i’ve been the embattled writer going back and forth with myself and the cowriters of this blog as to whether or not i wanted to publicly share my feelings, thoughts, emotions, and political opinions on what’s been happening in Oakland. but tonite, as i ran lake merritt, on what had to have been the most beautiful nite so far this year, i remembered why i’ve always been so enamored with this city. i love Oakland for all its simplicities, intertwined with its complexities. we don’t have the star power of an LA or NYC, or even an SF. we don’t have the big bucks of a Palo Alto, the hot tropics of a Miami, the early historical footprints of a Boston (albeit, a eurocentric one), or the sex appeal of a NOLA. but what we do have, which never ceases to fade, is pride. i’m not just talking about the “i *heart* fill in the blank city” pride, i’m talking about the pride that wherever you go, you’ll always be sure to assert that no, you’re not from San Francisco, you’re from Oakland. you embrace the glorified ghettoness, you own the experiences of living within the boundaries, and you forever hold a special place for Oakland within your heart. even those who have never lived in Oakland, but have made some affiliation with the city, look at the place with an undeniable fondness (after all the sh!t talking, of course).
it definitely breaks my heart to see what Oakland has gone through, particularly within the last few years: a yearly heighten homicide rate, a dysfunctional city government, and an increasing gap between the poor and privileged. so it was not a surprise that the horrendous killing of an unarmed young man by a public servant, paid to “protect and serve” caused outrage among an already demoralized community. the additional lack of immediate response and appeal to the community by agency and city leaders led to subsequent rage of emotions, as captured by countless news outlets throughout the country. had it have been five years ago, i would have been out there in the streets of downtown Oakland protesting along with the rest of the enraged community. yes, five years ago, i would have condoned the actions of disrupting the neighborhood and challenging the police who had yet again, failed the community. but that nite, i sat at home and watched it all unfold on television. i couldn’t help but be disturbed by what i was seeing. i thought to myself, had i gone bougie? had i lost touch with the community that helped raise me and my social consciousness? then i realized, no it’s not that i’ve turned my back on the community and city that have been my frame of reference for why i do the work that i do, it’s that i realized that at the end of that nite, after the flames in the trash bins die out and the last piece of shattered glass falls off the storefront, the community will continue to suffer.
we can’t afford to completely alienate ourselves from the powers that control the policies and decisions that enables us to provide a quality of life for ourselves, our elders, our children, and our future. but most importantly, at the end of the day, burning trash bins, smashing storefronts, defacing city property doesn’t hurt the people who hurt us, because they go home to cozy suburbs and fancy 6 figure salaries. it’s the already pain-stricken community that ends up paying for the remnants of the emotional outcry. it’s the already mismanaged public funds that comes from the community’s tax dollars that will be used to clean up the damages. it’s not the salaries of the power hungry, trigger happy cops, it’s not the money already allocated to repaved the recently paved roads of the oakland hills or rockridge neighborhoods. it is our youth programs and social services that will get cut in order to allocate funds to resolve these issues. so i wonder, aside from declaring the community’s anger and frustrations, which i believe can be done through protest that doesn’t involve defacing anything (which was how the protest started off as), how does jumping on police cars and throwing over news racks do anything to progress the movement of social justice?
and i definitely disagree with the statement regarding how the storeowner whose business was destroyed was lucky that it was her business and not her life. as a child who grew up with two working parents who owned their own business, i know damn well that that business was our livelihood, it was our life. it was that business that put food in the mouths of four children and that clothed each and everyone of us. it was that business that housed us and put us through school. so for those who aimlessly went on to vandalize storefronts and looted businesses, i question your acts as standing up for the cause, but rather of going completely against the efforts of moving our people forward in a society that has constantly kept us back. i would even go as far as saying that in some instances, destroying someone’s business IS in fact, destroying their life. these weren’t posh, high end retailers, whose owners opened up shop just for kicks, that were being destroyed, these were people of color, women owned businesses that came to work the next day to see added challenges to keep their business afloat during this already hard economic time.
yes, the community is hurt and pissed off, not only because of the killing of the young man, but because of the historical injustices embedded in our community for years prior to the incident that took place on new year’s day. however, in an effort to realize that things have to change, and it has to happen beyond the actions that took place the nite of the protest, we need to take a serious look at who controls the policies that defines how we live in our city. who makes the decisions that allow our young people to go to schools with inadequate resources? who enables poorly trained cops with serious racial ignorance to patrol our streets? do we trust those people who have those powers? because that’s who ultimately pulled the trigger, not only on the young man that nite at fruitvale bart, but on all those who died before him as well.
so yes, you may think that chaos in downtown Oakland got your message across to the leaders of the city, but after you pay for the damages, what holds them accountable to implement any changes that will stop these brutal killings and the constant unethical practices of the police department? unless we put ourselves in a legitimate position to institutionalize these changes and be in control of making those decisions, we remain powerless and unable to progress. looting and destruction is not a means to an end.