In the Aftermath of the Oscar Grant Verdict: What Now?
The Root spoke to the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton about what it takes to defuse the ongoing tension between the police and the black community.
"You never see riots in black communities unless they are sparked by police shootings," Sharpton told The Root. "People are fearful because they feel they have no protection and they have to run from the cops and robbers. I've never seen people riot over housing and jobs. But they riot because cops don't care anything about the communities they serve. One white cop told me, 'We go into the jungle every day to tame the savages.' Now, you tell me if cops are there to serve and protect in these communities."
Sharpton recalls a clamorous day in New York City in July 1992, when police officer Michael O'Keefe shot Jose Garcia, a Dominican immigrant, in the lobby of a building in Washington Heights. The police said a gun had been found on Garcia, but the shooting touched off several days of violence as people rampaged through the streets, overturning garbage cans and verbally taunting officers.
In 1989, Miami police officer William Lozano touched off three days of racial violence when he shot a black motorcyclist. A single bullet from his service-issued revolver pierced Clement Lloyd's left temple, killing him immediately. Allan Blanchard, an African-American passenger on the bike, died a day later as a result of injuries sustained when he was thrown in the path of a car.
And who can forget the case of Rodney G. King in Los Angeles in 1991, whose videotaped beating came to symbolize police brutality? In news reports at the time, two officers, Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and Officer Laurence M. Powell, said that they believed they had acted properly in the violent beating. Although they were charged with assault and use of excessive force, they were eventually acquitted, in April 1993. That verdict triggered six days of protest rioting, looting, arson and property damage. Fifty-three people died, and scores were injured. Corresponding anti-police riots occurred around the country.
In Oakland yesterday, the rioting began at nightfall. Earlier in the day, the verdict had given way to peaceful protests by up to 1,000 people. But by night, people began looting stores, smashing car windows, tossing powerful fireworks at police and lighting fires in trash cans, according to Reuters. An estimated 50 arrests were made.
Solutions to the ongoing tension between minority communities and the officers that patrol them have been offered before, but Jackson suggests that cities could make a better effort to integrate police forces. He shrugged off talk about whether black leaders such as himself and Sharpton are relevant today. Still, he went on to applaud President Barack Obama's immigration-reform address: "President Obama said it would cost more not to do immigration reform than to do it. The same should be applied to urban America. We should start with prenatal care, Head Start and day care on the front side rather than jail care, welfare and despair on the backside. America has adjusted to blacks living in a Depression. We need to get beyond that."
In the meantime, another black woman is learning to live without her son. No riot will help make up for that.
Lynette Holloway is a Chicago-based writer. She is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.