Barack Obama will be sworn in Tuesday as our 44th president. His inauguration should remind us of the incredible racial progress since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s inspiring speech at the March on Washington in 1963. On that day, King spoke in race-transcendent terms about the need to value content of character over the color of skin. In later speeches, he counseled long-suffering blacks to confront injustice with principled, nonviolent action.
But don't tell that to the black hooligans who have been rioting and rampaging through the streets of Oakland for more than a week. Despite King's wise counsel, the election of a black president and a progressive black mayor in Oakland, they pretend that nothing's changed.
What initiated the rioting was the New Year's Day shooting of Oscar J. Grant III, a 22-year-old man. His alleged killer is a former Bay Area Rapid Transit District police officer. Grant was black; the officer, who resigned, is white -- classic grist for the mill of urban protest politics. Even before the facts were established, protests were organized and the violence ensued. More than 100 people have been arrested, scores of businesses trashed and cars torched.
Without a doubt, the shooting is nothing less than horrifying -- video shows the officer shooting an unarmed Grant at point-blank range ... in the back. Protesters demanded justice. The officer was arrested and charged with murder.
This makes little difference to the rioters. One of the protest organizers said the "unrest" was justified because it seemed that "one of our own could be gunned down and no one cared." That may have characterized another era of American race relations, but it is not true of contemporary realities, and it certainly does not appear to be true in this circumstance.
This raises a question of whether the rioters were demanding "justice" or simply seeking a reason to engage in mindless, nihilistic behavior driven by the politics of racial victimization. Other than the skin colors of the victim and the officer, nothing has surfaced indicating that racism was behind the shooting.
But the emotional reactions to Grant's death raise a related issue. Why have activists in Oakland, or in other urban communities plagued by criminality and gang warfare, consistently turned a blind eye to the "black on black" killings that have occurred all around them for decades?
A recent study by James A. Fox and Marc L. Swatt of Northeastern University in Boston found that "from 2002 to 2007, the number of homicides involving black male juveniles as victims rose by 31% and as perpetrators by 43%."
The typical response whenever a white police officer shoots or mistreats a black person -- regardless of the circumstances -- is for activists to hit the "go button" and organize protests against "racist cops." However, when a black thug pumps several slugs into another black person, it's just assumed to be the high cost of living in the 'hood.
Ours is not the America of an earlier, racist era. The nation's law enforcement agencies aren't teeming with bigots and racists. Because police agencies recruit from among the general population, there undoubtedly are a few disturbed individuals in these agencies, and we must deal with those cases. But don't automatically inject racial motives where none exist.
Spare me the drivel about racial root causes and calls for "understanding" the complexities of gang and thug culture. The answer is to come to grips with the size of the problem, reform our schools so education might allow kids hope, organize the good people in the communities against the minority of thugs who hold them hostage and ramp up the gang and crime suppression efforts.
Rogue cops should be dealt with harshly and prosecuted to the fullest extent. Thankfully, they are a rare breed today. But ask anybody living in an urban neighborhood where gangs control the night -- it's not the police they are afraid of, it's the thug culture.
Joe R. Hicks is vice president of Community Advocates, a Pajamas TV commentator and KFI-AM (640) talk-show host.