Thursday, July 1, 2010

Pins and needles

When Loma Prieta (This would be the earthquake that occurred during the World Series in 1989 for those of you from outside of Northern California.) happened, I lived in San Diego. When the Rodney King verdict came down, I was living in Virginia. Of course a month after the Rodney King verdict, I returned to California -- specifically Los Angeles -- to work for the summer. And the damage I saw made me want to cry. How could my people destroy our communities to this extent? I mean I understood the root of their anger and frustration -- things that the mainstream had failed to recognize, to understand. And it was to the detriment of all of us. I looked at burned out of streets of Los Angeles and my heart broke.

Fast forward. Oscar Grant got onto a BART train in San Francisco in the early morning hours of New Year's Day in 2008 heading back to Oakland. Something went down on the train and he ended up on his belly on the platform of the Fruitvale station. And then the officer, Johannes Mehserle, decided that he was out of control and shot him in his back. The officer says that he was reaching for his taser. But after a month or so, I watched the video that had been posted to YouTube and had shown up on local news casts. It showed a man whose hands had been cuffed behind his back, lying on his stomach on the pavement. A BART police officer stood near his head and another by his feet. And that one by his feet? Johannes Mehserle. He pulled out what he says what he believed to be his taser and shot Oscar Grant in his back. And we never heard an apology from him until during his trial in these past few weeks.

I watched the video because I wanted to understand why people in my city were in the streets after what was supposed to be a peace rally busy breaking windows and burning cars. The last time I saw people in the streets like this was when the Raiders lost to New England in their quest to go to the Super Bowl. And I thought, "It's a football game. How ridiculous." Because my last memory of living in California and seeing that kind of anger was when Dan White's verdict came down. That one -- the birth of the Twinkie defense -- still baffles me. But I remember sitting at home while watching cars burn in San Francisco. And understanding the anger and violence while not condoning it.

And so the last I have heard is that the Mehserle case has been handed over to the jury. I have read about how the city as well as nearby communities and BART are preparing for the verdict. I am too. Coworkers asked what I would be doing this weekend. Staying in. I am afraid of what people who are stressed about the economy would do in light of a verdict with which they don't agree. I mean I've already seen what happens when we lose a football game. But then I've also seen through Loma Prieta of the good that exists in people. I will never forget the image of people who lived along the Cypress -- that no longer exists -- going in to rescue people long before the emergency teams showed up. Because that's what I like to believe. Our first instinct in these kind of situations is to take care of one another. And yes, I realize these are completely different kinds of situations but I want to believe in the good in others. In the meantime, I am ashamed to admit that I am happy that as of today, my complex is completely gated. No one gets in unless they have the code, a key, or have been buzzed in. Part of me thinks that this is so elitist but the other part of me feels like as a single woman a bit of relief.


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