I’ve been brewing some other posts here for a while, lengthy essays about structural oppression and narrative responsibility and perceptual bias and all that shit, but fuck it: it’s just one of those days where your friends get tear-gassed and you try to fall asleep to the surveilling thwap-thwap of police helicopters, and I’ve got a few words on the matter.
I’ve written before that living in Oakland has brought me in closer contact to police presence – police omnipresence, police power, the authority of the panopticon, whatever – than anywhere else. Walking into SWAT teams from Monterey County when I left work the night of Johannes Mehserle’s sentencing; getting texts from friends telling me I should take a different route home tonight; and of course those police helicopters – six of them, even though the City of Oakland is only supposed to have one and it was grounded, anyway, due to budget cuts, but I suppose preventing violent crime in East Oakland (where the brown people live) or West Oakland (where the black people live) just doesn’t have the same cachet as breaking up, with tear gas and rubber bullets, a group of peaceful protestors assembled in the name of economic justice. Why bother to give a shit about the lives of the flatlanders when there’s hippies to billie-club? As with Mehserle, cops were shipped in from throughout the region: why bother to break up protesting white people in San Francisco when there’s a much more colorful bunch to beat down across the bay?
Some of this probably won’t even make sense to people. Mainstream media coverage of the situation in Oakland seems thus far pathetic; at least it’s trending on Twitter. People care about the sudden imposition of a police state in America, even if the gray ladies of journalistic integrity won’t deign to report on it. (I can imagine the reaction from CNN: “Ooh, rioting and police brutality against peaceful protestors? Sounds like a story! Wait, is it in south central LA and/or Oakland? OK, pass.”) My Facebook news feed is a mixture of photos and retweets and on-the-ground reports and then there’s some other photos, too, childhood friends from Cleveland vacationing or visiting the Bay Area: tourist snapshots of Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate and all that other beautiful bullshit, and anyone looking for a pleasant few days can just hop a freeway and bypass Oakland altogether, deaf to the dissonance of agitation and demand and the system in action.
At work today I had to deal with a homeowner whose house we worked on a couple weeks ago, during our block building workday; we offered blight reduction (i.e. landscaping) services to neighbors within the community without our usual income, age, or ability requirements, and a wealthy, relatively young, able-bodied woman responded with some requests. I previewed her home alongside others owned by elderly, disabled, or low-income homeowners and she walked me through her immaculate lawn, referencing previous work done by gardeners. Our volunteers did some weeding on our workday but it wasn’t sufficient for her taste and since then I’ve fielded calls and complaints and had my diplomacy strained as I force myself not to say what’s really on my mind: fuck you, lady, go pay somebody and let us help people who have actual need.
I’ve spent the past week drafting and pitching a plan to work with the OPD, to create a partnership that would benefit us as well as do much to rehabilitate their image, to establish links between community and authority and work together to actually get shit done in Oakland. It’s a good idea. The whole office is enthused. Too bad working with the OPD is about as appealing as the Ebola virus right now; the mayor’s approval holds all the moral victory of an endorsement from Dick Cheney.
This is how power moves. The selfish homeowner and the authoritarian police share the same venality and insistence, played out on different scales but rooted in the same self-importance and dangerous certitude.
The helicopters are too loud for me to fall sleep. The police are supposed to enforce public safety, but I’ve never felt more vulnerable than by their actions here today.
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