Thursday, July 08, 2010

Inciting a Riot, (Social) Media Style

It finally happened- Over a year and a half later, Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the killing of unarmed Oscar Grant. Oakland has been preparing for this day for weeks, or months, in ways that have been making me privately adopt a contrarian stance: hell no, there won't be riots. "Operation Verdict," really? Groups came out with a PSA discouraging violence and the city set up positive open spaces that people could go to and "share their feelings." I just rolled my eyes on that last one. At the same time as the city was setting up this nice, Berkeley-esque sharing is caring stuff, they were also helping businesses board up stores all around the city, creating a creepy apocalyptic feeling near my house (Fruitvale) and downtown to "prevent" property damage with broken windows.

All of this made me feel rather disgusted with the whole thing. What were we saying to the rest of the world other than "of course Oakland will riot?" "Of course Oakland can't manage to express their feelings without taking it out on their own city." Sure, there is precedent, as everyone reminds me when I bring up this point of view: Oakland even burned itself down when the Raiders lost the Super Bowl. And there were "skirmishes" last year about Mehserle/Grant. But this whole thing seemed too much: if we say it's going to happen, and we act like it's going to happen (boarding up windows, preparing with riot gear and cannons), and we read and write lengthy newspaper articles that it's going to happen- well, why not?

Once the judge removed 1st Degree Murder from the options, the sentiment was that there was nothing "good enough" for justice for Oscar Grant. Colorlines has a helpful graphic showing what each verdict would have meant:

The "involuntary manslaughter" verdict was just shy of acquittal, and of course people are angry.

I am sad about all of this. It's too early to tell- it's 947, and "violence" and "looting" are just starting, even though the verdict has been out for 5+ hours, but the word is that outside instigators/agitators are startign the problems. I feel like outside instigators/agitators have been starting the problems all along, on the news, in the beauracracy, etc. Read some of these articles, for other perspectives: from Oakbook, from the from the Ella Baker Center, from KALW news, from Oakland North, from Colorlines, another from Oakbook. I've read a lot of awesome stuff on twitter, some great people urging alternatives to violence, and creative solutions, along with the above articles. I've also read some alarming "I told you so's."

Most upsetting are all of the "look-y loo's." I've written before about look-y loos, and even my ambivalence about being a look-y loo. But today it's just getting to me. People, this is life, not an event. All of this hype, all of this preparation- Oscar Grant was a man, shot and killed. All of these people are upset, furious, angry, sad, frustrated, devastated about his killing, by a law enforcement professional who was supposed to be protecting and serving. They are protesting (or agitating, and maybe those people don't care) because they care. Because they have been sitting on the edge of their seats to find out if the jury cares, because judges and juries are part of our checks and balances, and we want justice. This is not a photo op. This is Oakland. We are people. Riots are not something fun to shoot. It's not a "scoop" to make your photography career.

Unless it is. Unless you're an adrenaline junky, or work for the police who need this kind of shit to go down to stay in business. Maybe I am a conspiracy theorist. People love to see other people suffer. People love to hate on Oakland. And this is voyerism at it's best. I'm turning it off now, if I can tear my eyes away from the trainwreck- I'm watching the rubberneckers watch my city suffer.

I can't help it. I'm from Oakland. I love Oakland. I'm an optimist, and I can't believe that we will do this to ourselves. Stand up Oakland, make me proud.

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