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Friday, March 27, 2009

Visiting Oakland

Most people who visit California from out-of-state generally don't choose Oakland as their destination.

San Francisco, sure. Los Angeles, possibly. Beverly Hills-- definitely.

Oakland? Probably not.

Today, though, Oakland is getting a tourism boom-- roughly 12,000 people are descending on Oakland, California today-- but they aren't exactly there to see the sights.

The people who are visiting Oakland today won't be staying very long, and, chances are they won't be doing a lot of shopping while they're there. They won't be taking pictures of famous Oakland sights, if there are any. They won't be dining in fine restaurants or hitting the museums either. And though they aren't there to see a sporting event, they will be spending a good deal of time inside a sports venue. These visitors will all file into the Oracle Arena to attend the joint funeral for Oakland Police Officer John Hege and Sergeants Mark Dunakin, Erv Romans, and Daniel Sakai, who were all killed last Saturday by Lovelle Mixon.

The people who are visiting Oakland today all have one thing in common: they are members of the law enforcement community, but that's pretty much where the similarities end. They're men and they're women, they're straight and gay, they're black and white and every shade in between. Didn't used to be that way, of course. If you were white, male, and Catholic, stood at least 5'10" and were 195 pounds-- you became a cop. If you weren't, you didn't. It's not that way anymore, and I have no doubt that, if you view any of the footage or the pictures from today's heart-wrenching service, you will see the diversity that is helping to make policing stronger and more trustworthy today.

The people who are visiting Oakland today are there to share in the shocking, searing pain that is felt by the Oakland Police Department. They are there to show their support. They are there to show the world that they give a damn, because all they'd want is for someone to give a damn about them. They are there to stand up to some of the negativity that has been spewed forth by some angry Oakland residents, statements made that these officers "had it coming" and that "the police are nothing but brutish thugs."

"The police."

What does that even mean anyway? Were Hege, Dunakin, Sakai and Romans "the police?" Are these twelve thousand individuals, people from all different ethnic, social, and religious backgrounds "the police?" Is any one department "the police?"

Just who is "the police" anyway?

The people visiting Oakland today are there to try and fill an enormous hole left by such a massive loss of life. Try as they might, they cannot. There is no groundswell, no outpouring of grief and solidarity large enough that can account for this calamity-- but that doesn't mean you don't try.

The people visiting Oakland today will all return to their own states and cities and towns and police departments and will resume their duties and their patrols and their lives. They will do their best to try to forget about the grief and pain that they will see today, but I expect that will be close to impossible. As they ride around in their cars and as they answer calls for help, they will be no doubt wondering if what happened in Oakland could ever happen in their town, in their city-- could this happen to them? The answer, unfortunately, is: sure. The circumstances that lead Lovelle Mixon to have a gun in his car and to turn it on those officers are no different than the circumstances of thousands and thousands of Lovelle Mixons all across America: on probation, a no-bail warrant out for his arrest, an illegal weapon, no hope, no future, no sense, nowhere to run.


The people visiting Oakland today will struggle to make some sense out of what has happened. They will be asking the question that has been on everybody's lips since these four men fell last week: Why? I would suggest that this is a waste of energy. There is no sense. There is no logic. There is no justification. As my very perceptive wife taught me long ago, there is no answer to "why?" questions.

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