Monday, January 12, 2009

Oakland Riots: Media Roundup

by Chris Thompson
Mon, Jan 12, 2009 at 9:23 AM

Looks like Oakland didn't need the new HBO pimp series to flush its public image down the toilet. Major stories on last week's riots flashed around the country, in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Fox News, CNet, you name it. And the question apparently on everyone's mind is, why hasn't Oakland ever taken to the streets over the scores of black-on-black murders that happen every day? Bill O'Reilly pushed that line with his usual fatuousness, so we'll skip him to go directly to Stanley Crouch, the jazz critic and Daily News columnist who wrote a long, angry screed about the riot in the Daily Beast.

Crouch is livid that all these liberals, in Oakland and elsewhere, who holler and scream about police violence barely say a word about the great epidemic of black-on-black violence. In fact, he cites a recent and disturbing study by Northeastern University professor James Fox, who reports that black-on-black violence has dramatically shot up since 2000, at a time when overall violent crime has actually diminished around the country. "The mere suggestion that our society should invest in the prevention of murder and crime in black communities from coast to coast is thought reprehensible by those on the left," he writes. "Though these homicides have continued to pile up over the last two decades, the crisis has largely been ignored by the civil rights establishment, our Marxist university professors who fat-mouth past the facts, our white liberals who remain as lame as ever.."

If they do, Crouch adds, they always roll out tired excuses about how black men are so oppressed or poor or uneducated that their own moral responsibility is nil, and this spasm of murder is just another symptom of their oppression at the hands of white America: "such liberals and compassionate conservatives prefer to think of black people and Hispanics as windup toys who can make no decisions of their own."

This, we think, is a particularly annoying argument. Who are these people on "the left" Crouch refers to? Who among today's liberal intelligentsia, or among any educated liberal-minded citizen, still believes these hollow '60s bromides? Crouch never tells us, preferring to deal in categories so broad they signify nothing. The Left. Liberals. Pointy-headed Marxist professors. Meaningless catch-all terms, one and all.

Glance at Oakland for a second, and you will see a city that has been utterly sickened at the level of violent crime, and hasn't been at all shy about saying so. Consider all the stop the violence rallies and neighborhood watch meetings and demands that Dellums and the council do something about it. Oakland's famously liberal citizens have been anything but nonchalant about this problem. And yes, its people are fully aware that most violence is black-on-black.

The Atlantic's Ta-Neshi Coates has a similar response, although he's not directly addressing Crouch: "I spent most of last year following Bill Cosby around to standing room only rallies in Detroit, Birmingham and Baltimore, talking to people who were pissed off by a variety of social maladies. Number one amongst them all--the murder rate among black men."

Yes, Desley Brooks skirted close to such outdated race-hustler nostrums when she declared the shooting of Oscar Grant an "execution." And Ron Dellums embodies much of liberalism's earlier mistakes. But that's the point: the story of Oakland politics in the last two years has been one of a city that has grown ever more disgusted with Dellums and his Dinkinsesque, do-nothing attitude. Remember when Dellums declared that Oakland residents don't want more cops, and the countless people who said, "Yes we do!"? Remember the anger when Dellums declared that Oakland's white citizens only care about crime now that it's started to lap at the shores of their neighborhoods? This city's liberals cast away that kind of retrograde thinking before Dellums arrived back here, a fact that he's been forced to learn.

Stanley Crouch used Oakland's riots to fling around anachronisms about liberals that have become less and less relevant, starting with the rise of Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Jerry Brown embodied a new kind of urban liberal mayor, one who was determined to crack down on crime, and he ran a city called Oakland. The cliches Crouch deals in are less applicable to modern liberalism than ever. We're surprised that Crouch, who is capable of more nuanced observations, traded his penetrating eye for his spleen.

Or maybe we're just as reflexively defensive about Oakland's public image as everyone else...

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