Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Waiting for Mehserle

Oakland, California isn't a very comfortable place right now.  The city government is broke, or close to it, because of some Really Stupid decisions made by the City Council in previous years (most of them by the current elected council members).   They've just laid off 80 police officers, from a force that was already grossly understaffed.  Everyone (with the possible exception of Mayor Dellums, whose grasp of reality doesn't impress me) is convinced that more budget cuts are coming.  No one, starting with the Council, is making any attempt to estimate how much money might actually be coming in next year, and to budget the city government to live within that amount.  (They can't, actually; due to some of those Stupid Decisions, they've already committed to spend more than they can possibly take in, in this economy.)  The council wants to pass two property tax measures on the November ballot, to avoid laying off something like a quarter of the police force; I don't think they realize the extent to which their constituents wouldn't trust them with the contents of a child's piggy bank.

And on top of all that, the Mehserle trial went to the jury, the day before the July 4 weekend.

I'm not going to go over the whole mess again.  If you've been living in a cave for the last 18 months, open up a Google search and type in "Mehserle."  Or read this article from Wikipedia.

The good news is that the jury didn't rule before the long weekend.  The bad news is that they had to start deliberations over again, today, because somebody went on vacation and they had to put in an alternate. 

The really bad news is that a group of people here in Oakland have already decided that the verdict won't bring "justice for Oscar Grant" (Google the phrase if you want to see their call to arms; I won't dignify it by linking it), and are planning a "gathering" in front of city hall whenever the verdict is published. 

For gathering read:  riot.  We had two days of riots after the incident, even though the Oakland Police weren't involved in the Mehserle incident.  They're going to be involved in this, though - Chief Batts is appealing for calm (see his video at and bracing for the opposite.  The general feeling is that downtown Oakland is a bad place to be over the next few days.  I bet the merchants love that.

It escapes me how tearing up downtown Oakland will provide Oscar Grant with justice, or anything resembling it.  I understand that young black people feel anger toward the police.  But as others have asked, I have to ask:  where is all this anger, where is all this urge for justice, when young black people are killed by other young black people??  Is that OK? 

I volunteer downtown.  I know that at least some of the small businesses around Frank Ogawa Plaza are black-owned - and they'll be right in the middle of the violence.  Is it OK for a small business owned by an African-American to be torn up and maybe looted, as long as the rioters are black??

For that matter, it escapes me why people think violence ever solves anything.  All violence does is breed more violence.  The first thing we should always do is try to think of a non-violent way to handle a situation; Gandhi understood that, the civil rights demonstrators in the '60s understood that, and they changed their worlds with nonviolence.  Violence seems to make the rioters feel that they've "done something" to "show people" that "they won't put up with this."  But when the riot is over, nothing has changed, except that a lot of people who had nothing to do with Oscar Grant have a mess to clean up.

I wonder how they'll justify the riot if the jury actually convicts Mehserle of manslaughter (the worst verdict I personally would vote for) and he does some time.  But then, they're tearing the place up in a noble cause.  Aren't they?

1 comment:

  1. I was really surprised to see Dellums get up in front of the media--looking as if he just interrupted a barbecue binge to drop a few down-home black pearls for the honkey media--and talk about the public's "right to organize and demonstrate" (which is a code strategy that exonerates "his people" for whatever they're likely to do).

    I never understood the Watts riots. Just a lot of teenagers smashing windows, beating people up, and stealing things. "Riots" like this aren't pressure valves for suppression--they're free-for-all Summer Games for bored, unemployed, mischievous youths. It's the raw edge of racial hatred expressed through the irrational element of the "ethnic" fringe.

    And you're 100% right about Black on Black violence. Why is that okay, while a single incident like this isn't? Has anyone asked him/herself how much responsibility the original participants (and the angry, screaming crowd of obstreperous onlookers) should bear in having whipped up the situation in the first place?