Coming of Age in California…

More than 40 years after Anne Moody’s autobiography Coming of Age in Mississippi was published, I am amazed to see how far we still have to go in terms of race relations in America. Her book – an intimate portrait of the inequities and violence experienced as a poor, young, southern African American in rural Mississippi and her ultimate involvement in the civil rights movement – ends as she and fellow civil rights advocates ride a bus on their way to Washington D.C.

As riders sing the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” her fellow rider notices that she is not singing along. He asks, “Moody, we’re gonna git things straight in Washington, huh?” She doesn’t answer but only thinks to herself… I WONDER. I really WONDER.

And 4 decades later I find myself wondering, how is it that in some respects we’ve come so far, while in others we continue to fail so miserably?

As someone who loves the city of Oakland and the amazing state of California (I moved here from the East Coast as a young adult and have never once considered moving back), I was disheartened to see the events that transpired last night. What started off as a largely positive and peaceful protest, orchestrated by local government leaders, non-profits, clergy, citizens, and the like, was ultimately hijacked by a few, clearly hell-bent on destruction despite everyone’s pleas for peace (including the family of Oscar Grant).

I believe it will become clear as the details of these arrests come out, that the majority of these folks are not from Oakland. And the acts they commit, supposedly in the name of justice, are nothing more than senseless vandalism, theft, and destruction. They do not contribute in any way, shape, or form to the promotion of justice.

In fact, some of these horrible acts were committed by perpetrators wearing Oscar Grant masks. How f&*(ing ridiculous is that? As if it hasn’t been painful enough for the family members of Grant, to now have to witness these acts being performed by actors assuming his likeness. It’s the stupidest. StupidEST!

The photos below (borrowed from Oakland Tribune with photo credits and links to original articles) portray this idiocy.

Karl Mondon

This is AMUSEMENT?!? This is not a game people. This is a real community. Blacks, Whites, Browns, Reds, Yellows, hell, Purples, and Greens. WE ALL LIVE HERE!

Noah Berger

Please tell me how stealing shoes from local business owners promotes justice. Anyone?!?

In my opinion, these acts only hurt the cause because they continue to reinforce negative stereotypes. If the shoe fits…

Ray Chavez

FUN??? Again, I’m confounded. Is this about justice or is this about getting your rocks off?

Noah Berger

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, another classic of American Literature devoted to the theme of racial injustice, among others. As the media has highlighted various events going on this week in honor of the anniversary, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels with our current day events…

In To Kill A Mockingbird, a black man is charged with the crime of rape against a white woman. Despite his innocence, he is found guilty by the jury. An unjust verdict.

In the Mehserle trial, a white police officer is charged with the murder of a young, unarmed, black man. Despite the fact that his actions clearly resulted in the death of Grant, he was convicted of only “involuntary” manslaughter, meaning there was no intent.

The trials are very different to be sure, but both involve racially charged situations in which an unjust verdict was reached (or at least what many deem to be unjust, in the current case).

I, for one, plan to re-read To Kill A Mockingbird this weekend in honor of the anniversary, and in light of recent events. Its lessons remind us to treat each other with respect and compassion. To realize “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb around in his skin and walk around in it.”

Peace everyone.

9 thoughts on “Coming of Age in California…

  1. Tia Katrina Canlas

    – Property destruction is not synonymous with the absence of peace.
    – Stealing from Foot Locker does not equate to stealing from local business owners. Depending on the motive, stealing shoes from Foot Locker, a completely insured and financially stable corporation, when the cops are too busy spreading hysteria around Downtown Oakland to care about looters, might promote justice if the shoes were given to deserving teens, aspiring athletes, or homeless people with bloody feet: bloody because they have no shoes, blistered because they were running from the cops- who knows? Inequalities are just if and only if they benefit the least well off. It is UNJUST to give Foot Locker the blessing of being in Downtown Oakland if the CEO of Foot Locker does not give back to the communities in which their businesses spread like an infection. Hence, by stealing from Foot Locker, the looters thereby promotes justice by making things more equal.
    -The fact that the Looters stuck to the Big Guys (Foot Locker, The Bank of the Far East, Whole Foods, Sears, and Walgreens) is indicative of the intent to express anger in a destructive, but targeted manner. The fact that the next morning, trucks hauling window replacements and spray-paint-cleaning-chemicals came to the rescue of these businesses proves that nothing much was destroyed but easily replaceable inanimate objects. Everyone in Oakland is hoping that outsiders (“white suburban anarchists”) did all the looting so that we can defend our neighbors and say that the stereotype is wrong– that black people are NOT all criminals. What we need to realize is that IF IT SO HAPPENED THAT the looters were NOT outside agitators– if it so happened that the looters were from Oakland–and if it so happened that the looters were from Oakland and they were poor, uneducated, black men– the stereotypes are STILL WRONG. Fighting stereotypes does not merely involve pacifying angry crowds into inaction. It doesn’t mean teaching children of color to be strong but peaceful, forceful but humble, progressive but obedient. “If the shoe fits” you say… If the shoe fits, then they’re one in a million of other people who have the same fucking shoe size.
    -I agree with you that the Oscar Grant masks were disrespectful. All these white people with Oscar Grant masks yelling, I AM OSCAR GRANT. There’s a difference between showing support and appropriating an identity, a symbol. I am a young Pilipino woman and I am NOT Oscar Grant. I feel completely safe on BART when the police are next to me; the only thing I fear is that the cops will shoot another young black man right next to me– but not me. Having the freedom to walk around without the fear of being shot down or accused of looting because I look like a nerdy Asian girl makes me so different from Oscar Grant in privilege, safety, identity, and luck. I am NOT Oscar Grant and I will not wear his face like a costume.
    -I do not promote looting even though I can see how looting might theoretically promote justice. But what bothers me the most about the aftermath of the rally is how people in the comfort of their own homes reacted to the pictures and videos of the looters. “Shame on you” they say. “This is unproductive” they say. We have “failed so miserably” you say. But that’s not true. I am so proud of the young brave souls that spoke out last night. I am so proud of everyone who expressed their anger with art but I am also so proud of people who came to listen, to give those expressing their anger more forcefully and violently a voice worth using. And so what if 50 or so looters stuck around because they were still so angry and were not satisfied with the services offered by the government and several nonprofits? There were HUNDREDS of cops out there– enough to stop a whole city from rioting– but once again, they failed to protect Oakland quickly enough. Luckily, the looting was targeted on businesses that would not get hurt at all by it so even with an ineffective police force, the real LOCAL business owners of Oakland were protected.
    – So PLEASE, show more positive photos. Say more positive things. There are more than just these three photos. There are more than just those harsh words.

    1. studiodeb333 Post author

      Tia, you make some good points but there are many upon which I simply cannot agree with you…

      1) Destruction of property by DEFINITION is synonymous with absence of the peace. Period.
      2) I do not believe the cops were spreading hysteria. The media, perhaps. But the cops were preparing for a worst case scenario… and I do believe that all of the preparations by them, associated organizations, and government & non-government agencies helped contain this situation to the level it was contained. It could have been much worse.
      3) Your argument that the Looters “stuck to the Big Guys” somehow makes it OK is ludicrous. These business ARE local! They employ local community members and they serve local community members. And I guarantee that the folks smashing their windows don’t give a rat’s ass about their philanthropic works… Foot Locker has raised money for scholarships for United Negro College Fund. Whole Foods started the Whole Planet Foundation. There are other examples.
      4) You say the Oscar Grant masks were disrespectful, but only in reference to the “white people… yelling.” Are YOU a racist? What about the people of color wearing them while smashing windows and setting fires? Is that not disrespectful as well?
      5) I have no idea in the world how “looting might theoretically promote justice.” Because it’s a redistribution of wealth? Is that what you’re talking about? The fact is, that our city and our business community and our resident taxpayers (of which I am one) have to pay for this bullshit. This is money that could be FAR BETTER SPENT promoting justice… perhaps we could actually afford to fund our education system properly.

      Here’s what I agree with you on…
      1) I too am proud of all those who spoke out last night. I am proud of those who expressed their anger with art and those who came to listen.
      2) I too don’t understand why the cops, in their full presence who greatly outweighed the looters, didn’t stop it sooner.
      3) There ARE many more positive photos to show and if you click on any one of these it should take you to the full slideshow posted by Oakland Tribune. I wanted to show the photos that best exemplified what angered ME. As far as I’m concerned, the protest ended when the first window was smashed. That’s my opinion. After that, it just seems like people were getting their kicks destroying shit.

      1. will grizzly

        Clearly the people responsible for the looting were not responding to the trial verdict in a reasonable way.

        They may have been opportunists, using a moment of chaos for their own fun and profit. Or they may have been ideologists, who see corporate “oppression” as part of the same system that resulted in Oscar Grant’s death.

        Either way, the result of their action was only to further damage a community that is already suffering.

  2. Tia Katrina Canlas

    1) You can’t just put periods where there are none. The obsessive possession of property is violent. The means of obtaining property is violent. Sweatshops making shoes are violent. Foot Locker pushing out locally owned shoe stores is violent. Giving to a nonprofit organization is an easy way to cut taxes and promote one’s self as a “good” company, which is becoming more and more trendy. Hence, you’re right. I bet no one gives a rat’s ass about their “philanthropic” work because it’s hypocritical until they start promoting fairly traded shoes and perhaps until they promote a living wage for its workers.
    2) Exploiting LOCAL workers and taking LOCAL money does NOT make a multinational shoe store “LOCAL”. It just makes it “present”.
    3) I don’t understand how you have “no idea” how “looting might theoretically promote justice” when I already explained that Inequalities are Just if and only if they benefit the least well off. It’s not merely a redistribution of wealth but a leveling of the playing field. While Foot Locker is closed today, perhaps Cobblers Shoes will have more customers than usual, thereby truly benefiting Oakland locals. Sometimes, the destruction of property is the destruction of a symbol; sometimes that symbol is a very exploitative and VIOLENT one; that means the destruction of that symbol can theoretically promote justice.
    4) I too am an Oakland resident and an Oakland taxpayer. I have worked in local schools, group homes, and other charitable organizations and I know firsthand that we need to focus on our education system first and foremost. Being able to afford a proper education will take much MORE than ONE LESS RIOT. From what I’ve seen, only private property was damaged which means the only taxes spent on the reaction to the Mehserle verdict was on police overtime paychecks from the excessive use of police force. I completely agree that that money should have gone to teachers, counselors, and classrooms BUT the overwhelming presence of the police most definitely preceded, maybe even provoked, the looting thereafter.
    5) I never said that the black people wearing Oscar Grant masks were not disrespectful. But now that you bring it up, it is definitely much more disrespectful to be a white looter wearing an Oscar Grant mask than a black looter wearing one. Because the message “I AM OSCAR GRANT” is much more believable when a young black man says it than a young white man. Black men face the same racism, stereotypes, and hardships that Oscar Grant had to face. White people only have to face it when they want to. I am not racist and it is really offensive for you to throw around that word so carelessly– it lessens the severity of true racism. However, I do agree that it is disrespectful to wear the Oscar Grant mask, (even if you’re a black person), and do socially unacceptable things that Oscar Grant’s family would not want to associate with their lost loved one.

    I left the protest at 8:00PM because the speakers urged the crowd to disperse and be peaceful. I felt an overwhelming pang of dissatisfaction as I biked away, between police cars (one of which that hit a deaf woman protester). I consider myself a pacifist but the injustice of the Mehserle verdict makes one reconsider the conventional definitions of peace and justice. Instead of words of encouragement, mourning, and hope to ease our anger and heartbreak, we’re left with people angry at our anger, defending big business, dividing different kinds of supporters, and criminalizing assembly and speech. “Here are the good protesters. Here are the bad ones. Here are the good cops. Here are the bad ones”. It’s not black and white like that.

    1. studiodeb333 Post author

      I think we’re just gonna have to agree to disagree. We don’t live in a communist state Tia. We live in a capitalist society, where unfortunately, goods/wealth/etc are distributed inequitably. Is it fair? No. Does it mean it’s ok to steal or destroy something that belongs to someone else just because it’s not yours? No.

      The companies that you refer to as “present”, rather than local DO employ local citizens. You can call it exploitation if you want, but I bet if you asked the folks who work there, they’d tell you they’re pretty happy to have a job in this economy (you say the world is not black and white and yet you portray “big business” in very B/W terms). Also the businesses operating in our city, regardless of whether they are national or multi-national corporations, pay business taxes for doing business in our city. If you make it unpleasant for them to do business here, they will move elsewhere (like antiseptic Emeryville), and we will lose more money, that we both agree could be going to better use.

      I’m not angry with people’s anger. I feel the anger is justified, and frankly I’m a bit mystified about the verdict myself. The man was trained in the use of handling weapons in life and death situations and he pulled the trigger, did he not? But I wasn’t in the courtroom and I didn’t hear all the testimony so it’s not for me to decide. There are other means to pursue on the road to justice besides the symbolic destruction of property, which in my opinion, does nothing to rectify the situation or promote solutions. It only deepens the hatred, fear, and distrust between people.

      And for the record, I do believe there are good cops and bad cops. And good protesters and bad ones. I’m sorry, but you’ll just have to forgive me for my limited thinking. I’m revising the previous statement… it was written in haste and is not really what I believe. Of course human beings are complex, and life is complicated. You can argue that the rioting was done for “good” reasons. Perhaps for many this is true, though regardless of good reasons, I still cannot condone the actions. But I believe these photos (and others) exemplify that for at least some, it was not about fighting for justice or rebelling against oppression, but rather the thrill of pure lawlessness.

      1. Christopher Myers

        I don’t condone violence or theft. Yet I cannot condemn the people who did it last night. Why? Because the officials and police keep telling everyone “it’s fine if you want to cry into your microphones and yell to let your anger out, but keep within the rule of law, or we’ll put a boot in your face.” The rule of law. Justice: What they invoke to keep the citizens in check. But we all watched as a white cop got a few years in prison for what a black man would be executed or thrown in jail for life for. So the justice system systematically teaches people of color that the justice they get is always far poorer than the justice other people get. And when beaten down by this absurd hypocrisy again and again, with this case being too flagrant to ignore, what reason do hopeless people have to “keep the peace”? What “constructive” means will they use to fight the system and make it work for them? It just won’t. What rioting is, is a consequence of the injustice of people in power. It isn’t morally sound to break things that aren’t yours, or steal things, or throw a bottle at a human cop who really is just doing his job, it is simply a consequence. And if that’s the only consequence that politically powerless people can come up with, then so be it.

        I also have to agree with Tia Katrina: Corporations really don’t need to be applauded for their advertising through philanthropy. The end result is nice: getting money to people that need it, but the damage they’re doing behind the scenes through sweat shops and other amoral practices outweigh the benefit. And the underpaid workers are going to get the same paycheck whether or not the storefront window is broken, I’m pretty sure.

        As for the color of the people rioting. Who cares. I’m not interested in whether or not each individual “deserves” to riot, I’ve already said it isn’t morally OK. It’s a perfectly natural phenomenon that is perfectly understandable under the circumstances.

      2. studiodeb333 Post author

        i understand what you are both saying, but ultimately I agree w/ Will’s very succinctly put statement below… “the result of their action was only to further damage a community that is already suffering.” That’s the essence point I was making. I’m sorry Tia feels offended by the post. I try to write every day about the positive things I see in Oakland. Once in awhile I write about the things that upset me. That’s my preogative.

      3. Tia Katrina Canlas

        I understand we don’t live in a communist state and I’m really happy we don’t. Also, with such a strong military, there is no way in hell that I would ever advocate for a revolution — Communist Party style. More of our people would just end up dead.

        Instead of a revolution, I hope for an evolution of ideas. For example, you started off asking, “Please tell me how stealing shoes from local business owners promotes justice. Anyone?!?” And with a little bit of explanation from me, you finally conceded, “goods/wealth/etc are distributed inequitably. Is it fair? No.” That’s GREAT progress because you started with a completely capitalistic property-protecting perspective and ended with a recognition of unfairness in the current system. I’m not a naive idealist and I do NOT need to be told that I’m not living in a communist state.

        An evolution of ideas is also exemplified in the higher demand for Fair Trade Certified™ and sweat shop free products. We don’t need to be a bunch of pinko commies to appreciate and ACTIVELY and FORCEFULLY PREFER independent business owners (who also pay business taxes and typically have a higher stake in the safety and success of a the community because they’re business owners that employ locals who are also their neighbors) over Foot Locker and Walgreens.

        As for your comments about how it was not your verdict to decide… the jury is supposed to be an unbiased representation of the entire community. That means, when a jury is chosen from Butte County, the verdict might be entirely different from what it was in Los Angeles. And that’s what protests are good for– altering the status quo, slowly shifting perceptions and ideas, SCREAMING that is is NOT FAIR so that if you’re in the jury box next time, such a decision would not be born again.

        My friend sent me the link to your blog this afternoon because she said that she used to respect this blog a lot until you posted this. She was offended and so I read it and felt the same reaction. The fact that people subscribe to your blog means that you have a voice and you can spark an evolution of ideas. You can talk about your anger of the Mehserle trial verdict but instead you talked about how disheartened you were when looters disrespected your beloved Oaktown.

        What I think is disrespectful is that there were lest than 1000 protesters. I think it’s disrespectful that only two blocks were filled (and not even that filled) with mourners and supporters. People were so terrified of looters and rioters that they didn’t even come out to inspire feelings of peace and love. I will agree to disagree, which means I’ll stop responding (unless you ask me to) to your responses. And I will forgive some of the hurtful things you’ve said but I will NOT give you the blessing of forgiving you for your “limited thinking”. If you recognize that it’s limited, then expand.

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