If you were a member of the media and you anticipated potential civil disobedience, which is more news worthy… or more responsible? A) To cover law enforcement’s preparations of an event which may or may not occur, or B) invest in a more contextual story about the economic plight and social unhappiness that may or may not be responsible for the raw nerves, frayed community relations and tensions?
If you’re watching or reading San Francisco media their choice largely appears to be A. It remains easier to point and shoot a camera or grab the easy quote from officialdom rather than source out responsible individuals in a community which is not just under-served but largely ignored much of the time.
All of this stems from what might best be called Rodney King redux, 3 days of riots in Los Angeles after an all-white jury in Simi Valley, California acquitted four Los Angeles policemen accused of beating Mr. King following a traffic-stop.
Eighteen years later another trial, also involving a white police man and a black victim, is poised to provoke rage. The trial of former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Meserhle is soon to be deliberated, and in the event that the jury finds him not guilty or not guilty of a serious enough offense, there are fears of new riots in Oakland’s streets.
The media question is what’s the best way to cover this story? If there are riots will they simply be about justice, or the belief that the jury’s verdict was not the right result? Or is it possible that disobedience and tumult occur because of a systematic failure to provide for a community – including well-paying jobs, better schools, economic development, and sustained community services? To read or listen to much of the pre-coverage it would seem as if the community itself has gone mute on these issues — that if there are disturbances it will be because of justice, and not a pattern of injustice, racial profiling, harassment and other abuses, real or perceived, believed or merely assumed as truths.
And so the coverage has featured police drills. Law enforcement is ready. Mutual aid for emergency services has been requested and responses tallied. All this remains the easy story.
But what about the community? Who is demonstrating leadership? Who is articulating what is needed or wanted within the black community, and equally important: are they being heard? Are they even being approached? Are they being included in the story or edited out from the earliest point, the story’s inception? For those of us who covered the Rodney King riots we quickly learned it was not just rage at the system that acquitted the police officers. Unhappiness had simmered for some time – over services or a lack thereof – over treatment by local Korean merchants and alleged abuses or snubs, some of which were deemed to be based on cultural perceptions.
In Oakland I have grown tired of forecasts of civil unrest. I am particularly tired because I have yet to see anything more than a prediction of trouble, what some one in a position of office, whether that is municipal or media, believes could happen based on history. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the media could report and foster a dialogue because it does have the platform, knowledge and experience; because too, once upon a time, dialogue mattered.
And what if there were no demonstrations or that they were brief and peaceful? Then off to the next crisis du jour, a tumult of the moment, a toxic time bomb waiting to explode showering some one else with woe of the moment.