Don't Believe the Media Hype -- After the Oscar Grant Verdict, Oakland Stayed Home
EMERYVILLE, Calif. -- From the balcony, I can see the only supermarket serving a wide swath of West Oakland and neighboring Emeryville. In addition to the Pac ‘N’ Save, the same shopping district is home to a variety of other chain businesses: Best Buy, Sports Authority, GameStop, Baskin-Robbins and a massive Home Depot.
If there had been any real riots in Oakland last night -- on par with what happened after the Rodney King verdict in 1992 or when the Raiders won the AFC Championship game in 2002 -- I would have had a catbird seat to witness the carnage. No matter what the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle might lead you to believe, those riots didn’t happen.
Before night fell, I was in downtown Oakland listening to very articulate and passionate young people -- many from the organization Youth Uprising -- decrying violence, pushing a line that helped keep things relatively calm immediately after the Johannes Mehserle verdict came down. There were maybe 500 people -- a very diverse crowd in terms of age, ethnicity, gender and race -- and hundreds of police.
The people were obviously upset and the police were obviously ready for anything -- they’d been practicing for weeks. The streets knew that, and they kept their cool. Oakland is too smart to get caught up fighting the National Guard and hi-tech crowd suppression tactics.
The relatively minor damage and looting that took place later in the evening has overshadowed the real story.
For, perhaps, the first time in California history, a cop was found guilty of something (however vague, not murder) after shooting an unarmed black man in the back. Whether or not Mehserle gets any real jail time for his crime will be decided in early August. What is clear now, though, is that Oakland fooled everyone. The expectation was that the city would burn. What happened was that the city stayed home.
On the streets last night, there were almost as many journalists, news cameras and regular people with cell phone cameras as protestors/anarchists.
The biggest indication that the so-called riot was a media creation is the fact that Oakland’s Chinatown, just blocks away from the ruckus downtown, was left untouched.
During the Rodney King rebellion, there was palpable tension between the black and Asian communities. Months before the L.A. riots in 1992, a young black woman had been shot in the back of the head by a Korean woman for allegedly stealing -- an incident caught on videotape. After the King verdict, looters targeted Korean stores.
In Oakland, there was supposedly the same kind of tension between the black and Chinese communities in the wake of some recent high-profile attacks against Asians that resulted in injury and death.
If that tension was all it was hyped up to be, Chinatown would have been targeted last night. It wasn’t. Oakland stayed home.