Last night over in Oakland, what started as a peaceful protest at the Fruitvale BART station turned violent as a roving mob of several hundred took to the street of Oakland, smashing windows, setting cars ablaze, looting.
It all started to express anger and sorrow at the cops who murdered a man, Oscar Grant, while he was stomach-to-the-ground, restrained. Grant had been involved in a 20 some person fight at the Fruitvale BART station, the cops responded, emotions flared, Grant was killed. This much we know to be true. Video, for those inclined, here.
The unspeakably complicated thing with cop shootings like this one stems from the clear and true observation: this wouldn’t have happened if the victim had been white. Indeed, this wouldn’t have happened if the victim had been black but dressed differently.
The filter through which these things get observed is race, and nobody talks about it, but just as we can imagine many of our fathers – and maybe a little bit of ourselves – observing Grant didn’t have to be there, wasn’t forced into a major fight on the subway, didn’t have to look so, well, thuggish, so too can we imagine the reaction of these same fathers to the sight of so many non-Caucasians taking to the streets, destroying shops, setting cars ablaze. As shop owners sweep up the glass of their destroyed stores, one wonders how are we supposed to talk about this, and think about this, when every aspect of the situation has to do with that one thing we can never mention, that great beastly elephant in the Bay Area’s living room: race.