Amidst the chaos
Posted January 9, 2009 12:57 am (about 4028 days ago)For those in Oakland, we're in the midst of incredible tensions regarding the shooting of Oscar Grant, an unarmed man, lying face down, by the BART (train) police. As I write this, a series of protests are still happening, but have wound down a bit. Among some of the incidents are the smashing of several store windows and cars being lit on fire. I live several blocks away from the heart of the happenings and it's quiet here. Due to the other buildings I cant see what's happening on the ground, but there a still a few helicopters circling. Like just about everyone else, I have plenty of thoughts about the shooting, police, and the protest. I'll probably write more as time permits, but responsibilities keep me from writing more. These responsibilities kept me from being downtown, in the heart of the protests longer, and probably out of trouble. Quite frankly, I don't do chaos well. At least one police car was attacked, which I understand, although don't necessarily agree with this go around, as well as civilian cars, which I don't understand. A McDonalds had its windows smashed, which I kind of get if you're fighting "the machine," but locally-owned businesses also had windows smashed, which I don't get. People are understandably angry, but how does attacking innocent people help anything? I've been a part of numerous protests for half my life, but when it starts getting out of control, I bounce. Violent protests get attention, but by themselves, in general I'm not convinced of their effectiveness beyond letting people know we're angry, especially when people are destroying their own community. Of course, this is assuming that all the people being destructive actually live in the community. There’s a long history of outside agitators coming in and mucking things up, then leaving locals to clean up the mess.
At any rate, while all of this was happening, I was attending a couple high school basketball games in downtown Oakland. We were in the middle of this chaos, yet indoors so had no idea what was happening until the end of the last game and an announcement was made that public transportation was shut down. Once we went outside, there were cops everywhere, helicopters, and various blocks were cordoned off. Fortunately everyone made it home without anything major happening.
I mention this basketball game because it was one of those powerful moments that keeps me loving my job, and the community of Oakland. With all of the violence happening locally (Oscar Grant is getting the headlines, but unfortunately he's not the only one to die in the past week), as well as abroad, it's easy to get caught up in the ugliness of our world. Yet literally in the middle of anger and strife were several dozen youth participating in positive activities and building community, oblivious to the madness of the world. Our predominately Latino school was playing against a predominately African American school and there were mostly positive vibes. The boys' game literally came down to the wire, with a difference of two points at the end. Players from both teams came together to chat it up, I spoke with fans on both sides and had great interactions with everyone from the students selling food, to those working security, to others just milling about. Other adults mentioned how well-mannered the students of the host team, Envision Academy, were. So much is made about how wild youth are, particularly students of color from urban areas such as Oakland. I won't pretend that there are some rough kids out there and there was some trash talking by some of the students, but for the most part, tonight's event was the other side of the coin; either kids who are just calmer and with home training, or the same wild/hyphy kids we complain about, showing us their other side. Regardless, it's a side of Oakland that most people lose in the headlines of crime and violence. Furthermore, much is made of the racial conflicts of California, which are real, yet everyday those of us who live here, know it's more complicated.
Watching these two hard fought games, by students from schools with radically different ethnic populations, isn't as rare as many people think. After the game, students who "looked rough" were calling their parents to let them know they were safe and to arrange rides home. Staff members from the schools gave students rides home when necessary, including White teachers giving African American students a ride. During the game a former student of mine had her little brother with her, and two of his friends with him. Seems that the trio attend a local dual immersion Chinese/English school. This student and her brother are African American and his best friends are Chinese. While not the rule, they're not the exceptions either. I mention this merely to highlight again that while racial divides are very real, there are also communities where the crossing of these racial divides are just everyday life. We’re very aware of how race and ethnicity play into police brutality and the like but we know that doesn’t tell the entire story.
In my work as an educator, I often get to see the worst in society, including child abuse, yet also the best. There are BEAUTIFUL young people here. I don't know much about Oscar Grant as a person and all I know about the shooting is what comes from the media. Yet when I watch the videos, I think about the teens and young adults in my life who could've been him. We've all caught the train at that Fruitvale BART station where the shooting happened, countless times. I worry about them being on the streets, which includes dealings with the police. While I’ve had some good dealings with cops in Oakland, including the BART police, there are too many incidents of police abusing their power to make me feel completely trusting in them, much less feel completely safe for my students.
Between the violence in Oakland (again Grant's getting the attention, but there have been other less publicized events that have had a more personal impact), and the attacks in Gaza, I've been feeling bad about the world. Yet these games helped me get rebalanced. It's what defines Oakland, and East Oakland in particular, for me. Real people, trying to make the best out of life, and often doing it. I'm not ignorant to the ugliness of Oakland (several sirens are passing by my apartment at this very moment), yet it's not what defines us. As the search for justice in this terrible shooting continues, it's good to remember that our lives aren't merely limited to reacting to injustice.