Inside a riot

The first thing you have to understand about rioting is it’s fun. Seriously. I covered quite a few in my time as a journalist and noticed everybody was having a great time except for people whose property was being trashed or stolen. Even the cops seemed to enjoy it, although they had to pretend they didn’t. I think it’s the adrenalin rush. Rioting is a contact sport and if you are involved in an ideological sense it gives you a warm sense of virtue before, during and after. People lose a sense of individuality in a mob action and a kind of hyper communality sets in. It’s not you rocking the car back and forth or heaving something through a window, it’s everybody. The restraints of civilization are flung off and you behave like you would in a wild state of nature: you’re an unthinking beast. It’s a blast! I got swept up in one of the Watts riots and put in a paddy wagon with a bunch of other young men, the arsonists and window breakers, the looters and brutes. The sense of deflation in that van with its barred windows was like coming down off any high. Regrets had already set in. I talked my way out of there so I didn’t participate in the booking process, the fingerprinting, mug shots and the rest of it. I covered student riots in Berkeley and San Francisco. I had my chin opened up in one and went to an emergency room for treatment. In Berkeley we wore helmets and flak jackets. Even so, one colleague caught birdshot in one arm on a day when one of the protestors was shot dead. His name was once on everyone’s lips, like Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown. No one remembers him now.

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