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January 12, 2011 - 11:17 pm

I just got back from a vigil held this evening in Oakland to honor the victims of the Tucson shooting. The vigil was held in front of Oakland City Hall and was advertised as being “a nonpartisan event” where we would solely “express solidarity with the victims” — which is why I choose this particular event to attend, so I wouldn’t have to endure a lot of malicious blame-mongering.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere was sullied by speaker after speaker — including Representative Barbara Lee and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan — who managed to avoid naming names but lashed out at vague villains who have “created an atmosphere of hate” through “violence-tinged speech and images.” Fortunately, these inappropriate partisan jabs were balanced by the more honorific speeches by various pastors and ministers from the Oakland area.

And then everything went sour when the MC introduced someone named Roy Wilson, Program Director of Oakland’s Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center. At the climactic moment of this supposedly non-partisan event honoring victims, Mr. Wilson uncorked a rambling word-salad monologue that not only specified the bad guys by name, but devolved into a semi-coherent rant about social justice and racism and more mind-bending mixed metaphors than have ever been crammed into one paragraph. Here we were, trying to feel sympathy for the victims, and we had to endure this (transcription below):

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Roy Wilson: “Dr. King enters this struggle boldly. He says, ‘Violence anywhere is a threat to violence everywhere. An injustice anywhere, is a threat to injustice everywhere. Rhetoric inciting violence anywhere, is a call to rhetoric to incite violence everywhere.’ Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, others in the Tea Party trend, claim that political events tied to violence and rhetoric tied to violence are not causing the division in our nation. Tens of thousands of African-Americans have been lynched in a sea of rhetoric dripping with racist blood. Workers have been shot down on the picket line, drummed under by the rhetoric of mis-accusations. Students have been shot down protesting for peace under the rhetoric of unamericanism. Tens of thousands of Native Americans have been annihilated under the rhetoric of White American exceptionalism. We have to act. Dr. King says that ‘Courage is the ability to go forward in spite of frightening situations. Cowardness’ he says, ‘is a submissive surrender to circumstance.’ We’re asking everyone to ask all of our elected officials at the municipal level, the county level, the state level, the federal government, to pass laws that prohibit the use of rhetoric and actions and campaigns that incite violence. We ask that we all go back to our organizations of faith, our unions, our schools, our high schools, our middle schools, our elementary schools, and create statements demanding that there be communication and debate based on love, based on peace, based on community, based on a stronger democracy. Now, we have to be courageous because some of us may say that’s just not enough, or why, that might not make a difference. Remember, words make a difference. I’ve just asked all of us to do some things and put words in the public, put words with the official seal of our government, put words under the titles of our schools, that say “We are family.”

Not only did he mangle MLK’s quotes beyond recognition, but he soon slid into inventing King quotes out of the whole cloth — I get the suspicion that MLK never actually said “Rhetoric inciting violence anywhere, is a call to rhetoric to incite violence everywhere.” If it wasn’t for the Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck/Tea Party part, I’d assume that the speaker had some kind of thought disorder in which the ability to create clear sentence structures is diminished. But I get the feeling he knew exactly what he was doing, he just necessarily had to ramble all over the verbal landscape because there was no logical basis to what he was claiming.

And when he calls for “laws that prohibit the use of rhetoric and actions and campaigns that incite violence,” you know what that means — people like Roy Wilson will be the ones determining what counts as Forbidden Speech, and before you know it we’re in a one-party state.

And one more thing: how can a sea of rhetoric drip with racist blood — or even regular blood?

So much for a non-partisan vigil. Another emotional moment destroyed by political venom.

UPDATE:
There were several reporters and local TV channels on hand, and if you scan the mainstream news sites you can find a few mentions of this rally, invariably characterized as “respectful” and “somber.” That’s odd: How can separate eyewitnesses to the same event come away with different impressions, Rashomon-style? Here’s how: note carefully what happens at exactly 1:20 in the video. You’ll notice that the lights which had been illuminating Roy Wilson are suddenly turned off, right when it becomes obvious that he’s going to continue his inappropriate political rant. What you’re seeing at that moment is a TV camera crew, which had been filming Roy Wilson’s speech for possible use as a soundbite in that evening’s news broadcast, realizing that the guy was going off-message — so they simply switched off the camera’s photo lights and stopped filming him because his speech no longer fit the media’s predetermined narrative. They went to the vigil to report on a “respectful” event, and by golly they were going to bring back a report about a “respectful” event, regardless of what actually occurred. That’s how subtle media bias can be — simply switching off the camera when inconvenient things start happening.

UPDATE II:
Meanwhile, things were no better on the other side of the Bay: Anti-Palin Posters Appear In San Francisco.

And the beat goes on.

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