“Do the Right Thing,” part 2

Prosperity belongs not to the righteous, but the wise.

In the days immediately following the initial mistrial of Baltimore Police Officer William Porter on charges relating to the death of Freddie Gray, Bounce TV broadcast Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing several times.  I could not help seeing this as a commentary on the mistrial.  Bounce had likewise shown the film several times in the days following the April 2015 riots.

The film focuses on events surrounding a pizzeria in a New York City ‘hood on the hottest day of the summer.  Sal is the Italian-American owner of the pizza place; Mookie, played by Spike Lee, is a young African-American employee.  At closing time, a group of people led by Radio Raheem enter the store to insist Sal take down his “Wall of Fame,” which displays portraits of Italian-American celebrities (only).

Radio Raheem’s radio is playing full blast; Sal insists he turn it down; Raheem refuses, and Sal destroys it with a baseball bat.  This spurs a melee that spills over into the street.  Police arrive and, in pulling Raheem off of Sal, use deadly force.  The crowd attacks Sal and his two sons until Mookie, sitting nearby, picks up a trash can and throws it through the pizzeria window.  The crowd then turns away from attacking the three men, to attack and destroy the pizzeria itself.

The next day, Mookie finds Sal sitting in the burned-out shell of his pizzeria, and demands his pay for the week.  Sal laments the destruction of his business.  Mookie answers that insurance will pay for it.

From the Wikipedia article, “Do the Right Thing“:

One of many questions at the end of the film is whether Mookie “does the right thing” when he throws the garbage can through the window, thus inciting the riot that destroys Sal’s pizzeria. * * * Spike Lee has remarked that he himself has only ever been asked by white viewers whether Mookie did the right thing; black viewers do not ask the question.[14] Lee believes the key point is that Mookie was angry at the death of Radio Raheem, and that viewers who question the riot’s justification are implicitly failing to see the difference between property and the life of a black man.[12]

This passage confuses two questions:  whether Mookie was justified, and whether the riot was justified.  I am more concerned with the former.  Whether the riot was justified matters little; it happened.   Mookie did not incite it; it was already in progress when he threw the trash can.

Spike Lee errs in even juxtaposing property and life.  The value of human life isn’t in question.  In question, rather, is a complete disregard for the value of property — one’s own, or anyone else’s.

I have said elsewhere:

There are those for whom life is a never-ending struggle to survive, for reason that they treat all their assets, their bootstraps, even a flash drive, with contempt. The problem isn’t their poverty, but their contempt.

Similarly, in the midst of the April 2015 riots, Brittney Cooper called on all those who do not break, loot and burn, to cast their lot with those who do:

For any person who has ever been angry enough to throw a glass against a wall, or destroy one’s personal property out of sheer frustration and injustice, the anger of citizens who are daily subjected to indignities, violations of personal space, and limited opportunity makes perfect sense.

I don’t concern myself so much any more with questions of right and wrong.  I am prone to ask not whether what Mookie did was right, but whether it was wise.   Wisdom pertains not to ideas, but to emotions.  It has to do with choosing one’s emotions, managing one’s emotions, and managing one’s thinking and actions behind it.  Anger is one thing.  What one does with one’s anger is another.

Were the April 2015 riots justified?  As rationality is the slave of the passions, one inevitably will justify any course of action one desires.  The act is, then, certainly “right” in one’s own eyes.  That doesn’t make it wise.

Some months ago, on a smoke break out in front of the library, I heard this man say that no one, in fact, had been burned out of their homes.  The man said that the people who got burned out were renters, not owners; and it would be covered by insurance anyway.  That’s the same thing Mookie told Sal.

Families were still rendered homeless.

During those riots, 144 cars were torched.  From my personal background with questions of auto insurance, I’d wager half of them weren’t insured.

The insurance may cover Sal’s loss.  It may cover the landlords’ losses.  It may replace half the burned cars.  But insurance itself isn’t free.  The losses occurred.  And insurance companies cannot ignore that  some geographical areas carry higher occurrences of losses than others.  This will affect the ability, let alone willingness, of those who can invest, to invest, in those areas.

Alleviation of poverty can never come to those who busy themselves creating their own.

One of the most prominent members of our church youth group went through this.  A cousin was staying with the family for a while.  He got into an argument with one of her siblings, and the mother told him he had to leave.  His response was to set the bedroom on fire.

They lost their Section 8 behind it.

Related:  “Do the Right Thing,” part 1
Related:  Danny keeps breaking up his phones

Originally posted 2016-03-02.

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