I remember watching the Los Angeles Riots in the early nineties. As a kid in East Tennessee, it might as well have been footage from Mars. I’d never seen anything like the bubbling anger and resentment that poured into the streets and erupted in fire. Years later, I’d see old footage of the Watts riot. I’d see news coverage of protesters in Egypt and Libya march for freedom on their capitals. I’d see people buckling under oppression and refusing to take it anymore.
Now those were some riots.
But these kids today…
Wednesday night there was supposed to be a concert in Hollywood. DJ Kaskade was supposed to show. Thousands of teenagers turned out only to find that the show had been cancelled.
And they rioted.
Now, you’re probably like me in the fact that you’re worried about the state of our country’s debt ceiling right now. You see how the economy has taken a nose dive and have probably been affected by it. You may know one of the hundreds of thousands of people out of work right now or, God forbid, even be one.
And these spoiled, privileged shits are rioting because of a concert.
Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?
In all fairness, you can hardly call this a riot in the true sense of the word. There were no fires, no tear gas, no overturned cop cars. Lakers fans do a better job when they pour into the streets.
But it’s still hard not to want to smack the silver spoons out of these kids’ mouths.
Of course, the real question is: Is it worse that these kids riot over something so inane when the country is going down the tubes? Or is it worse that the rest of us don’t?
As you ponder this on the Tree of Woe, let’s take a friendly little jaunt through American history. So I bring you:
VIRGINIA COLONY, 1676
As much as I wish that this was a riot for the right to eat bacon, we had already been given that right by the Magna Carta.
No, Bacon’s rebellion was the first recorded riot on American soil. The rebellion started simply enough. Governor William Berkeley disagreed with a group of farmers who felt that Native Americans living on treaty-protected lands be driven out or killed because the Indians stole some of their pigs. (This is still not why it’s called Bacon’s Rebellion, though that would have been a good reason as well.)
There were several skirmishes between the two groups until the Governor suggested building a fort to keep the Natives and the settlers away from one another. The settlers saw this as a flimsy excuse to raise taxes and told the Governor, in no uncertain terms, to “copulate with ye very backsyde vigorously and with great contempt.”
When Berkeley refused to go against the Native Americans, farmers gathered around at the report of a new raiding party. A man named Nathaniel Bacon arrived, bringing both a name for the rebellion and a shit-load of brandy. After he gave the men the brandy, they elected him leader.
Bacon and his men drank all the brandy and, shit-faced, attacked an innocent and friendly tribe nearby that had nothing to do with the raids. In fact, the tribe had remained allies of the English throughout other Native raids. They were even supplying warriors to aid the English when Bacon took power.
Not quite done with their stupidity, the militia continued to drink, kill Natives, and drink some more until September 19th, 1676, when Bacon realized they were “about as drunk as we’re ever going to be” and marched on Jamestown for no discernible reason, burning the capital to the ground. Before the English could arrive and put a royal smackdown on Bacon’s ass, he died of dysentery.
LAGER BEER RIOT
What would a riot be without alcohol? Rather than contemplate that nightmare, thousands of Chicagoans participated in the Lager Beer Riot of 1855.
Mayor Levi Boone, great-nephew of Daniel Boone and, by all accounts, a real killjoy, renewed enforcement of an old law mandating that taverns be closed on Sundays. Most people in the greater Chicago area thought this was, to quote newspapers of the time, “fuck-shitted.” Like all good Americans ready to riot, they thumbed their noses at the establishment and continued to drink their Sunday swill.
On April 21, after several tavern owners were arrested for selling beer on Sunday, protesters clashed with police near the Cook County Court House. The mayor, pants soaked by this point, ordered the swing bridges to be thrown open to stop protesters from crossing the river. This left many angry drunks trapped on the bridges, where police then decided that the situation was too good to be true and thought, “What the hell? Let’s shoot at them.” So they opened fire. Miraculously, only one person was killed. A local police captain did lose an arm in the riot, but he was probably doing something with it that he shouldn’t have been anyway.
The following year, after Boone was thrown out of office, the prohibition was repealed.
TEN CENT BEER NIGHT
Continuing with our theme, alcohol-fueled riots don’t get any purer than the Ten Cent Beer Night riots.
Looking for a way to fill their stadium, the Cleveland Indians instituted the Ten Cent Beer Night after a series of games with the Texas Rangers that looked more like boxing matches. The Rangers and the Indians were hitting each other with pitches, throwing bats, smacking faces, and clubbing forearms into noses as they ran the bases. Oddly enough, none of them had been drinking at the time.
As if things couldn’t get worse from there, the already-drunken crowd continued to drink more of these ultra-cheapo beers. Throughout the game, the crowd thought, “Why should the baseball players have all the fun?” and jumped onto the field. A woman ran over to the Indians’ on-deck circle and showed them her ta-tas in an ancient gesture of bestowing good luck on her hometown team. Later, a naked man sprinted to second base as a player hit a second home run. A father and son pair ran onto the outfield, dropping trow and mooning the crowd.
Finally, Cleveland’s Leron Lee hit a line drive into the stomach of Rangers pitcher Ferguson Jenkins. Jenkins collapsed. Showing an immense level of compassion for Clevelanders, the fans in the upper deck of Municipal Stadium cheered, then chanted “Hit ’em again! Hit ’em again! Harder! Harder!”
Cleveland’s manager was pelted with hot dogs. Other players were hit with beer cans. After nine innings of drinking beer that cost less than a stick of gum, the crowd finally went bat shit.
A fan ran onto the field and attempted to steal the hat from Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs. Burroughs tripped and fell. His teammates, thinking he was hurt, rushed onto the field with their bats. A number of fans then poured down, some armed with knives, chains, portions of the seats, and – get this shit – FUCKING NUNCHUCKS. Worried about the safety of the Rangers, the Indians rushed onto the field to help them by clubbing their own fans with bats.
The riot went on for almost half an hour before police showed up. An umpire who just wanted to get the hell out of there forfeited the game to Texas.
Later that season, the team’s promotion of three additional beer nights was changed from unlimited amounts to a limit of four cups per person. American League president Lee McPhail said, “There was no question that beer played a part in the riot.” Really, Lee? Is that a scientific observation?
Wow, all of this talk about rioting has really put me in the mood for a few beers.Brad C. Hodson is a writer living in Los Angeles. His stories have appeared in anthologies alongside Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk, George RR Martin, and many more of his literary heroes. For a listing of his literary and film work, please check out his Bibliography at https://brad-hodson.com/bibliography/