Reacting Back

BAY AREA AFFAIRS: The rioting that took place in Oakland on Friday was the wrong reaction, yet we sympathize with protesters' anger.

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It is easy to dismiss continually repeated protests as over the top, yet it is more valuable to evaluate why these movements are recurring. The march and then subsequent rioting on Friday in Oakland was the latest of several similar situations that have taken place since then-BART police officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed civilian Oscar Grant III in January 2009.

The violence that took place Friday included several smashed windows and resulted in roughly 150 arrests. Consistent with our opinion on the last riot, we cannot condone violence in any form. Yet it is the unfortunate expression of a problem that still exists - a wrong reaction, yet not an overreaction.

Mehserle was sentenced to two years in prison, the minimum sentence allowed for someone convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He can apply the time that he has already been in custody to his overall sentence, meaning that Mehserle could be eligible for release in about seven months. We sympathize with protesters who are a largely racial minority that feel betrayed by authorities. After a case in which an officer was caught-on-tape shooting an unarmed black man, those who are upset likely do not think they can express their anger in any legitimate avenue since the courts and enforcement officials have let them down. This, in and of itself, is a tragedy for the community.

Any form of protest is significant, but strategies are only as valid as the letter of the law. Illegitimate tactics, namely violence, only serve to further the divide in the city as we can clearly see after every instance of rioting.

We do not pretend to have the magic solution to alleviate these ongoing tensions. While mass protests are always effective, much like the impromptu gathering of about 350 people in front of City Hall Friday, we sympathize with protesters' frustrations. Many pledge to continue their quest for justice in this case. We hope any future efforts are nonviolent and we hope that the city notices and recognizes these valid frustrations in this ongoing conflict.

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