Jul 12, 2010

I Don't Swim in Your Toilet, So Please Don't Piss in My Pool

There's a time that we have to say that people coming from outside that impact our city, our town, the place that we live, that we work, that we play in, needs to stop.

--Anthony Batts, Oakland Police Chief

My mother, on vacation in Hong Kong with my stepdad, called me in a panic last Friday evening. It was morning in Hong Kong, and she had just opened the hotel’s complimentary newspaper to its international section, discovering a full-page image of what she claimed looked to her like a “war zone”. Broken glass. Police in riot gear. Young people being arrested.

But it wasn't a war zone. It was Oakland.

My mom was looking at a picture taken of downtown Oakland last Thursday night, a few hours after the announcement that former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle had been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter with gun enhancement in regard to the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant.

Of course, my mother’s panicked call came as no surprise to me. I had no doubt that, as soon as word of the protests and looting made its way to the other side of the world, my mother would be envisioning me in a pool of blood on the floor of Foot Locker, trampled to death amidst a pile of mismatched shoelaces and patent-leather Air Jordans, a Nike tread imprinted on my forehead.

As I proceeded to allay my mother's fears, I found myself angry that even the international media had jumped on the opportunity to sensationalize the senseless looting that went on the night of July 8th. I say “looting” rather than “protesting”, because that is predominantly what was depicted that day, and it irks me that the difference between the two has been muddied. For weeks the possibility of violent riots had been amped by the media and civilians alike. The Internet was ablaze with gawkers and instigators (again, largely from areas outside of Oakland) who were already armchair-quarterbacking and satirizing the impending "crisis".  When the majority of the anticipated drama largely failed to materialize, the tone on local broadcasts seemed to be as if game seven of the World Series had been rained-out. Quick! Somebody cut to a Seinfeld rerun before our ratings drop any further!

Of course, the majority of those who gathered in downtown Oakland that day were there to peacefully protest the verdict, but that story wasn't the one seen largely by the rest of the world. As is often the case when people view Oakland as outsiders, the press continued to uglify and awfulize the situation and the city, depicting a distorted image of what really went down that day. 

Indeed, there was significant damage done to a number businesses (although most of these crimes were concentrated within the same half-mile radius). And of course there were  individuals who used the protest as an opportunity to act like fools. Unfortunately, these events and individuals were just another vehicle for Judgy McJudgersons to give Oakland the bad rap it so often receives, when in reality, Oakland had little to do with any of it.

According to Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, the majority of the 1,000 or so protesters who took to the streets exercised their First Amendment rights peacefully. Furthermore, three-quarters of the 78 people who were arrested that evening were not even residents of Oakland.

I understand the need for businesses to protect their property from vandals and looters, but I would add that it does not do wonders for the morale of a people when they drive down their local thoroughfare and see a plywood buttress that extends for blocks and blocks.  It reminds me of the kid whose parents put a lock on their liquor cabinet--he's usually the same kid paying the dopefiend outside 7-11 to score him a six-pack.  Which came first, the kid's drinking or the parent's lack of trust?  Hard to say, and I'm not sure what the solution is, either way.  Again, I don't deny that businesses need to take the appropriate measures to stay safe. It's just sad to me, as an Oakland resident, when I see a vibrant city transformed into a faceless plywood barricade, with the knowledge that the majority of the people from whom those businesses are to be protected are coming from out of town to piss on our city.  Regardless, dynamics like these rarely lead to a healthy living situation, whether in a single-family home or in society as a whole.

Finally, I'd like to commend Chief Batts and the rest of the OPD for doing an outstanding job at controlling the situation on July 8th, while still granting the legitimate protesters ample time, space, and respect to voice their opposition to the verdict. A thankless job, to say the least, particularly since they carried it out knowing full well that 80 of the 776 officers in their department would be laid off the following week.

Stay strong, Oakland.  And stay proud.

Rest in peace, Oscar Grant.
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Blossom said...
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