Riot power

I was in San Francisco last week researching an article; the most striking feature of my trip was the extent to which the San Francisco Police Department is consumed, to the point of an almost paralyzing obsession, with the possible outbreak of riots, should a jury fail to convict a Bay Area transit officer of murder for shooting an unarmed black male on an Oakland subway platform on New Year’s 2009.  We are all familiar with the phrase: “City X is bracing for ‘disturbances,’” but it’s another thing to observe what this “bracing” actually means in practice: the constant nervous updates by phone and blackberry about defense motions and judicial rulings; the conference calls; the pleas from business owners for suggestions on how to protect their employees, customers, and property—pleas that were more than justified given the damage already inflicted in Oakland by several riots following the January 1, 2009 subway shooting.  The department’s preparations for similar outbreaks in San Francisco following the “wrong” verdict were the prelude to almost all conversations I had with a San Francisco law enforcement official; at every turn, I was warned that my meetings with commanders and officers could be cancelled at a moment’s notice, once the jury reached its decision.  

To be sure, every G-20 or G-8 summit raises the specter of loathsome white kids and self-described anarchists gleefully destroying the fruits of responsible people’s hard work, and likewise provokes massive preemptive preparation.  But it is nonetheless depressing to see how much “riot ideology,” Fred Siegel’s phrase for the power to intimidate government officials and the bourgeoisie, remains an intermittent mode of black political behavior long after the madness of the 1960s. 

It is true that death at the hands of a representative of the state–in this case, the BART police officer–has an entirely different meaning than death at the hands of a common criminal and produces a far greater sense of injustice.  That sense of injustice is compounded for blacks by the shameful history, now largely corrected, of police abuse.   Still, this one tragically-mistaken killing—BART officer Johannes Mehserle entered a scene of chaos at Oakland’s Fruitvale station on a night in which several guns had already been found along the subway line and thought, according to his testimony, that he was firing his Taser to subdue a resisting, possibly gun-wielding Oscar Grant—stands out from the tidal wave of cold-blooded murders in Oakland by the fact that Mehserle did not intend to murder an unarmed civilian.  Like many urban areas, Oakland has been seeing a retaliatory shooting pattern around vigils for shooting victims.  On June 21, for example, a 17-year-old was shot at an Oakland bus stop; just after midnight the next day, two gunmen sauntered up to a vigil for the bus stop victim and killed a 19-year-old girl and seriously wounded five other teenagers who were attending the vigil.  None of these and the hundred or so other murders a year in Oakland provoke the spectre of riots if their perpetrators are not convicted; indeed, it is often hard to find anyone to cooperate with the authorities in bringing the killers to justice.   The thousands of black-on-black killings a year nationally are treated as a matter of course; so, too, are killings of police officers. 

Let’s hope that Oakland residents heed the many calls from community leaders to accept the jury’s verdict peacefully and defeat the sad, but not irrational, expectations of Bay Area law enforcement.

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12 Responses to Riot power

  1. Michael M. says:

    So the “bracing” for the possibility of a riot is more depressing than the conditions that provoke the possibility of a riot?


  2. Moshe says:

    Heather, I’m genberally a fan of yours but I think it’s about time you write a serious piece on the subject. I empathize with the middle-brow conservativism you keep banging opn about (because almost nobody else is doing it) but it is, ultimately, both boring and false.

    Darwinian evolution provided us all with a whole slew of do-or-die lusts one of the most prominent includes acheiving status within society – or at least not being near the bottom of the totem pole status-wise. I assume a course in remedial anthropology is unnecessary here.

    This being the case, you can either placate your darwinian foe or defeat him, appealing to one segment of a generally unaccepted moral code while ignoring everything that bolsters it not only won’t help you regain your darwinian advantage but also makes you look pre-scientifically primitive. You want these thugs to repect “the fruits of responsible people’s hard work” while you ignore the fact that said fruits – indeed said responsibility – is not an option available to most rioters and other people who engage in petty theivery. Religion would be of some assistance to you here, as all sides in the great socialism battles of the 19th and 20th centuries knew, but here at secular right we don’t have recourse to that platonic myth.

    What’s left for people like you therefore (I haven’t picked a side) is to either defeat your peoples’ competition by instilling in the psychologically less capable a belief in their own deserved inferiority coupled with acting with un-self-conscious authority, or to come to amicable terms by a majot egalitarianizing overhaul of society. Whining about law-and-order alone is unbecoming of someone as smart as yourself though it’s certainly more likely to get your articles syndicated than is saying the truth.

    typed on a mini-screen phone

  3. reddog says:

    Who do they think is going to riot? The demographics of San Francisco are way different than Oakland. The two biggest groups are Asians and Middle aged and older Whites. There are some Hispanics. Very few African Americans. Not many young people.

    I just don’t see riots erupting in San Francisco. I’m sorry. Even during the ’60s, there wasn’t much civil disturbance there. It’s not that kind of place.

  4. JamesG says:

    Am I the only citizen to realize that we now have our first — literally — unimpeachable President?

    Perhaps others can imagine our cities remaining peaceful if a white-dominated House and a white-dominated Senate tried to remove Obama from office for “crimes and misdemeanors” however legitimate those charges might be, but I cannot.

  5. A-Bax says:

    JamesG: Forget about impeachment…imagine how badly people will react should the Boy Wonder be defeated in 12.

    The hissy fits thrown by the Left in 00 and 04 would be nothing compared to Obama losing in two years. And if it’s a close election? Fuggedaboutit.

    Inner-city savages would riot, SWPL pantywaists would protest and march (and perhaps riot as well, a la Gx meetings.) The MSM would do everything in its power to delegitimize the election.

    If it were a close election, I could honestly see Obama clinging to power like a Banana Republic dictator. Seriously. Say what you want about Al Gore, but the guy gave a classy concession speech when he finally realized the jig was up. But Obama genuinely believes himself above the law and above petty documents like the Constitution.

    Obama would have no problem allowing a close loss to metastasize into a crisis, and in turn morphing into perhaps bloody conflict. None.

    He is an enemy of the United States, as far as I’m concerned. Not just misguided, not just radical, not just vain & presumptuous – he is an enemy.

  6. TAS says:

    The fact that whites are now bracing for (read: cowering in fear of) black riots shows how cowardly white America has become. Say what you will about segregation, but at least back then whites didn’t spend their time bracing for black violence and mischief.

  7. A-Bax says:

    If anything, whites have shown far too much forbearance in dealing with inner-city (read: black) violence and mischief. There would be far less rioting if rioters were dealt with swiftly and according to the Powell Doctrine.

    America has indeed become cowardly. Witness our inability/unwillingness to subdue goatherds in the Hindu Kush (to paraphrase Derb).

    Witness the mere existence of “no go” zones for POLICE within various cities. This is paralleled by the “no go” zone for Americans within American territory (that section of parkland in AZ which has been de facto ceded to Mexican gangsters/trespassers).

    We accept and 3rd world invasion from the South. We accept a welfare state that punishes the productive and rewards the idle. We accept Supreme Court Justices who are nakedly bigoted (Sotomayor) or who don’t even bother to use a fig-leaf when subordinating empirical results to a political agenda (Kagan). We accept a military whose primary goal is to protect foreign civilians on foreign soil. Hell, we even accept a Space Program whose goal is to attend to the self-esteem of children and members of a backwards civilization.

    We accept the Left-liberal reading of the commerce clause to mean “Congress is Dictator”. We accept the dismissal of bankruptcy laws that distinguish between secured and unsecured creditors. We accept the seizure of private property by the State so that the State can increase its tax revenue via a preferred owner of that property.

    We have become cowardly, indeed.

  8. Robert Chambers says:

    Sweet fucking Jesus, most of these comments are, if not outright racist, really fucking idiotic, at least.

    Obama is impeachable? He is going to cling to power like some banana republic dictator? The idiot left thought that too, and guess what?! They were wrong! So are you!

    And oh noez! If Obama loses the 2012 election, hoardes of niggers and darkies and gon’ get all uppity on us and riot in the streets! And they will be rapin’ all the white wimmenz!

  9. Panglos says:


    There has been a huge increase in sales of firearms in the past couple years. I am not sure that anyone is doing this with the expectation of kowtowing

  10. Rich Rostrom says:

    TAS: Say what you will about segregation, but at least back then whites didn’t spend their time bracing for black violence and mischief.

    Quite true. Instead, black neighborhoods lived in fear of being invaded by mobs of white hooligans, who looted, burned, and murdered with impunity, like the Tulsa Riot of 1921. But that was OK, right?

  11. Rich Rostrom says:

    I live on the far north side of Chicago. It is a middle/working class neighborhood. When Obama’s election was announced, I could hear celebratory gunfire for miles around. Yes, there could be riots or worse if Obama loses.

    As to Oakland: businesses there boarded up their windows weeks ago. Also, the “black leadership” in Oakland complained (in various milieus) that their planned riot was being hijacked by the black-clad “anarchist youth” element.

  12. Panglos says:

    “Say what you will about segregation, but at least back then…”

    When was the last time you ventured to the white suburbs of NY, Chicago, Boston? Segregation is very much a reality that is enforced by both minority and majority.

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