April V. Taylor
For anyone truly paying attention, it is no secret how white supremacy and privilege structures how mainstream media reports and frames events in the United States. The weekend yielded a perfect and unsettling example of just how pervasive this bias and privilege is when white college students from Keene State College rioted and destroyed property during the school’s annual Pumpkinfest. Twitter lit up with people mocking white students who were rioting for essentially no reason and also with those who compared the media coverage that described white students as drunk “revelers” who were simply being “rowdy,” to the coverage of those who protested in Ferguson following the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown and were referred to as “thugs” and “rioters” who were “violent.”
While some on Twitter reported the events in a comedic fashion, what actually happened was quite serious with pumpkin rioters setting fires, destroying cars, throwing bottles and other objects and random people with some students even attacking police. In a stunning example of white privilege, one student even gave his name and age to a TV cameraman during an interview with no fear of arrest or criminal repercussion for his actions. Another rioter, Steven French, made a statement to the Keene Sentinel, that he had traveled to New Hampshire from Massachusetts because, “It’s just like a rush. You’re revolting from the cops. It’s a blast to do things that you’re not supposed to do.”
As one Twitter user tried to put into words the difference in police and media response to rioters at Keene State and events in Ferguson, he stated, “The kids at #keenestate threw beer cans at cops and got arrested. Mike Brown threw his hands up and caught SIX shots.” Another Twitter user mocked the way protesters in Ferguson were portrayed as coming from broken homes stating, “How many of the defiant white youth causing mayhem and destruction come from fatherless families?”
Police eventually made more than a dozen arrests and reports are that approximately 30 people were injured. The comparisons to Ferguson are not because the two groups have any similarities in their cause for unrest but because white students can do exactly what media and right wing pundits accuse Ferguson residents of doing for absolutely no justifiable reason and simply be called unruly and rowdy, not violent and thuggish. While rioters in Keene were responded to with pepper spray and tear gas, police did not bring out snipers and military equipment. Few stories so easily lend themselves to illustrating the difference in how white people are treated by police and the media compared to people of color; however, the Keene Pumpkinfest riots are a perfect example of how whiteness changes both the response to and narrative of an event.