BlogBeat: Explosive City Streets

By Thomas Lord
Monday July 05, 2010 - 05:13:00 PM

Today’s items: South West Berkeley celebrates the 4th; why might rational people riot over the BART shooting verdict?;Berkeley-based law firm wins ADA victory for blind computer users. 

Pop, Pop, Pop – Then Screams 

The loud pops seemed to break out nearly simultaneously on every street surrounding us here in South West Berkeley.The screaming followed instantly. 

Of course, it was the loud pops of firecrackers and fireworks of dubious legality and the delighted screams of young children, teens, and appreciative adults. The streets – well, some of the streets around here – broke out in celebration of the 4th. As the hunger-inducing smells of the afternoon and evening barbecues faded along with the light, out came the pyrotechnics. 

I’d really expected little more than bottle-rockets, loud flash-bangs on the ground, and perhaps the odd roman candle or two. Evidently I’m behind the times. The sky lit up with with miniature versions of the colorful flower-blossom explosions we associate with fireworks displays. The kids were delighted – one carefully videotaping the proceedings.The pyrotechnics were handled in ways that made some adults nervous but under the active supervision of older siblings, parents, and grandparents.Events were briefly interrupted once or twice when someone called “CAR!” to let some unsuspecting driver pass through.The street overall was in fine spirits and reminded me why I like my neighbors. 

Occasionally there were glimpses visible of a larger, fancier display far off – presumably the official show of a nearby city. I can’t help but think that a lot more fun was had around here and, thankfully, with no injuries or fires started by this legally questionable display. 

For obvious reasons, I’ve no web link for more info. 

Your Regularly Scheduled Riot Will Resume After a Brief Message 

If you keep up with local news at all you are no doubt aware that Oakland is bracing for a riot especially in the event that the jury in the trial of Johannes Mehserle comes back with less than a second degree murder conviction. Mehserle, a now former BART police officer, was charged with the murder of Oscar Grant after shooting Grant in the back as Grant lay face down on a BART platform, pinned down by another BART police officer. The killing previously inspired riots in Oakland in January of 2009. 

Also widely reported is that the Oakland Police and Fire Department have been training and planning in anticipation of further rioting when the verdict comes in.(See


What you may not have heard much about is what motivates at least some of those who might participate in such a riot. It’s a refrain we’ve encountered quite a bitwhile digging around the blogosphere. Here is how it is expressed by the Revolutionary Frontlines Struggle blog (see ): 

“What [fear ofmore riots] neglects is one basic fact, indeed the most basic fact regarding the Oakland rebellions: that it was only as a result of those rebellions of January 2009 and the fear that they might be repeated that Mehserle was even arrested and put on trial in the first place. Those rebellions were, in fact, the basic precondition for this limited form of “justice” to even be possible.” 

Another blogger, Shasen, writes (see

“When the elite only had cameras they killed the Indians and they killed the blacks then denied the truth, but today technology is in the hands of the common folk…now we have a tape; and the tape tells no lies….we have seen the police lie Oscar Grant down and shoot him in the back execution style. Are we to now let this killer cop off the hook?!!” 

And this theory behind the riots really is on the streets. Here is a video of a rally addressed by a representative from the local political group BAMN (By Any Means Necessary)(see

Given such street sources and extreme left political sources, it is tempting to dismiss the notion that only these riots led to Mehserle being charged. Not so fast - “the establishment” produces its own critics of the slowness to prosecute. In particular, shortly before the shooting, another officer – apparently with no apparent justification in the videos – punched Oscar Grant in the face.In 2009, quoted a pair of UC scholars:(see

“"There's no question in my mind that that's vivid powerful evidence that he committed a vicious physical assault, unprovoked on a citizen, for absolutely no reason," said UC Hastings and Golden Gate law professor Peter Keane, who believes the officer should be fired and charged with assault. "That punch was totally unjustified... That officer is committing a crime." 

and, Berkeley’s own Franklin Zimring: 

“U.C. Berkeley law school professor Franklin Zimring said the district attorney must charge another BART officer with a crime. "If the district attorney is saying he's not going to charge any officer except Mehserle in my opinion, he's not doing his job," Zimring says in the video below. "Police officers are not...immunized from the normal laws that govern when assault is criminal conduct."” 

Certainly there is no clear argument, from the academics, the leftists, or the street that justifies the random violence and property destruction associated with the riots. What is clear is that simple calls for calm and peace don’t address the concerns of those who think the riots do some good. If there is indeed a widespread perception that even highly imperfect justice is obtained only after such demonstrations – then such demonstrations won’t be quelled by appeals to vague higher ideals. 

Lastly, Some Happy News 

As it turns out, the designers of the software behind the World Wide Web tried to be quite careful and ensure that the web would be accessible even to those with disabilities that might otherwise get in the way.As a simple example, when a web site coder adds an image, say a photograph to a page, the software allows that coder to also include an alternative – some text describing the image – as an aid to blind viewers. Most users see just the picture.Users using specially configured browsers get the alternative text. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in part requires businesses to accommodate various disabilities in some circumstances. For example, the doors that let you into a Target store must be wide enough to accommodate a wheel chair an the store must be navigable from a chair. 

According to the web site, a Berkeley based not-for-profit law firm, Brown, Goldstein & Levy who “[specialize] in high impact cases on behalf of people with disabilities” has overcome the first court hurdle in a suit that demands Target make its web site more accessible to the blind.(see

The case is far from over. The recent victory is only that the court has rejected a motion by Target to dismiss the case entirely. What is legally significant is that the court agreed that ADA can apply to web sites. 

Until next week, please be in touch: