10 July 2010

Street Reals

"What could possibly be more fantastic than reality?"
  ~~Ashleigh Brilliant.

 A Tale of Human Lives
On New Year's Day, 2009, Oscar Grant III, an American Black male, age 22, of Oakland, California, was killed by an American Anglo male, Johannes Mehserle, age 28, a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer (at the time). That's an indisputable fact - in one sentence.

Here's another fact on the matter:

On July 8, 2010, Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the shooting. In California, involuntary manslaughter carries a prison sentence of 2 years minimum - 4 years maximum.

Due to the insidious history of white cops killing black male citizens in America, Fact 1 + Fact 2 = a very angry, disillusioned, and pissed off Oakland community. While we don't really need to know more about Oakland to understand why the city's people would respond to this conviction on July 8th, by looting and rioting in the streets of its downtown area, here are some facts about Oakland, California, (according to Wikipedia) to bring the city more into context:
  • It is the 8th largest city in California, with a population of about 405,000 souls
  • It is a county seat
  • It is just 8 miles from San Francisco
  • Its population is a diverse group of Latinos (25%), some of them certainly descendants of the original Spanish colonizers of the land, Blacks (29%), many surely descended from transplants of the Great Northern Migration, Anglo American (37%), many who are very likely descendants of logger workers of the 19th century, and by the end of last century, various immigrant groups (30% - of which 1/2 are Asian) from all over the world.
  • Oakland is the one of the most diverse cities in the U.S.
  • About 20% of the population is poor; about 18% of the city population is unemployed - but check this out: only 0.7% of Oakland's population is homeless.
Here's a few facts about Grant and Mehserle:
  • Grant: raised in the Bay area
  • Grant: dropped out of high school in 10th grade, but went back and completed his GED
  • Grant: had previous convictions for drug dealing
  • Grant: had a documented pattern of resisting arrest (see Wikipedia article)
  • Grant: is a single father of a 4 year old little girl
  • Mehserle: raised in the Bay area
  • Mehserle: graduated high school, but dropped out of college to attend the police academy
  • Mehserle: graduated the police academy at the top of his class (5th)
  • Mehserle: is a single father of a little boy, who was born the day after the Grant shooting
  • Mehserle: has had to move twice since the shooting due to death threats to his family
Oakland has long been considered a significant cultural center, and can be considered a progressive town, with luminaries such as: The Black Panther Party, Tupac Shakur, Sheila E., the Hawkins gospel family, Paul Mooney, Shamar Moore, Ishmael Reed, Tom Hanks, Pharaoh Sanders, Amy Tan, Gertrude Stein, and Green Day, to name a few. Oakland is also the city where its school board voted in 1996 to recognize Ebonics as an official language, which sparked all kinds of controversy in the education sector with journal and web articles and books being published to flesh out the never-ending debate surrounding insider/outsider language in schools. 

Street Reals
I'm not going to get into the shock-and-awe values of Oakland's crime rate. My observations and experiences bring me to safely conclude that all cities have crime issues - American or otherwise. We know that crime tends to occur when people living in close proximity to one another are lacking jobs, therefore lacking money, therefore lacking social capital, and therefore consequently, not feeling like they have access to equal justice. Oakland's poverty and unemployment rates already tells us that there's crime issues, and when you couple those statistics with a high minority population that lives in the the racist republic of the United States of America, such statistics hint that there's likely issues around equal justice.

The light-handed conviction (handed down by a jury of 7 whites, 4 Latino/as, 1 Asian - 8 women, 4 men) of the BART police officer, whose explanation for the killing is that he mistook his gun for a taser ..., was the cayenne pepper added to a boiling gumbo of no money, no jobs, no access, no justice (everyone's struggling in "these hard economic times"). So street protests, street looting, street vandalism, and street arrests occurred on the night of July 8th, 2010, in Oakland, California, but you wouldn't have known it if you weren't living in the San Francisco Bay area, where of course, it was their lead news story that day and night. Nope. For the rest of us Americans, we were mesmerized, hypnotized, zombie-fied, and disney-fied by mainstream media with the one-hour special about NBA basketball player, LeBron James, and his move from Cleveland, Ohio, to Miami, Florida. 

While the streets were shouting, yelling, pulsating, rumbling, quaking on the fault of the imbalanced justice of the light-handed conviction for the killing of yet another African American male youth, we were being entertained by another African American male youth (Bron-Bron is only 25 years old), who more than likely was oblivious to even the existence of Oscar Grant....I wonder if LeBron knows that he was dooped too.......(Note: I'm spelling "duped" this way for a reason.)

I don't begrudge Mr. James his celebrity nor his livelihood. I begrudge our socio-cultural programming and how we all are actors and players in the fictionalized version of American reality. I begrudge that we don't pay attention to nor prioritize real life. I begrudge that part of our addiction to entertainment is that we actually enjoy our information being planted, harvested, cooked, and spoon-fed to us, nicely being dooped. We want our reality, which includes our daily joys and triumphs, yes, but also our daily struggles and fears, to be broadcast back to us in colorful HD and 3D with CGI, ... background music, please. 

Where the Story @
And we get mad when art imitates life and tells life like life is - band-aid rip and all - as in Street Lit. We get upset and feel uncomfortable when truths are laid out in splayed, spread eagle fashion; we don't want to look at truth, hear about truth, read about truth, or even acknowledge the truth that everyday people live hard in America. We can sing and bounce our heads to Jay-Z's song, It's a Hard Knock Life, but to really digest the reality of what he's talking about? To really look face in another's face (not a mirror, not a window) with what is really going on in inner-city neighborhoods, homes, and streets in the U.S.A. today? Oh, and to realize that it's not just black people or Latino people but ALL people in the hood? Psshhhhh. The horror of it all is enough to ignite a revolt: which is what happened when Grant was killed (Oakland rioted to protest the killing in 2009), and on July 8th when Mehserle was convicted.

Take note that the Oakland riots on July 8th weren't a "black riot" or a "Latino riot" .... oh no no no. If you do a web search on the story, you'll see pictures and slideshows of everybody protesting, looting, and getting arrested. E'er-bod-day - men, women, young, old, city council people, and block captains... Which is why, I believe, the mainstream media got paid to broadcast a one-word statement ("Miami") over the course of 60 minutes. I believe that the media did this on purpose - perhaps under orders (don't get me started on that ...) - because the next morning, July 9th, no one still talked about Oakland (I'm talking mainstream media here). MSNBC, CNN, the Huffington Post, etc., were still leading with "King James." MSNBC didn't mention Oakland until around 10:15 a.m. EDT, where the news anchor soberly reported the story, only to quickly segue into an upbeat tone about - you guessed it - "King James." But I digress ....

My point is this: Oakland, California, on July 8, 2010, didn't conduct a racial riot - at least not from what I read, viewed, and listened to ... it was a human revolt - a human riot. Go look at Oakland's demographics again. View the slideshow I linked to: it wasn't a "black riot" because "black people" got mad because a "white cop" killed a "black man." Nope. Look again.

And these are the kinds of truths that annoy me - that get me going. Silencing the truth about the humanity in all of us. All of us are pissed off, "we all mad," at what Mehserle did, at the expense of Grant ... and at the same time, we  feel a sense of the human that both young men are and were. So while Grant was young, a single father, and a drug dealer, that brother was also very human, very real, and loved. And while Mehserle is young, a single father, and a killer, that brother is also very human, very real, and loved. And perhaps on a deeper level, this is what Oakland was rioting about - the disrespected-ness of the value of human life. We have to respect the whole human story - not just the parts that whatwhat? make us feel good ............

I cried for Oscar Grant and his family. I cried for Mehserle and his family. Here's another fact about both of these young men's situations: both of them - were in the same place at the same time. Mehserle didn't come from cloud nine or planet Eris to interact fatally with Oscar Grant on that fateful 2009 New Year's Day. Mehserle is from the same city as Grant. Mehserle's life is as over as Oscar Grant's life is ..., whether Mehserle serves 2 - 4 years in prison ... or more ... or not. His life as he knew it and assumed it - is done - cooked - flambayed. I don't care how white or male or American he is. He's from Oakland, Cali. He will pay for his crime in ways only karma can chronicle: the Oakland community will see to it, prison will see to it, his thoughts will see to it...

For me, the bottom line is, the Grant/Mehserle killing (I posit that they both died that day) is a tragedy for the Grant family, for the Mehserle family, for the Oakland community, for all of us in humanity. It's a tragic crime that is very real, and sadly all too commonly real in America's streets, whether it be citizen-on-citizen crime and/or cop-on-citizen crime. 

If you read novels by Terri Woods, or K'wan, or Shannon Holmes or Sister Souljah (to name a few), you'd get some real realisms of what's going on in our American streets. Case in point, last year when the movie "Precious" came out, I had to correct a friend who was very clear about the fact that the text the movie is based on, Push by Sapphire, is a biography. I told my friend, "No, it's fiction. It's a novel." She was like: "No it's not - it's real."

A teen book clubber at a Philly library once said to me about Street Lit:
"It's all real - fiction, non-fiction, don't matter - it's all real."

She was 18 years old at the time she said this.

I can't wait until we all care, I mean really, empathically care,  about what's real about these streets. I look forward to when collectively, a consciousness is built that fully acknowledges the power of the streets and respects that power. Then, perhaps, we can really live differently about it.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't share that this last photo is a pic of a neighborhood block in Camden, New Jersey, USA. I can't tell which street, but to guess, I think it's South Camden - near where I grew up.

Thanks for listening.

1 comment:

  1. I get the sense that riots have become premeditated and planned int his country. The Oakland one surely was. The whole "If we don't get the verdict we want, we'll burn shit down," attitude was there and the media hyped it throughout the entire trial. It's as if communities look like they don't care if they don't riot. So in that sense, rioting is no longer reality either, it too is entertainment. Riots have gone beyond their true spontanaety (sp?) to become forgone conclusions. I was trapped in the Los Angeles Riots after the Rodney King verdict, and that, too, was premeditated. I don't think we've seen a spontaneous, unpredicted riot since Watts and Stonewall. And yes, I agree, both men died int his tragedy.


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