of course you are right. A more realistic question would be "why do people riot?"
I think the rather idiotic decision to allow a group of out of town Neo Nazis to demonstrate in a non white inner city Toledo neighborhood was sort of provacative. Social unrest never occurs because of just one little incident, rather the incident provides the match to light the gasoline.
I really question the motives of a government which allowed the protests to take place in the first place.
Aren't there a lot of spanking new rules written into the Patriot Act to limit the kinds of demonstrations which might be an incentive to disorder? They get used all the time to deny protestors in NYC and other American cities their right to protest.

Anonymous said...

Why don't we attach the same importance to understanding the development of a neighborhood or even a street that we do to understanding ancient historical times? I think that both are important, but to Mike's point, I find it difficult to judge a community's reaction (or lack of reaction) when there is no context of who the community is, why it developed the way it did and where it is headed. If anyone's interested in filling me in on Toledo's history, go to www.storyofmyhome.com and feel free to say what you think. I'm very much interested in getting down to microhistory: the examination of the development of neighborhoods and cities by studying the history of individual homes and families over time.

Bill Jackson
billjackson@storyofmyhome.com

Hooda Thunkit said...

”After police finally dispersed the rioters, many people were content to write the incident off as the isolated work of violent, lawless hooligans and gang members.”
As were the Police.


”Some might also view the episode as a learning experience for police and city officials..”

They’ve learned nothing new from this. They still think that overpowering force is the answer…

”Unfortunately, the conditions leading up to the October 15 riot have changed little in the past year, and remain as potential fuel for another conflagration in Toledo. The presence of the swastika-wearing, goose-stepping members of the NSM was merely a lit match placed in the middle of a potentially flammable environment in the North End.”
Amen…


”I have spoken with many people over the past year, and there is a decided unwillingness on the part of most observers to recognize that the rioters acted with at least an element of political activism (albeit of a violent, illegal, and unconventional fashion). Most local pundits, if they even consider the possibility of political awareness among the rioting protesters, would rather blame the “outsider” socialists and anarchists for “stirring up” the youth in the North End.”
And, Amen.


”Both viewpoints are sadly mistaken, and reek of condescension toward those who gathered to object to the presence of white supremacists in their neighborhood.”
Amen again.


”In addition, many protesters that I interviewed during and after the events of October 15 complained about unemployment, poor economic circumstances, and police harassment as factors that led to their involvement in the rally and subsequent riot.”
Did anybody speak about how they squandered the educational opportunities that the schools were more than willing to provide? I seriously doubt it.


”Aside from some civic window dressing, little has changed in North Toledo since the riot. There have been some public forums, and extra attention paid to the abandoned homes that blight the area, but the economic and social conditions that created an environment primed for combustion remain.”
How can you be so callous? Charlatan had much more important things on his mind in the last year; his office shower, the lighted trees in front of Government Center, and let’s not forget the bike paths and lighting upgrades for the seldom/never maintained High Level Bridge. Those are all much more important (to Charlatan) than a few malcontents in the North End. (Now, if it were between Charlatan’s office and his home, that would be an entirely different matter…


”Any future civil unrest in Toledo’s North End might not be as quickly contained, or result in as little comparative damage, as last year’s riot.”
But the Police are confident that they can suppress a similar occurrence (Hah!).



”The challenge, then, is for city officials and community leaders to avoid the temptation to dismiss the events of 2005 as an aberration, and to recognize that much work remains in the process of restoring LaGrinka as a vibrant neighborhood.”
Too late…


”Failure to do so will most assuredly be a prescription for more of what we witnessed last October.”
Charlatan would contend that you’re just being negative.

Great work Mike!

I couldn’t resist doing a little “channeling” on Charlatan’s behalf ;-)

Sadly, the lessons of 2005 are a distant memory in the Charlatan’s eyes and our REAL “top cop” is gone; heaven help us and protect us from them all…

i.m.small said...

THE WAY OF TRICERATOPS REX

Truly, I say, this life of mine
Is not so very precious
That I ought live in fear--truth´s wine
Perpetually refreshes,

And though today is difficult
Did I not speak for truth
Still I might not survive assault:
Who knows the future´s path?

Not far from my abode, a child
In swing upon the porch
Chance bullet kills, a stray shot wild
Though she had gone to church

Or done her homework every night:
The culture has grown thus
Riddled with violence, nurtured fright,
With chance perplexing us,

So better it must be therefore
To tell the truth, and act
Accordingly, although a war
One must condemn in fact.

Too many have too much to gain
For them not to grow angry
When theft is threatened, but octane
Of their wrath turns them gangly,

Distorted, inefficient in
Both feature and in action,
So I observe, but that they sin,
While they strive for redaction.

It is a scramble--but not dodged
In life comes every bullet;
I have an old one, not dislodged
A-sticking in my gullet.