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5 Things To Do If Your City Is under Riots

My city burned this past weekend, and it was hard to watch. Like many other cities in the U.S. over the past week, my midwest, mid-size city’s downtown witnessed thousands of protesters.

They demanded an end to police brutality and discrimination against black people.

I sat at home, dangerously ill, and helped coordinate transportation for a Black community leader having an asthma attack.

I tracked various live video feeds of the protests to let organizers know what was happening in other areas, and watched when the protest arrived at the police station and youth began to yell “No justice, no peace.”

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I, who sat safely at home, watched as officers in riot gear rushed out of the building . My friend with a camera phone was nearly trampled as protesters scattered from what had been a very peaceful protest.

For hours, I watched as the police tear-gassed and physically attacked protesters, most with their hands up and remaining peaceful. As the night wore on, tactics and the crowd itself changed. I watched as windows of the police station were shattered, trash cans were set on fire, and some protesters refused to leave.

When things had calmed down, I stopped watching. Messaged by organizer friends, I learned things had not quieted at all. Dozens of shops, restaurants, museums, and government buildings had their windows busted out.

Not only had numerous fires been started, but journalists had been attacked by the police while working.

This got me wondering, what should be the Muslim response to this, and how do we move forward?

When There is No Peace

I am not a Muslim scholar. I understand and empathize with the rage that forms when peaceful means is exhausted and people’s voice is not being heard.

We are still talking about the murder and miscarriage of justice from Emmett Till’s 1955 murder. The Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. In my city, a Black man was beaten 10 days ago by officers so badly he has sustained brain damage.

These injustices that Black Americans endure are constant. It is important for Muslims to be aware of both the long-standing historical context and the immediate realities that have brought us to today’s outrage. 

What Can You Do in The Chaos?

Here are some additional ways we can be involved and active participants in addressing these matters while supporting ongoing peaceful protests.

1- Get involved in local clean up efforts:

Even as we understand the cause of the riots (and are aware that it may not be the result Black organizers intended either), we should remember those who live in segregated parts of the city where the government does not offer the same care and maintenance.

Help small minority-owned businesses in the impacted areas clean up if their storefronts were damaged or have graffiti. Pick up trash and glass from the street and sidewalks.

2Feed and hydrate the people:

Quick and easy snacks are appreciated and needed. Consider dropping off sandwiches, soup, fresh fruit, granola bars, coffee, tea, and bottled water. Feed the protesters who remain on vigil maintaining protests. Feed the people who are trying to put their small businesses back together. 

3 – If you have useful skills, bring them

Are you a therapist who can spare some hours to provide some mental health support? A doctor or nurse who can offer medical care on-site? An artist who can help shop owners with new signage? A lawyer who can provide legal council?

Please share your services with your community, especially with Black protesters and businesses who already experience great disparities in accessing these sorts of services.

4 – Learn some new skills you can bring to the next protest

Street medics are always desperately needed. You don’t have to have a medical degree to offer this service, but it does require some training.

Security members are helpful, ensuring Black protesters are protected from the police. They also keep white supremacist counter-protesters and other agitators from entering the perimeter of the protest to cause trouble.

Learn how to effectively engage in conflict resolution and de-escalation tactics. Learn how to responsibly document protests, clean-up efforts, etc. 

5 – Continue to support bail funds and other mutual aid networks

Help free the people! Support legal funds, healthcare funds, and mutual aid networks that ensure that Black people are able to stay housed and fed. 

There is a popular saying by U.S. children’s television star Fred Rogers. As a child, his mother taught him to, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” As Muslims, we have a moral and Islamic obligation to be those visible helpers. 

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said,

“Every joint of a person must perform a charity each day that the sun rises: to judge justly between two people is a charity. To help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it, is a charity. And the good word is a charity. And every step that you take towards the prayer is a charity, and removing a harmful object from the road is a charity.” (Nawawi’s 40 Hadith)

About Aaminah Shakur
Aaminah Shakur is a 20+ year convert to Islam. As an artist, art historian, and writer, they are deeply engaged in social justice issues and the ethics of representation in media and visual culture.