I’ve had a lot of reflecting to do since my experience at the Oakland Trayvon rally last week, documented impressively by The Daily Caller’s Charles C. Johnson. Having been asked many questions about it, both on and off the air, I’ll briefly share a few of my thoughts, both regarding the incident, and its implications.
But first, the raw video taken in the moments before the assault:
As you can see, the only interview I had a chance to conduct was purely straightforward. I’ve done hardball interviewing, I’ve done undercover, I’ve done ambush and other forms of judo-journalism — none were my MO this time.
There were only four “provocations” I am responsible for: 1) Having a camera; 2) consistently refusing to leave when repeatedly threatened; 3) merely being seen by two protesters who were looking for a straw man to foist their emotional insecurities upon (a kind of social microcosm of a larger national trend); and 4) being in the throes of an emotionally unstable crowd motivated by pure knee-jerk Bay Area groupthink.
It took me a while to fight them off because: a) I was outnumbered; b) I was preoccupied with maintaining my grip on the camera as they tried to pry it out of my hand while straddling, socking and kicking me on the pavement ground; and c) given the journalist cap I was wearing at the time, I exercised a certain restraint so as to minimize my influence on the course the story took.
Some have asked if I have any regrets. My answer is: Too few to mention. I was there to cover a story, and the plot simply thickened. The assault was an occupational hazard. I’ve reported in Wisconsin and Ohio during militant union protests, at another Trayvon rally in South Central Los Angeles, in Baghdad during the war. The risk of physical danger and potential pain and injury comes with the job — that is if the job is being done right.
To me, this was a job worth doing — I knew this the second I saw an elementary to middle school-aged child being escorted by his mother and led in the chant: “No justice, no peace — fuck you pigs, die in your sleep.”
The objects of the chanters’ disaffections, the police, whose “overbearing presence” protesters decried, were so overbearing that that after my assault, I had to schlep half a block down — where they were camped out in the police vehicles — to inform them of what had happened. I was told their post-Occupy posture was deliberate, as the force had become increasingly reluctant to involve themselves in public rallies given the risk of inciting violent reactions. I suppose it’s safe to say that whatever the Occupy movement intended to accomplish, it won on that front.
However, the police down the street were not the first contact I made, but rather, the ABC news van on the other side of the corner. The van doors wide open, I demanded to know from the reporters inside if they had caught any of the incident a moment ago. “What incident?”
Alas, the narrative of peaceful Oakland protests was momentarily preserved by ABC’s wandering eyes. Though the dissemination of my account would prove to obstruct that narrative via the laudable proactivity of Charles Johnson, The Daily Caller, The Drudge Report, Laura Ingraham and others, I find that it also reinforces an unfortunate, yet common, sentiment about my place of birth and youth, and it is on that note I find it worthwhile to briefly digress:
Oakland is better than this. Incidents like this, though unfortunately somewhat typical, is not one for which I hope the town would be recognized. What happened was not symptomatic of an Oakland problem, but presently an American one. And sadly, one that too many Americans don’t wish to solve, as to them a solution itself would pose a problem of its own.
Booker T. Washington wrote: “I am afraid that there is a certain class of race-problem solvers who don’t want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but also an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public.” This was in 1911.
Last week was not my first Trayvon rally. Nor was it the most disturbing or exhibitive of Washington’s fear. In April 2012, I attended a rally at a church on Crenshaw Boulevard in South Central Los Angeles, headlined by certified race-problem solvers and Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Outside the church, SEIU canvassers collected signatures like raffle tickets at a Dodgers game.
But it got even more surreal inside the building, as the Rev. Sharpton took the stage — Trayvon’s parents seated directly behind him. Demanding a first-degree murder charge for George Zimmerman (this being a year before the case even went to trial), the reverend presented a grocery list of political causes for which he insisted the occasion of Martin’s death should have somehow sounded a “wake-up call.” They included everything from saving public education to protecting the U.S. Post Office from privatization.
It was outside that rally that I confronted Sharpton about his authority to be speaking on civil trials given his role in the Tawana Brawley case, let alone on the subject of racism, given his role in a notorious riot culminating in a mob beating similar in circumstances to, but far, far graver than mine. Sharpton’s stubbornness in this interview days later reawakened the ire of Yankel Rosenbaum’s family.
So goes the story of two thugs looking for a fight, finding a target, and catalyzing a chain-reactive pile-on among bellicose groupthinking bystanders while a major media entity stands by and the presence of law is deliberately withdrawn.
Now you decide if that sentence describes my incident last week, or America the past few years. If the latter, then all that is warranted is a replacement of the word “street thugs” with “reverends.”
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