“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?” The year was 1992, and Rodney King spoke these words on live television to calm the angry mobs, which had been rioting for three days. They were outraged by the acquittal of four Los Angeles Police Department officers who faced criminal charges for brutally beating King on video.
The four officers were white and King was black. The racially charged 1992 Los Angeles riots were a sad episode in American history and a reminder that the country’s deep racial wounds were far from healed.
Though far less violent and destructive in scope than the 1992 riots, this Thursday’s racially-charged riots in Oakland, California echo the desperation and outrage of California’s minorities in the face of what they perceive as police brutality and systemic racial inequality.
Nearly two decades after the Rodney King riots and over a year into the tenure of America’s first black president, Oakland’s civil unrest exemplifies the racial tensions that persist despite so many decades of progress.
In 2009, a white BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) officer shot and killed an unarmed black man by the name of Oscar Grant while responding to reports of a fight. He claims that he mistook the gun for his taser as he aimed it at a struggling Oscar Grant and fired.
Like the Rodney King beating, but with a 21st-century twist, the officer’s actions were caught on video from multiple angles as onlookers filmed with their cell phones and digital cameras. The footage was immediately disseminated on the Internet and viewed hundreds of thousands of times, fueling interest in and outrage at the incident.
This Thursday, the officer, Johannes Mehserle, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, prompting riots and angry demonstrations from Californians who believe this was a clear case of murder or summary execution, and that the officer’s lenient sentence is a symptom of systemic racism.
In all, Oakland police arrested over 80 rioters as they looted, vandalized, smashed store windows, and set trash bins on fire. The rioters may or may not be right in their assessment of Mehserle’s actions and this Thursday’s subsequent verdict, but their reaction is certainly wrong.
According to Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts, 75% of those arrested in Thursday night’s Oakland riots were not from Oakland. Residents could be heard shouting “Go home. This is our city. Don’t destroy it.”
Whatever racism may still unfairly or even tragically affect our nation’s minorities, the rioters’ destruction of Oakland businesses- some of which certainly employ and/or belong to blacks- doesn’t right any wrongs or solve any of our nation’s problems. It just creates more victims in a city that has already suffered too much tragedy for one year.