Justification vs. context. Desire vs. instinct. Murder vs. battered woman syndrome. Living in Oakland brings these false dichotomies to light. It isn’t for a lack of innate morality that Oakland has become the robbery capital of America. I started copy/pasting my account of the last few weeks’ events here, then lost heart. I feel awkward sharing me and my friends’ stories from the last few months because I know my nearby neighbors have much worse. There are so many reasons I love being here. There are so many reasons to be grateful.
I didn’t start digging around out of discontent. But the human mind has a knack for both real and imagined pattern recognition. Sitting around the dining room table several nights ago, my roommate and I discussed the pattern of crime that we had been experiencing. What we were most concerned with wasn’t our own petty victimhood, however. It is a strange and weary thing to identify more closely with the ones who rob you than the, well, the OPD.
Tonight I found sharing stories around a table with new acquaintances from the neighborhood, sharing our respective stories about being robbed in the last few months. We talked about the Riders, corruption, oppression, PTSD, crimes war. One man took a firm stand that corruption does not justify violence. He grew up under the shadow of the Vietnam War and empathized with the Oakland Police, comparing them to the American soldiers who committed heinous acts when driven past the limits of sanity. It was around this time that his son left the table, visibly upset. We both saw Oakland’s situation through the lens of strain and human fallibility, but I don’t think it’s the OPD who have been pushed past reasonable limits. I was reminded this Angela Davis interview I saw this year from when she was imprisoned in California in 1972, transcript provided by tumblr.com/reblog/18278374452/avVihrW3
Interviewer: A year ago the black panthers were much more active. We heard much more about that type of struggle. Is the time of the black panthers past?
Angela Davis: The black panthers still exist, and the black panthers are still extremely active in the Oakland community and communities all over the country. I’m not sure whether or not you are aware of what is now happening in the black panther party and the kinds of things that the members of that party are doing now.
Interviewer: No, but tell me.
Angela Davis: First of all, if you’re gonna talk about a revolutionary situation, you have to have people who are physically able to wage revolution, who are physically able to organize and physically able to do all that is done.
Interviewer: But the question is more, how do you get there? Do you get there by confrontation, violence?
Angela davis: Oh, is that the question you were asking? yeah see, that’s another thing. When you talk about a revolution, most people think violence, without realizing that the real content of any revolutionary thrust lies in the principles and the goals that you’re striving for, not in the way you reach them. On the other hand, because of the way this society’s organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere, you have to expect that there are going to be such explosions. You have to expect things like that as reactions. If you are a black person and live in the black community all your life and walk out on the street everyday seeing white policemen surrounding you… when I was living in Los Angeles, for instance, long before the situation in L.A ever occurred, I was constantly stopped. No, the police didn’t know who I was. But I was a black women and I had a natural and they, I suppose thought I might be “militant.” And when you live under a situation like that constantly, and then you ask me, you know, whether I approve of violence. I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all. Whether I approve of guns. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very, very good friends of mine were killed by bombs, bombs that were planted by racists. I remember, form the time I was very small, I remember the sounds of bombs exploding across the street. Our house shaking. I remember my father having to have guns at his disposal at all times, because of the fact that, at any moment, we might expect to be attacked. The man who was, at that time, in complete control of the city government, his name was Bull Connor, would often get on the radio and make statements like, “niggers have moved into a white neighborhood. We better expect some bloodshed tonight.” And sure enough, there would be bloodshed. After the four young girls who lived, one of them lived next door to me…I was very good friends with the sister of another one. My sister was very good friends with all three of them. My mother taught one of them in her class. My mother—in fact, when the bombing occurred, one of the mothers of one of the young girls called my mother and said, “can you take me down to the church to pick up Carol? We heard about the bombing and I don’t have my car.” And they went down and what did they find? They found limbs and heads strewn all over the place. And then, after that, in my neighborhood, all the men organized themselves into an armed patrol. They had to take their guns and patrol our community every night because they did not want that to happen again. That’s why, when someone asks me about violence, I just, I just find it incredible. Because what it means is that the person who’s asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone through, what black people have experienced in this country since the time the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.