The Suburban/Urban Divide in the Mehserle case

UPDATE TUESDAY: Just posted this on Walnut Creek Patch, but supporters of Johannes Mehserle are planning a rally to show support for the former BART police officer. The rally will take place at the Walnut Creek courthouse, 640 Ygnacio Valley Road, starting at 2 p.m.

Another example of the suburban/urban divide in this case?

The majority of people in Contra Costa County, including Walnut Creek, are Democrats, and they voted for Barack Obama for president and they opposed Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage.

These political realities tell me that, contrary to the image of conservative surburbia, we in Walnut Creek might be left of center on social issues. And, with respect to the case of the BART shooting case, I’m betting that a lot of us have been been willing to listen to and consider the arguments for why former BART police Johannes Mehserle should have been convicted of first-degree murder, not involuntary manslaughter.

Some of us are also sympathetic to the historical and cultural reasons that African-Americans in urban centers, such as Oakland, have become distrustful of white authority figures, notably police officers. Have there been racist, brutal officers on American police forces? Yes. Have people of color been treated unfairly by America’s criminal justice system? Absolutely, and it still goes on with incidents of racial profiling and with our process of capital punishment.

All this said, a fair number of people I’ve talked to on this side of the Oakland hills don’t believe that the January 1, 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant was about some larger cause of racism in injustice in America. Our view is that it was a horrible tragic accident. We agree with the Los Angeles’ jury’s conviction of involuntary manslaughter.

Moreover, we don’t think Grant is a martyr of this larger cause. Rather, he was just a guy, out celebrating the New Year with friends, who wound up in the wrong place–the Fruitvale BART station platform–at the wrong time.

Yes, I’m saying all this as a white, female suburbanite whose life experience is much much different than Oscar Grant’s or of his supporters in Oakland. I grew up in Walnut Creek, and I live here now. Walnut Creek is a pretty safe town, and I went to good schools and had the opportunity to go to college and go on to get a good career.

So maybe I’m just ignorant, and that’s why I don’t agree with some of the ideas Oscar Grant’s supporters are putting out. That’s right, I just don’t get it, and maybe I’m a bad person because I don’t get it.

I think that there are a lot of us over here in suburbia who don’t “get it.” (I’m also betting that there are a fair number of achingly PC residents of multi-million Craftsmen homes in the Oakland hills who don’t get it either.)

I’ve continued to listen to statements about the great injustice of this case. It’s hard to avoid hearing what them. The first place TV, radio, print and online reporters seem to go to for a statement about this case is Oscar Grant’s family and the Justice for Oscar Grant group.

Nothing I’ve heard so far is changing my mind. I’m very sorry for the pain Oscar Grant’s family is suffering at his loss. I’m sorry his supporters have had to put up with lots of crap from the white establishment in their lives.

But I’m also weary of the way that folks in Oakland and their political leaders have successfully built this case into something more than it is Maybe if I lived in Oakland I would understand. I would get it. But I’m just a hick suburban bumpkin.

Whatever, I also know I’m seriously starting to lose sympathy and to not care, especially after the Justice For Oscar Grant group put out a call for a rally that contained rherotic giving a passive greenlight to more destruction. While calling for a peaceful, legal rally, the group also said, among other things, “Massive street protests were the only thing that forced Mehserle’s arrest,” “People’s anger is justified because ‘we are the victims of police violence’ and no cooling off period needs to take place”; and, “if anything we need more resistance, more action, more mobilization.”

Talk about a polarizing statement. This whole case has become intensely polarized.

What we have here is more than a failure to communicate. We have what my therapist calls an irresolvable conflict. In some cases, my therapist says, people, notably married couples, can learn to live with and accept each other’s differences.

I’m not sure it’s possible to resolve the differences, the vast divide in opinion, that separates those of us who believe Grant died in an accident, and those who think he was murdered. I’m also not sure it’s possible to bridge the divide that exists between us suburbanites, who probably were most worried about our BART and freeway travel plans Thursday, and the Oscar Grant supporters who cling to their anger, self-righteousness, and sense of victimization.

84 thoughts on “The Suburban/Urban Divide in the Mehserle case

  1. RE:
    “There are so many studies out there that show zero justification for the black ghettos.”

    Reference 1 study please.

    Microeconomics 101, UCSB, Fall Quarter 1984. As soon as I pull out my text and notes, I'll be glad too. (Unless of course so many other oppressive things by evil whitey have occurred in the past 26 years to change that!)


  2. aSoccer Mom,
    This discussion is deeply disturbing, and somehow beneath you and your talents. Did you post this column on your new gig; Walnut Creek patch? I wonder if the comments there would be less of a spiteful song and dance.


  3. Alas, 7:20, even our beloved SM is not above “stirring the pot” in order to draw attention, and viewers, and revenue to her site. And nothing does that more than by giving her largely insular, angry and often racist following some red meat to tear apart…


  4. Oscar Grant was a thug from a family of thugs. His own bad behavior resulted in his death.

    I don't believe for a minute it was premeditated murder. The BART cop simply made a terrible mistake and the charge he was ultimately convicted of was perfectly appropriate.


  5. No, I think he meant Black=Thug. Maybe we should all be more culturally sensitive and take a course in Ebonics…, to talk the talk don't you know?


  6. I wonder how many suburban black folks will be at this rally for Mr. Mesherle? I plan to be there to show support, but I doubt that I or the other supporters will be looting WC stores or burning cars afterwards. THAT'S the difference dear friends…


  7. That's the difference? What a stupid statement. The difference is you are over privileged white folks supporting the shooter, not an angry community demanding justice for the victim. Oakland PD verified that over 80% of the troublemakers were not from the area and just came to cause trouble. True supporters were the one's denouncing the looters and demanding peaceful protest. You're bigotry is showing.


  8. This week was the 50th Anniversary of the publication of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.

    It is a very good read & a page-turner. The book does not take a direct political position but does present the complicated issues involved with racial differences and the consequent affect upon the relations between people of different ethnicity and with varioud political views.

    “To Kill a Mockingbird” is available in your local library. Or you could check out the movie with Gregory Peck as the lawyer Atticus defending the innocent accused perpetrator of a crime.

    This story all happened very close to my mother's chidhood home and the true Atticus character tried cases with my great-grandfather so I know the story is legitimate. My mom told me about it in ~1960 when the book came out.


  9. This week was the 50th Anniversary of the publication of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.

    It is a very good read & a page-turner. The book does not take a direct political position but does present the complicated issues involved with racial differences and the consequent affect upon the relations between people of different ethnicity and with varioud political views.

    “To Kill a Mockingbird” is available in your local library. Or you could check out the movie with Gregory Peck as the lawyer Atticus defending the innocent accused perpetrator of a crime.

    This story all happened very close to my mother's chidhood home and the true Atticus character tried cases with my great-grandfather so I know the story is legitimate. My mom told me about it in ~1960 when the book came out.


  10. Wow. Has this blog become Teabagger Central? Take my country back, America-hating liberal females?

    Does anyone speak Teabonics?


  11. I agree with Mickey Martin and would like to add that minority (particularly Black) communities are disproportionately targeted by police in a way that White, affluent communities are not. The 'War on Drugs' has been particularly devastating to minority communities. The feds appropriate funds based on the number of arrests, so the cops pick up the young people at the bottom of the food chain in Richmond, San Pablo, and Oakland. They don't go after the people at the top who are living in Lamorinda. Our police forces graduate hundreds, thousands of young male felons. You take away the earning capability of enough people and crime increases.

    I hope we're all happy with the fruits of our efforts.


  12. anon 9:04,

    you must be one of those america hating, douchebag liberals. Don't worry in November you won't matter anymore.


  13. Yes, anyone who opposes Teabaggers hates America.


    From the urban dictionary:

    A whining fool shouting loudly for liberty but not willing to pay the bill. After most American workers saw more money in their paycheck due to the lower tax rate, the teabaggers at Fox News railed against high taxes, but did not discuss how much Jesus hated hypocrisy.

    So. yes — I guess I like it.

    You should read what Mark Williams, your Head Teabagger, just said publicly about the NAACP.

    If the sheet fits…..


  14. Oh my goodness…, you are so clever…, me oh my…., what shall I do?

    Sticks and stones will break my bones, but thugs need to be put in jail. Fool.


  15. You people are DISGUSTING. I live in Contra Costa County. I am not black. I AGREE with the verdict and yes, I think it should have been greater.

    It's sad that you have such sheltered and racist views. Oh and guess what just because you don't call a black person the n-word doesn't mean you're not racist.

    You don't need to live in Oakland to “get it” you just have to be a person with a brain in your head. It was a criminal negligence, pretty simple. Just because you killed somebody on accident doesn't mean you get off. He's actually facing a lighter sentence than people who commit vehicular manslaughter. You people are unbelievable and by “you people” I mean Walnut Creek folks in support of this.

    Sad day when people feel like this. But I guess since you voted for Barack Obama you think it's ok to have these views.

    Sad. Sad. Sad.


  16. What I don't get: OK, take it at face value that this was an accident. Why a “rally in support” of a cop who made a terrible error that ended up killing someone? That explanation doesn't pass the smell test.


  17. maybe you aren't a bad person, just bad at using your brain.

    how did a public train station become “the wrong place”? didn't the city encourage folks on the holiday to use mass transit and avoid driving during festivities?

    how many people do you think rode that train that night? or any night? are they all “in the wrong place”?

    why should it surprise that people relate to this?

    you are right the issue is polarizing. on one side you have folks who oppose the police killing unarmed civilians. on the opposing side are those who defend it, some more or less honestly than others.


  18. Soccer Mom:

    Mehserle managed to successfully brandish his TASER REPEATEDLY at Oscar before finally shooting Oscar dead.

    Taser was on the OPPOSITE side of Mehserle's body and weighed considerably less than gun. To draw the gun, Mehserle had to disengage a SAFETY mechanism.

    I could list any number of other significant facts; but, instead, I will I will ask you a simple question: how likely do you think it that Oscar would have been killed if he and his friends were Caucasion?


  19. If Oscar and his friends were Caucasion, they probably wouldn't been acting like gang-bangers/punks/thugs. Don't bother arguing this point. Some of you are working so hard to make Oscar appear like some kind of innocent angel. It's unbelievable…

    Maybe his old man could have helped him out by raising him better. Oh oh, he's in jail, my bad.


  20. Mehserle was after blood on January 1, 2009. Unable to live with the consequences of his actions, perhaps he has convinced himself certain that it was all a “mistake.”


  21. What an absolutely pathetic rationalization. Maybe the anti-Semitic and racist Malik Zulu Shabaz and his thug entourage is involved? Perhaps there flying saucers and alien abduction involved as well influencing the events? Statistics show that black people kill black people with more regularity than any other ethnic group. The fact of the matter and in the final analysis, Mr. Mehserle will have to live with this tragedy for the rest of his life. Let's move on please.


  22. I taught at a small alternative high school, the Rurban School (as in rural/urban) in the early 70s, and there seemed to be plenty of white suburban kids who were pretty alienated from and messed over by the system. WC, and the Bay Area, have changed plenty since then, due in no small part to BART and its colonizing, imperial approach to land and communities. Black Oakland is something that BART traverses and cuts up and tries to avoid, and Black Oaklanders and suburbanites (Oscar Grant III was, I believe, from Hayward, not Oakland). I lived in Hayward before I taught in Walnut Creek, and, as a working class suburb, it too had many alienated and disaffected white youth. Police killings are the tip of the iceberg of systematic (and institutionally racist) police stops, frisks, arrests, beatings, that follow inevitably from the use of police as occupying armies and internal border guards to enforce gentrification. If you think suburban dwellings, good schools or white skin will shield you from this forever, you are mistaken. All around the L.A. basin (I live in Los Angeles now) there are formerly white flight suburbs that, having 'matured' became targets of real estate churning and blockbusting (in the tried and true technique of having Black and Mexicano/indigenous families begin to trickle in thereby unleashing the floodgates of still further white flight and/or resentment). In L.A., and I suspect the Bay Area will not be immune to this, that whole process was superseded by the mortgage/foreclosure crisis, such that whole suburbs are being decimated as ARMs fall due. The police function as enforcers for the banks and the social system that supports the rule of finance capital.


  23. sadly, this was a pretty predictable article. i'm white, grew up in castro valley and now live in pleasant hill. i lived several years in oakland. as mickey martin stated, these 'accidents' tend to happen a lot more to black male youth than to toehr groups with the same rate of crime committed. white skin gives privledge, and blacks do get treated differently in this society (and it ain't better).

    the police have an extraordinarily difficult job. i suspect we will never know the truth of this case, was it pure accident or WHAT happened. but the police behavior afterwards doesn't help – trying to confiscate all of the cell phones, for example, and mr. meserle getting a 'cooling off' period to talk to his lawyer and get his story straight before he has to make an official statement. these type of behaviors (and countless others i witnessed in other instances living in oakland)really don't help the community trust the police. there has to be understanding and effort on both sides. Read 'Cruel and Usual Punishment' by Jessica Mitford and then decide if you'd rather be a criminal or a police officer in a shooting match.

    one approach to take when realizing one is ignorant about someone else's situation is to listen to what they have to say.


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