Saturday, November 6, 2010

Art Walk through Copland

I woke up this morning sore and dehydrated from the previous night.  My body was slow to move and I felt a little lightheaded.  When I was finally awake, I noticed the distinct sound of a helicopter outside.  The sound went in and out, as though it was circling, which of course made me wonder about the night before because I saw at least one low helicopter last night.

We were supposed to meet up with one of our new Bay area friends, which didn't happen.  Instead we went to the local version of First Friday Art Walk.  After learning this morning what was happening last night, I understand why everything went the way it did.

We parked and I began to notice pictures of a single man's smiling face posted all over the place.  Now, even though I was completely unaware as to who he was, the only time something like that occurs in a city is when something really awful happens.  It is part of the grieving and the rage surrounding whatever incident occurred.  There were even murals painted on building walls with his face.  Just because such an incident was fresh in the minds of the public didn't necessarily mean anything.  We were determined to see what Oakland could offer us by way of their First Friday Art Walk.

Walking through Ogawa Plaza from our car towards the location of the art walk was surreal.  No one was on the street.  Shops seemed to all be closed.  Every news van that could possibly be parked was down there.  I didn't think it was for a human interest story on First Friday, especially when we saw at least sixty police officers in full riot gear standing around every corner.  We walked down the street, and the cops got fewer and further between. Instead there were large men dressed in black baring "SECURITY" every other store front.  I saw one or two people holding signs that said "Stop Police Brutality!" and even though I didn't know it was about, I was concerned this might be an issue as we passed a couple more cops.

First Friday might be better normally.  Last night the galleries were full of pretentious white kids who looked like they were taking speed or something else.  The street that had been blocked off for the festival style portion, was only one block long and smelled like a mixture of patchouli, weed, and fried fish from the taco vendor. I felt like I was back at Bard, and therefore, was somewhat disappointed. 

We decided to search for a bar to get a beer or some mixed drink.  As we walked back in the direction of our car (and The Layover, a fabulous hipster bar that I highly recommend) groups of cops passed us walking at a faster clip.  In a few minutes we were standing on a street corner watching the longest line of cop cars I have ever seen in my life or in movies.  They just kept going.  There must have been over 20, including a heavily armored vehicle, and several SUVs.  They weren't just Oakland police either.  They were sheriffs and there seemed to be a mixture of different geographies represented.  They took over the street, blocking any traffic from going their direction along Broadway, or any cross traffic from moving for over fifteen minutes as they crossed through the city. Thankfully they were going the other direction from us.  We found our bar, and proceeded to have great mixed drinks in a chill atmosphere until we were ready to go home.

So this morning when I heard the helicopter over head, you can bet I wanted to read up on what happened the night before.  I always have mixed feelings when I hear about protests or trials of officials who have committed some kind of crime.  It feels like neither side is able to really listen to the other and to come to some kind of terms.

That Oscar Grant was shot in such a brutal way is no doubt, a horrible horrible thing.  There is no question.  Police brutality is a horrible thing that happens all the time, because when you give people training and weapons to control the general population, its easy for it to go to a guy's head.  Protest is a part of America.  It's what has made America the place it is today and will continue to shape our political landscape. Besides these few things, there is a whole lot I do not and will likely never know.  Like, why did any of these things happen? Why did the protesters turn violent? Why did the policeman shoot a man he had subdued? Did he think it was a taser? What went on in the jury chamber at the policeman's trial? What did the judge think of the verdict really?  Would the art walk have been a thousand times better if this riot hadn't been going on in the Lake Merritt neighborhood? I won't ever find out.

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