As Sunday’s Super Bowl ended, thousands of Eagles fans took to the streets of Philadelphia in celebration. As a long-suffering Detroit Lions’ fan, I congratulate the Eagles on their tremendous season and their first Super Bowl victory. It gives me a small ray of hope.
However, post-game celebrations resembled a ‘riot’ more than it did a ‘celebration’. Images and videos showed people brawling and jumping on roofs. Cars were overturned, street lights toppled, bottles thrown, and fires set. Several convenience stores reported looting and damage; department store windows were smashed. Yet, officials were reluctant to condemn the destruction caused by rioters, and only three arrests were made.
A Fox News report showed that most of those celebrating were white. The report referred to these people as “looters” rather than “rioters.” One host said, “This is a nice celebration. This should be a time for law enforcement to relax.” On CNN, AJ Willingham and Chuck Johnston wrote, “LOL, you see it's a funny joke because frankly, it's a miracle that place is still standing.”
Such comments are not uncommon when the behavior is tied to the results of a significant sporting event. There is a history of vandalism in the streets after a big game win (or loss). These rioters are usually called “revelers” or “fans;” they aren’t considered “criminals” or “thugs,” nor are they considered “violent.”
However, our society is quick to criticize peaceful protests by people of color, even if they are protesting for the simple human rights that we white people take for granted. They are condemned under pretenses that they don’t respect the flag, law enforcement, even their country. Yet the right to protest is fundamental in this country, isn’t it? Reckless behavior over the results of a sporting event is considered a minor consequence of a city’s victory, yet a peaceful protest over the latest cop on black shooting is, somehow, ‘anti-American.’ What’s wrong with this picture?
"You can riot if you're white and your team wins, but if you're black and being killed, you can't speak out," said Hawk Newsome of Black Lives Matter.
Many people of color noticed the difference in how law enforcement reacts to the two types of civil expression of 1st Amendment rights. Twitter, for example, was flooded with comments similar to those of Mr. Newsome:
"We laugh about white people doing things like this for a team, but look down on black and brown people upset over a killing," one commenter tweeted.
"I agree that there is a clear and consistent double standard about rioting. A riot with mostly white people often gets turned into jokes," another wrote. "Imagine the blowback if the majority of these people were black. I'm just saying, be consistent about it."
Another commenter drew comparisons to the widespread criticism of "take a knee" movement (led by now blackballed quarterback Colin Kaepernick) to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
Black people are criticized for their peaceful protests of the senseless deaths of unarmed black men (Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, and Terence Crutcher, to name a few). At the same time, whites who ravage streets, stores, cars and building over the result of a football game get a free “stay out of jail” pass from the police. A man was sentenced to eight years in prison for setting a fire amid the Ferguson protests. Should a fire-setting Eagles’ fan get a similar sentence?
Rowdiness and property damage after a sporting event has become a socially acceptable norm. But raising one’s voice for social justice is met with riot gear, tear gas, and assault rifles? Why? Is this a racial thing? Is it a ‘celebration’ vs. a ‘protest” thing? Should the police have treated the Super Bowl “revelers” the same way they have treated “Black Lives Matter” protesters?
This is 21st Century America. How can we tolerate this double standard?