The Oscar Grant Protest Narratives

The dominant narrative in the press about the Oscar Grant protests is something like “community leaders” called for nonviolent protests but “the trouble boiled down to a . . . mob. . . the main instigators, organized “anarchist” agitators. . .a determined knot of renegades. . . outsiders “who are almost professional people who go into crowds like this and cause problems. . . bent on destruction no matter what.” Then there are descriptions of the destruction and violence and more voices denouncing the actions of the “knot”. (All of the above quotations come from the SFGate article: “After dark, mobs form, smash windows, loot” at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fc%2Fa%2F2010%2F07%2F08%2FBAFL1EBKII.DTL&tsp=1#ixzz0tBcodRiq ).

Does this narrative seem thin and somewhat cartoonish to anyone else? It does not seem like a thick story of literary merit to me. Hopefully, in the next week there will be articles that include perspectives of the people who engaged in the property destruction and analyses that goes beyond “mindless anarchists like the chance to destroy stuff.”

Are there other perspectives that might be useful to include in the narrative of what happened Thursday night? Here are a few to consider:

1) Unlike what the SFGate article states, “the trouble” should not be “boiled down to . . . a mob”. The trouble is much larger and more complex than that and I don’t think it should be located exclusively within the protesters.

2) “Searching for Justice as Oakland Streets Turn Lawless” by Jesse Strauss
“The community is angry, and there is no correct platform to address that anger. For those who are sure that Mehserle should be charged with a crime stronger than involuntary manslaughter, the legal approach did not work.”
“The night started with people moving and becoming angry (or angrier) because police declared a peaceful gathering in the street to be illegal. Windows were broken because people were angry and moving quickly down the streets with nowhere to voice their anger safely.”
“no one seemed uncomfortable by the huge amount of support given by the larger Bay Area. What many sources have called "outside agitators", many people in the streets last night recognized as community support.”

3) The psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon writes in The Wretched of the Earth that for people who are oppressed violence can be cathartic and liberate a sense of power. This makes me think that without a correct platform to address anger many people will use violence.

4) JFK said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." Again, here’s the theory that if peaceful means of addressing anger aren’t permitted or accessible then violence will happen.

5) Is putting people in jail for a certain number of years the best possible form of justice and the most satisfying for the family of victims like Oscar Grant? How might the entire community have responded differently if we had a restorative justice model ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorative_justice ). Research shows that “When victims reported on their before-conference and after-conference feelings, there were large differences . . . on all the following dimensions: fear of the offender (especially for violence victims); perceived likelihood of revictimisation; sense of security; anger towards the offender; sympathy for the offender and the offender’s supporters; feelings of trust in others; feelings of self-confidence; anxiety.”

6) To those who say that “violence never solves anything” I’d have to disagree. Even “random” property destruction gets a lot of attention and raises the social costs of an issue to the people in power. I can easily imagine policy makers deciding to prioritize anti-police brutality training in their budgets because they do not want people destroying their city and making them look bad. I can also easily imagine that budgeting not happening if activists only use peaceful protests and voting as strategies. I’m not saying that activists should use more violence I’m saying that I think absolute statements like “violence never solves anything” are not true.

7) I’d also like included in the storytelling of all this, the impact of the property destruction on the people who owned the property, the impact of the court decision on the family and friends of Oscar Grant, and the impact of the court decision on the family and friends of police officer Mehserle and Mehserle himself.

What other perspectives do you think are important to include?



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