Chip Johnson, a black columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, has expressed his frustration with the abundance of white voices and paucity of black voices in the Bay Area protests over the deaths of black men like Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Johnson writes, “So far, it seems all I’ve seen and heard in three weeks of protest are some pretty vocal white folks screaming to have their way, or dismissing the actions of the wolves inside the flock as the ugly backside of democracy.”
Johnson points out that with the decline of religious observance in the Bay Area, black religious leaders have been ignored. He quotes Bishop Joseph Simmons, pastor at Greater St. Paul Church in West Oakland, saying, “The clergy in Oakland have not really come together. We’re still trying to figure out where we fit in in all of this. This generation doesn’t have respect for the church, and we don’t have the power we once had.”
In Johnson’s opinion, if black leaders from churches or community organizations would become more involved, an older generation of blacks who fought in the civil rights struggles decades ago could relate more to present-day blacks. He assumes that racism is endemic in America, writing, “…the roots and underlying reasons for racial animosity in America run far and deep and are fed by so many malicious streams that the deaths of African American men in confrontations with white police officers are but a symptom of a much broader social disease.”
Johnson seems willing to acknowledge that the crimes committed in the name of protests–but notes that they hurt the black cause. He quotes Bishop Bob Jackson, the black pastor at Acts Full Gospel Church, saying, “When you see protesters taking the opportunity to loot stores and burn stuff, it doesn’t help preserve the memories of young men like Brown and Garner. Using their deaths as an excuse to terrorize innocent citizens, loot, rob and destroy only hurts our cause.”
Jackson continued, “I hope this is a movement that leads to changes in law enforcement’s approach toward black people, but this is our problem and it will only be fixed by black people standing up. They can stand with us if they want to, but this is a black matter and we’re the ones who need to stand together and join forces.”
Over the weekend, the Chronicle had quoted Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, a black community leader, saying, “There are people who would like to participate, but they feel co-opted and don’t want to be aligned with the vandalism and with people throwing things at the police.”
The Chronicle also noted that last Tuesday, white City Councilman Kriss Worthington, speaking at the Old City Hall in Berkeley, was heckled by those yelling, “Let a black person talk!” and “We’ve heard from enough Caucasian men!” The heckling ended when Latino and black men spoke afterward.