The Magazine

Excusing the Oakland Rioters

Looting is not a form of civil rights protest.

Jul 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 42 • By HEATHER MAC DONALD
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The drumbeat from the media, politicians, and the professoriate regarding alleged racial injustice in law enforcement is not innocuous. It creates the intellectual context in which rioting over trial verdicts and police shootings is expected and almost accepted. There is a nexus between the endless search for unexplained racial disparities in incarceration and arrests that occupies vast swathes of the legal academy and the sociology profession, and the belief among many blacks that the criminal justice system is stacked against them. If there were any countervailing interest among our opinion-makers in the contribution of proactive policing to urban revival or the enormous benefits of lowered crime to the social and economic health of minority neighborhoods or the fervent support for the police among many law-abiding blacks, the effects of the “law enforcement is racist” conceit would be mitigated. But in fact the “racist police and court system” trope is the only discourse about law enforcement that circulates in the upper reaches of intellectual and public culture. It is no surprise that it is echoed and sometimes acted on by the alleged victims of that racism as well. 

Meanwhile, Oakland is already bracing for Officer Mehserle’s sentencing in November. For all of July, the entire Bay Area law enforcement community was on nervous riot alert while waiting for the trial verdict. A San Francisco police official predicts even more intense preparations as the sentence date nears. If Officer Mehserle is not given what the activists demand—the maximum 14 years in prison, though such a sentence might be inconsistent the jury’s finding of involuntary manslaughter—Oakland businesses could once again be cleaning up their shattered storefronts and salvaging what they can of their merchandise.

Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor to City Journal and the author of Are Cops Racist?

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