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.

Taxes and fees are rising while services are declining, dwindling and diminishing.  Is this a good deal for any of us?  Some one will have to explain this to me as if I am a child because while I understand what is happening, and what seems inevitable, I am at a loss to comprehend how some people are trying to spin this as a positive thing in our lives?

Recently Colorado Springs announced it might turn off one-third of all its street lights to save money.  I guess this is the same logic that Toyota used in determining it would be less costly to hide defects in lieu of announcing a recall, with all that inevitable negative  publicity and notoriety.  I think that’s called calculated risk – what a few law suits would cost when weighed against the harsh negative glare.

So Colorado Springs may darken some lights… I guess the first fender bender or trip and fall will be less expensive than providing the public with the amount of light that was once determined to be in the public good.

There was an article recently in The New York Times that subway ridership was down but the cost of running the trains was rising, so the transit agency spokesmen explained fewer riders will have to pay higher fares for the privilege of using the service.  And there was a story in the San Francisco Chronicle that Bay Area transit agencies were so bloated with executive’s high salaries that they will never have sufficient ridership to pay that burden.  Instead they are cutting routes and decreasing service frequency, presumably creating a hardship for the riders, but no where in the article was there any indication the agencies were grappling with the inherent, underlying problem.

I guess their calculated risk is that no one will come to the transit agency offices with the intent of storming the gates and tar and feathering executives and those responsible.

We lost a lot when tar and feathering went out of style… just imagine…

Look – I admit I do not pretend to have the answer.  I see all this as a conundrum.  I see the coverage of these stories as little illustrations if fruitless dialogue.  The public certainly and justifiably feels screwed just as agencies and governments retreat behind barricades and bromides offering defensive assertions that mega salaries are required to assure they have best and brightest management.  The best and brightest – and this is what they have given us?  Yet another conundrum.
The over arching system feels rotted.  The supporting assumptions and beliefs seem brittle and broken.   Let’s call it for what it is – the system is broken and until those in charge step up and admit the changes required are more difficult (and personal) than simply raising taxes and fees while cutting services we will have little meaningful resolution.