Bay Area comes to grips with growing racial divide after Dallas police shootings – Santa Cruz Sentinel
America changed in 68 hours of this week.
Simmering under the heat of a chaotic presidential race and the tension of increasingly volatile racial relations, the country is surging after a sniper in Dallas knocked down five white cops and police in Louisiana and Minnesota killed two black men – all in 68 hours.
The Bay Area is used to turmoil, but what is sweeping the country now shakes us all: where do we go from here?
James Taylor fears the answer. “This has brought us to the brink as a country,” said Taylor, director of the African American Studies program at the University of San Francisco. “We’re risking more chaos and we’re returning to the violence we saw in the 1960s.”
Now Americans are grappling with a wave of racial hostility that has not been seen in decades.
Leaders everywhere from President Obama to Dallas Police Chief David Brown condemned Friday’s violence and urged calm. The vigils spread and protests began again, including one on Market Street in San Francisco. And while there have been small attempts at reconciliation, including a black teen delivering donuts to an Oakland police station that is still splattered with graffiti from the protesters, many scholars fear the worst is far from over.
“It was only a matter of time,” said Harry Edwards, a retired African-American professor of sociology at UC Berkeley and a noted civil rights activist. “Anyone who thinks Dallas will be the last such incident does not understand how systems fail.”
With video technology and social media, he and others say, suddenly all police violence has become a national message, fueling anger and distrust between black citizens and the police.
“When we see this going in a loop,” said Edwards, “we shouldn’t be surprised if we suddenly get snipers on buildings in Dallas.”
Since 2009, when BART policeman Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant, an unarmed Hayward man in the background, there have been numerous video footage of white policemen shooting black men – weeks of protests in downtown Oakland.
But few this week have reached the intensity with which police killed a Louisiana man while he was lying on the ground, and a Minnesota woman televised the final moments of her boyfriend’s life after an officer saw him during a Traffic obstruction had shot.
The next night, as protesters marched in Dallas, police said 25-year-old Micah Johnson took revenge on officials, killing five and injuring seven others.
Cat Brooks, who has organized protests against Black Lives Matters across the Bay Area, said the violence was a fork in the road for racial relations in the Bay Area and beyond.
“I think what happened is that a scab was torn from the wound too soon and all this stuff was squirting out,” she said. “Either we will be able to have honest conversations that will create just societies, or we will continue down this path that could very likely lead to more explicit racial violence.”
The idea of more racist violence seemed unthinkable eight years ago when Barack Obama began his presidency. Instead, tensions have escalated and political discourse has grown crueler as Donald Trump belittled illegal immigrants and called for a ban on Muslims visiting the country.
“We thought we were okay, we thought we were race as a society,” said Na’ilah Nasir, Vice Chancellor for Justice and Inclusion at UC Berkeley. “Facing this disjunction is really disturbing to people.”
The embers of racial animation burned Sacramento last month as white nationalists and left-wing protesters fought street fights. And racist tension filled downtown San Jose in May when several protesters, most of whom were Latinos, attacked Trump supporters as they were leaving a rally where the alleged Republican candidate electrified his audience by saying he was would make Mexico pay for a huge border wall.
“People yelled at us all as we tried to find our way there,” said Corrin Rankin, a Trump supporter from Redwood City. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
Rankin, who is black, said she agrees with some of the goals of the Black Lives Matters movement but disagrees with their tactics, fearing that her ex-husband, a police officer, is now more at risk than ever.
“It creates hostility for everyone,” she said. “It makes citizens more hostile to police officers and officials more hostile to citizens.”
Former Oakland police chief Howard Jordan, who ran the division in 2009 when a gunman fatally shot and killed four officers, said the protest movement that sparked after Grant’s death made it difficult for police to protect and serve them.
“We are being demonized,” he said. “I think if people stop demonizing and respecting the police, you can have a legitimate conversation about what it takes to rebuild trust and make sure the officers do their jobs professionally,” he said.
Jordan said black officers like him had an extra burden to carry. “People call you Uncle Tom because they think if you’re black you shouldn’t arrest other black people,” he said. “You can’t take that stuff personally. And the people who don’t last long. “
Not everyone sees doom and darkness for racial relations. David Hilliard, founding member of the Black Panther Party, said the police are treating minority communities far better than they were before the Panthers were formed.
“You’d have to be blind or completely crazy not to see the positive changes since the civil rights movement,” he said. “You have a black president and you have a lot more black and minority officers.”
Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York civil servant and professor of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said police-community relations are nowhere near as bad as portrayed, but they could be sabotaged by demagogues, pulling together the cable news Airwaves.
“You have extremists taking over the conversation on both sides of the political spectrum,” he said. “The crazy people who are racially obsessed are driving the conversation. The people there aren’t in real life, but you can drive them there. “
Jaren Stewart, a 19-year-old student, and his friend Zane Castillo tried to ease tension on Friday by bringing three boxes of donuts to Oakland Police Headquarters.
“As an African American, I feel the pain of the men who were killed by the police,” Stewart said. “But I couldn’t imagine if five of my rugby teammates would die in one night. Being able to distance myself from my pain and acknowledge someone else’s is the first step in how we can resolve this problem. “