CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The BART shooting: Are violent protests the answer?

Oaklandriots What is it people used to say about urban centers during the civil rights protests of the '60s? Tinderbox.

No question that Oakland is a full-on bonfire, soaked in gasoline and just waiting for a match or two. Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson and reporter Henry Lee have provided readers a long running and deep image of a city off its moorings, from hapless (or absent or corrupt) government leaders to rampant homicide.

So is it the fuming frustrations of Oakland that provided the tinder for riotous, violent protest Wednesday night, and the shooting of Oscar Grant in a BART station the flame?


This doesn't make it right, as several thousand SFGate commenters made clear in a fugue of response, a sizable piece of it pulled as abusive. The damage to downtown property didn't help anyone, didn't solve any mysteries, didn't make anyone's life better, authorities more accountable or Oakland more liveable. It's like holding yourself hostage.

I get that it's complicated. But neither does that make it right and saying so doesn't make me guilty, as one commenter accused other comments, of "racism, classism, and general kneejerk bigotry."

A number of the comments that did make it on SFGate had the tint of a racial lens. It wasn't explicit but implicit in some of the references to both the protestors and Mr. Grant as "thugs" with criminal histories and intent.

While the grainy video images of the fatal BART incident appeared to be a kind of Rodney-King, black/white showdown, the Oakland PD has come some distance from the Riders days; the Mayor, if you can find him, is African-American with a long history of activism and, in what would have been a shock to all citizens back in the 60s, a black man is about to assume the presidency of the United States.

So it's not clear whether race was actually another match to the pyre, rather than just an easy outlet and excuse for action and comment. [Mark Godsey]

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