Last weekend, I attended a peaceful protest in front of the Oakland Police Department in downtown Oakland. A crowd of a few hundred gathered to remember George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other victims who lost their lives due to police brutality.
The walk to downtown isn’t far from where I live in Oakland, where my neighborhood Target was trashed and a car was lit on fire inside the Mercedes Benz dealership across the street.
The shops along the walk to the police station were mostly closed and boarded up with wood panels.
Opening past wounds
In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and subsequent lootings across the country, my thoughts turned to the 1992 L.A. riots when my family’s market burned to the ground.
Remembering that time in my life is confusing, scary, and disheartening. On the day the riots broke out my dad closed the store. Armed with his rifle, he later returned but it was too late.
Before the riots, our market thrived. Then, in one fell swoop, everything was gone.
The L.A. riots of 1992
In 1992, Rodney King was severely beaten by the LAPD. His beating was caught on tape but despite the proof, the officers were acquitted. The verdict resulted in five days of rioting in L.A. and my parents’ store, along with many other immigrant businesses were destroyed.
This is why it pained me to read about the Iraqi immigrant who stood outside his deli, begging angry looters to stop because “I don’t have insurance!” The pandemic and looting were the nails in the coffin that would likely extinguish these small businesses for good.
The story of Hammer’s Market
Our little store was a local neighborhood market in Compton. My parents owned it for 12 years and although business was consistent, it came with its own set of hardships. We’d repeatedly get robbed at gunpoint.
When I was in junior high my dad was involved in a dramatic shootout, finally putting an end to the constant robberies.
About an hour after the store opened at 6 a.m., the masked thieves would enter the store and clear out the cash register. After the third time, my dad was ready. He watched their car pull up from the surveillance camera and hid in the back.
Shots were fired from both sides and a bullet went through his thigh. He was rushed to the hospital for surgery. It was a close call that shook our family to the core.
Just a few years later, we’d experience yet another shakeup — one that completely destroyed the business that my parents had worked so hard to build.
I recall watching the news in disbelief as L.A. turned into a war zone. It was the first time I saw how one-sided our justice system could be and the explosive aftermath of a faulty verdict that set it off.
Racial inequality: The hard questions
Some think dismantling the police may be one tactic. Dismantling is not the most accurate way to describe it, but what it means is that for things like non-violent disputes, the police would no longer be called out. Others believe the bad apples in law enforcement should be fired and better training could foster an improved police culture.
All of these measures are a step in the right direction that would foster change in law enforcement.
But the bigger question still remains to be addressed: how will we get to the core of what’s really behind police brutality and racial injustice? I once listened to an NPR podcast discussing police violence against people of color, and the experts believed it came down to one thing: fear. Maybe it’s as simple as understanding this fear and finding ways to work through it.
I know I don’t understand enough about our law enforcement policies, but as a citizen, I truly believe it’s time for drastic measures. It’s time to move away from antiquated policies and shun backdoor meetings between politicians and law enforcement leaders.
It’s time for change
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. What we’ve been doing isn’t working. Whether it was a wrongful conviction of the Rodney King beating or the death of George Floyd, we’re tired of police brutality and racism. We want to feel safe in our communities.
When will the police be trained to better communicate and empathize with the people they’re supposed to protect and serve?
As a minority, I’d like to believe that people look beyond my yellow skin, but maybe I’m being too optimistic or naive. I know there will always be another Amy Cooper.
Hope dies last
As I walked through Oakland to the police station, my mind weighed heavily on the fact that we’re fighting a novel disease and each other.
I thought about the L.A. riots but this time, I’m holding on to the hope that a significant change is coming.
And maybe… that’s all I can do for now.