Is It An 'Uprising' Or A 'Riot'? Depends On Who's Watching : Code Switch Words describing the same event can mean very different things. It's no surprise that people can't agree on a label for what's happening in Baltimore.
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Is It An 'Uprising' Or A 'Riot'? Depends On Who's Watching

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Is It An 'Uprising' Or A 'Riot'? Depends On Who's Watching

Is It An 'Uprising' Or A 'Riot'? Depends On Who's Watching

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we have a story of Baltimore's riot.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Or rather, of Baltimore's rebellion.

INSKEEP: Those are two of the terms people have used for the kind of urban violence experienced in Baltimore.

MONTAGNE: There's a lot of politics behind what you call it, what word you choose. Here's Karen Grigsby Bates from NPR's Code Switch team.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: You heard a lot of this as the media covered the events in Baltimore this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Rioters pelting police...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Baltimore erupted in riots today.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Declared as rioting has broken out on the streets...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Riot has turned that city into a burning war zone.

BATES: Those were clips from CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC. They called what was happening in Baltimore the same thing, but not everyone did. On Monday night, CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill said while he did not condone the violence and property destruction, he believes black Baltimore was expressing legitimate anger about biased policing and indifference to its poverty.

(SOUNDBITE OF CNN NEWS BROADCAST)

MARC LAMONT HILL: I'm not calling these people rioters. I'm calling these uprisings. And I think it's an important distinction to make.

BATES: Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross, understands it's often hard to accurately describe what's going on in the middle of chaos.

JACK SCHNEIDER: What it looks like is less important than what motivates it. I think that a riot often looks identical to a rebellion.

BATES: And sometimes, says University of Southern California sociologist Karen Sternheimer, it's both.

KAREN STERNHEIMER: There is often people who are involved in rebellion and people are involved in rioting in the same events.

BATES: Sternheimer says the media may have a more venal reason for using the term riot and focusing on violence.

STERNHEIMER: Watching people peacefully protest is boring for any kind of news channel that is looking for ratings.

BATES: An angry demonstrator made the same point to talk show host Geraldo Rivera earlier this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED DEMONSTRATOR: I want you and Fox News to get out of Baltimore City...

GERALDO RIVERA: I'm sorry; I'm not leaving.

UNIDENTIFIED DEMONSTRATOR: Because you're not here reporting about the barred - the boarded-up homes and the homeless people under M.L.K. You're not reporting about the poverty levels up and down North Avenue. But you're here for the black riots that happened.

SCHNEIDER: You don't respond to the concerns of rioters. You pepper spray them.

BATES: Jack Schneider believes the choice in terminology during an event can shape what happens after.

SCHNEIDER: If you consider it as a rebellion, you all of a sudden are responsible for thinking more deeply about its origins and the roots and the collective responsibility that we bear for it.

BATES: Which probably means the language used to describe Baltimore may continue to evolve. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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