Before I write anything else, I want to make clear that this post does not mean to endorse rioting. Trying to understand a phenomenon does not equate to sympathizing with it. However, a better understanding of what motivates the rioters will prevent us from falling into stereotypes, and give a better sense of how to avoid such incidents in the future.
Obviously, the people of Ferguson and surrounding areas are not acting on eighteenth-century moral precepts on the distribution of food. However, there is an underlying moral logic to the violence. The rioters were not only targeting individual police officers and business, but the representatives of a corrupt system that has failed to bring them justice and deliberately refuses to do so.
One only had to watch Bill McCulloch for a few minutes last night to realize the fix had been in from the start. McCulloch, rather than crafting a case for an indictment, simply did an info-dump of conflicting accounts on the jury in order to make it difficult for them to reach a consensus on indicting. As Brown's parents and their attorneys stated, the system is obviously broken. When legal measures become overtly futile, violence is always a potential outcome.
What makes things even worse is that this was the expected course of events in Ferguson
Furthermore, listening to the BBC World News Hour this morning, interviews with non-violent demonstrators showed that while they did not approve of the violence and looting, they understood all too well where it is coming from. As one woman pointed out, it is open to question whether any major attention would have been paid to Brown's shooting had there not been any rioting.
These reasons are worth keeping in mind as we watch news coverage of the violence, which will inevitably fail to place the events in any context. We don't have to condone violence to understand its origins.