Oakland Police memorial shrouds roots of tragedy

By Julianne Hing Mar 28, 2009

I went to the Oakland Coliseum today for the joint public funeral of the four police officers, Mark Dunakin, John Hege, Ervin Romans and Daniel Sakai, who were killed on Saturday. Early reports put the number of attendees at 20,000. I’d never seen so many police in one place before. The last time I was at the Oracle Arena was back in January to watch President Obama get sworn in via satellite feed. I was so happy to be there, aching to embrace togetherness and forget racial discord, even if just for a day. Talk about a we’re-not-post-racial wake up call. Police and uniformed men and women from all departments (CHP, the Sheriff’s office, even the meter maids) were there. I saw police cars from Boston and Nevada, officer badges from Alhambra down south to Eureka up north. The mood was respectfully somber. During the speeches given by colleagues, friends and family, people around me wept, dabbed at tears beneath their shaded eyes, shook their heads at the tragedy and confusion of it all. And yet I felt oddly disconnected from the services today. I was sitting in the overflow space in the ballpark where it was quite cold in the lower deck seats. The dirge sounded far away, the speakers’ voices bounced in echoes around the ballpark. What was Barbara Boxer doing there? Jerry Brown? Schwarzenegger? They offered kind tributes, but their words felt hollow, their presence opportunistic. Why are these public figures so good at organizing themselves after tragedy occurs, but silent on policy measures that might end the criminalization of Black men, that might offer constructive rehab and re-entry programs, that might have prevented this from happening? It felt disrespectful to the people whose lives they were there to pay respect to. "Their final hour was one of their finest," said Dianne Feinstein. It made me wince. These men were called heroes and angels, exalted nearly to sainthood. Does Whole Foods send care packages to the families of Black men every time they’re shot? Are counseling services and medical care offered to the the wives and colleagues of Black men who get killed? It is not just the police who are mourning right now. We’re supposed to be taking this time to heal, to bridge the gulf between civilians and uniformed forces. And yet I fear this void was only reinforced with such a public, star-studded funeral for only four of the five people who died Saturday. Hege, Dunakin, Romans and Sakai were victims of the same policies and structural neglect that failed Lovelle Mixon, that fails overloaded parole officers, that fails families and children. I left feeling little peace, more unsettled than when I arrived. Were you there today, or did you watch the feed online? What did you think?