Oakland and the Claims of Justice

by Matthew Raley

Two stories popped up Monday morning about Oakland, CA. One reported that there were anti-police protests in the city Saturday night. The other detailed the rise in homicides last year.

The homicide story was wrenching, not just because the total number of killings hit 110 but also because three small children were among the slain. A 5-year-old was shot beside his father’s taco truck. A 3-year-old was shot while being pushed by his mother in his stroller. An 23-month-old in his father’s arms was shot in the head. This last shooting made headlines nationally because it occurred at the taping of a rap video.

An activist named Todd Walker attended at least 50 of the funerals for these homicide victims. He said, “Safe streets should be the main priority of this city, period! There are no more excuses.”

The Oakland police were busy on the streets Saturday night quelling the violent march by about 100 self-identified members of Occupy Oakland. The protesters threw bottles, broke shop windows, slashed tires, and vandalized a media van. One of the six arrested had a quarter-stick of dynamite. Police were busy with occupy protesters last Thursday as well, when a number tried to push their way into city hall. Last month, occupiers succeeded in shutting down the Port of Oakland — and in provoking the hostility of unions whose workers lost wages because of the stunt. Last fall, Occupy Oakland was one of the camps most notorious in the nation for violence and drugs.

Saturday night, the occupiers decried police violence. They said they would organize a weekly “F– the Police” protest.

Some occupiers claim that they cannot control everyone in their marches, attempting to shift responsibility for violence to “anarchists.” This video offers some examples:

OAKLAND: Damage from violent weekend Occupy protest leads….

Those excuses won’t cut it. A blogger makes the case for the occupiers’ tolerant attitude toward violence here (profanity heads-up).

The mainstream ethic of occupiers seems to be:

1. Your grievances justify your criminality, if that’s how you choose to handle stuff.

2. I am not implicated in what you do. I have no responsibility as a citizen to stop violence or vandalism when I see it.

3. The police have no right to use force against protesters.

First reality check: there are protest marches across the United States every week that do not degenerate into crime. The marches are often loud, confrontational, and provocative, but Americans know how to make strong statements without violence.

Second reality check: you cannot have a real community without accepting your responsibility to speak up when crime is being committed.

Third reality check: criminality escalates. A confident society empowers the police to use force against criminals. I am not endorsing police brutality, nor am I denying that police corruption is a serious problem. But a society that claims to be “above” the use of force against criminals, or that has a guilty conscience about using force, ends up with dead toddlers in its streets.

This is not merely about Oakland, or the occupiers. Citizens of London got that third reality check last year. Even little Chico is being affected by rising violence (cf. #3 in the editorial). Rising violence is everywhere. This is also not about “social” justice. Crime is about simple justice, the priority of order. We have a right to walk the streets without fearing for the safety of our kids. Hat-tip to police officers who do their best to secure that right every day.

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