Thursday, January 15, 2009

Oscar Grant III

I don't blog much about Oakland; plenty of bright people already cover that beat, and frankly I get tired of spitting into the wind. With the Bush administration, bad as it was, we all knew it couldn't last past Jan. 20. With Oakland, who knows??

Since it made the national press, you've probably read the accounts of the death of Oscar Grant III, a supermarket worker who found himself in the wrong company on New Year's Eve and was shot to death by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer. While lying face down on the platform with his hands behind his back, waiting to be handcuffed. The officer refused to answer questions and, in a first, has been arrested for murder, based on the videos captured by the BART riders' ever-present cellphones. (Do people actually not realize that their every public action could end up on YouTube??)

What I want to talk about here is the reaction of the local citizenry. We're all appalled, of course, without regard to skin color; but the local black community is especially outraged, seeing this as one more example of "the police" treating black people "as if we're nothing." (Oakland PD wasn't involved in the incident, and in fact has behaved extremely well during the resulting protests; but I guess one uniform looks like another.) As a result of this outrage, 2 successive peaceful (by intent) protests have expanded into violence and vandalism against downtown Oakland businesses. Most of which are owned by black and Asian businesspeople.

Here's my question, both for the peaceful protesters (the majority) and for the minority of thugs who smashed up businesses, bus shelters and cars: I understand your outrage over Oscar Grant's death, but where the hell were you all last year, when 124 people were murdered in Oakland?? Most of whom were young black men? Is the death of a "young black brother" only worth a protest in front of city hall when he's killed by a police officer?? I guess it's a closed shop: only young black men are allowed to kill young black men.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson published an excellent analysis in last week's Daily Voice, Obama Alone Can't Halt the Black Murder Surge, which is worth your attention. Criminologists (and the boys in the 'hood) have known for years that the majority of murdered young black men are killed by other young black men, and that there aren't any consequences when it happens.

The situation in Oakland isn't simple. The police department has internal problems, the mayor is missing in action, the city council is dysfunctional, the city has massive budget deficits which are going to cut what services we have, and there's an active antipathy to the police in the roughest neighborhoods which means that when something happens, nobody will speak up for fear of being labeled a "snitch" - a label which does carry consequences. The result is that armed gangs hold the city and the neighborhoods hostage.

OK, I don't live in those neighborhoods; I'm a middle-aged white woman living in the hills. Why do I care? Because, dammit, I hate to see the bad guys win; and they're winning here.
I'm outraged when a "young black brother" is shot to death. I just don't see what I can do about it. None of these kids is going to listen to me. Marching on city hall and smashing cop cars does nothing except sell newspapers and get on the evening news. We've built an entire generation of young urban black men who don't think life is worth anything, theirs or anyone else's; these guys are dangerous, and I don't see anything concrete standing between me and them except that they haven't gotten over here yet.

I know there are plenty of good people in Oakland organized and working to fight this culture, but so far I don't see any widespread success. Mr. Hutchinson closes his article with this comment:
Obama has a role to play in the fight to reduce black homicides. But so do many others.
It's going to take everyone.


  1. That's such an important question - why not the other 124. It seems like that answer must come from within the culture. But how? And from whom?

  2. The elephant in the room is Black culture's refusal to take responsibility for its own bankrupt soul.

    Bill Cosby, almost alone among the authorized critics of his own ethnic class, came out publicly against this behavioral failure, criticizing African Americans who put higher priorities on sports, fashion, and "acting hard" than on education, self-respect, and self-improvement.

    Predictably, he was vilified in the liberal press for being disloyal and opportunistic. Black neighborhoods need to start changing this from inside. It won't happen as the result of any exterior intention; because every such gesture is rejected as meddling and exploitation. This self-pitying (and self-justifying) attitude has a history as long as your arm.

    Americans are hardened to it, and resigned to a future of racial disequilibrium.