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The Memo: Blame the Victims

Reported by Ellen - January 11, 2009 -

Guest blogged by Alex

In Friday's Talking Points Memo (01/09/09), ostensibly about the recent riots in Oakland, Ca. following the shooting death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III by a transit cop after an outbreak of fighting on the subway, Bill O'Reilly performs the Fox sleight-of-mind by turning attention away from the issue of the shooting and towards the supposed complicity in Oakland's high crime rate by its beleaguered citizens. With video.

O'Reilly reports that after the shooting of the unarmed, already subdued, and face-down suspect, rioting gangs took to the streets of Oakland to wreak havoc on businesses and private property and put lives in danger. Clips of the rioters and of angry citizens are shown, some of whom declare that "this" is "not going to stop" unless "you give us what we want". After stating that the officer involved must be held accountable and charges should be filed, Billo gives the requisite Fox "News" twist to the story and turns it into a condemnation of the citizens of Oakland who, he insinuates, have been standing idly by while crime takes over their city, only rousing themselves out of their lasseiz-fair torpor in "selective outrage" if race gives them an excuse. According to O'Reilly,

"But there is also another side to this story. While outrage is surely justified over the death of Mr. Grant, there has been little outrage that we have seen in Oakland over the astronomical violent crime rate there. According to the national crime rankings, Oakland's murder rate is over five times the national average; its robbery rate, six times the norm; and rape is 2 and a half time higher than the average in Oakland. The city has a drug-gang problem and downtown blight; but citizens have not taken to the streets over that, (said with raised hands and eyebrows and a tone of irony), nor did they protest en masse any of the over 124 murders in Oakland last year."

O'Reilly goes on to reiterate that cops should not be shooting suspects who are lying helpless on the ground, and then states that the citizens of Oakland should not be tolerating high crime rates either, and should be helping the police. He then completes his sleight-of-mind with,
"Selective outrage is at play here. High crime breeds police abuse. Riots are criminal acts. The good people of Oakland should do something about all this."

Geddit? The citizens of Oakland are doing nothing about crime (according to Billo). The high crime rate has led to police brutality. The police brutality led to the killing of Oscar Grant. Grant's killing led to the riots. But none of this would have happened if the residents of Oakland weren't just sittin' on the stoop watchin' the crime go by.

Let's back up a little here. First, the riots: according to Chip Johnson over at SFGate.com, the locals turned up for a peaceful protest which was shattered when a group from outside the area - people Johnson calls "Berkeley revolutionaries and San Francisco activists" – splintered off the peaceful demonstration and began rioting and looting. Who are these people?

According to Oakland resident Richard Wright at Indybay.org, the first violent protesters he saw were young, just "kids". White kids. Suburban kids. Richard says,

"I walk past the blockade without interference. I approach the crowd…they are chanting…WE ARE ALL OSCAR GRANT. I join in. And I light my white seven day candle in its glass sleeve. Soon , I see people I know. There are smiles and hugs, and also shaking of heads. There are Korean drummers beating out poongmul rhythms, lots of bicyclists, huge banners indicting killer cops, bullhorns shouting chants of No Justice, No Peace.

"I notice that the crowd is mixed, but with a lot of white folks. Some young white kids are in full black with hoodies and bandanas covering their faces. One is carrying a black flag. Black Bloc. "Anarchists." They keep trying to set fire to stuff, and others keep trying to put em out.

"I feel anger because I know that the media will racialize the unrest to **not** look like these suburbanites who use protests as an excuse to smash stuff."

Richard (who wrote in poetry form, which we have re-formatted to save space) says that later, people of all races were involved in the violence. But what a little digging (digging that "journalist" O'Reilly didn't bother to do) reveals is that (1) the protest began as a peaceful demonstration with residents carrying candles, honoring the memory of the murdered young father, and listening to speakers who conveyed a positive attitude which was reflected back to them by the crowd , and (2) the violence appears to have been initiated by young suburbanites – not Oakland residents displaying "selective outrage". And as anyone who has ever had the misfortune of being close to a riot knows, once it gets going a riot takes on a life of its own, attracting anyone in the vicinity prone to violence or looking for an excuse to cause trouble.

And the "selectively outraged" Oakland residents? Chip Johnson says,

"…The combination of endless violent crimes and a government that can offer no effective response has taken a disproportionately large toll on law-abiding Oakland residents… There isn't another city in the nation whose residents are more at wit's end when it comes to efforts to reduce crime and make neighborhoods safer… Oakland folks are dog-tired of street madness, worn out by violence, and simply no longer have a tolerance for anyone who comes for the sole purpose of trashing their city...For the Bay Area's professional protester industry, it was an opportunity to hold a meaningful demonstration in the Bay Area's Second City. For Oakland residents, it was yet another example of watching people, in a fit of rage, tear down what they had worked so hard to build up."

Malcolm X once said, "The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent". ("The Power of Media", 1964). O'Reilly has, once again, used his power to distract the Fox faithful from the complexity of the real issues – in this case, the poverty, inept government, poor officer training, outside interference, difficult race relations and perceived lack of empowerment that underly Oakland's high crime rate and this shooting of an unarmed suspect - and to make "the good people of Oakland", bone tired after years of trying to fight the system that lets the city fester, the guilty ones.