Another controversial court ruling, another night of rioting and looting. Last week Californians once again witnessed the temperamental acting out of those who feel they were on the wrong side an injudicious decision by a jury of their peers.
Last Thursday San Francisco-area transportation police officer Johannes Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the 2009 death of BART rider Oscar Grant. Video evidence showed that while arresting Grant, Mehserle unholstered his gun, instead of his taser, and fatally shot Grant. Given the racial overtone of the tragic New Year’s Day killing (Mehserle is white, Grant was black), citizens of the East Bay felt only a conviction for murder would be true justice. So divisive was the issue, the trial was moved to Los Angeles.
Although first-degree murder wasn’t an option for jurors to consider, many Oakland-area citizens were still stunned by what they perceived to be a lenient involuntary manslaughter conviction, which, in conjunction with other charges, carries up to 14 years in jail for Mehserle.
Whether justice was truly served in the case is a question that will be debated for years to come. But the public response to the conviction is unequivocally wrong. By late Thursday afternoon, media outlets in San Francisco were warning citizens to leave downtown for fear of a violent reaction to the verdict. Riot police geared up for a long evening. While most citizens shared their disgust at the verdict through lawful verbal condemnation, those who have no respect for the law, judicial system or social order in general seized upon the public anger as an opportunity to be violent.
As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Officials said the main instigators appeared to be organized "anarchist" agitators wearing black clothing and hoods.” The so-called outsiders took advantage of the seething anger of local residents, inciting violence. They successfully turned mere emotional anguish into physical aggression.
Such anarchic acts are not just an assault on local authority and community, they are an assault on society at large and the very structure of social order. While such violence is an extreme example of anarchy, rebellion and disrespect for the societal order, there are less-violent but just as insidious acts that eat away at society—and they often come from the very government charged with keeping order and administering justice.
As the tumult in San Francisco was unfolding, a hundreds miles away in Sacramento, another form of rebellion was taking place. This time, violence wasn’t incited, but the same rebellion against social order was at its root.