video from First Church Of The Buzzard.  No gunshots here, just a fuckoad of fireworks!!!

New Year’s Eve, West Oakland.  Standing out in the backyard at about 6 pm and heard what was either fireworks or really fucking loud gunshots.  It was close, seeming to come from about half a block away.  2 short bursts, one of about 8 shots and another of about 5.  Like I said, LOUD AS SHIT.  If this was a gun, it was not a little handgun.  We all know those go “pop”.  This was the same block that had 2 drive-bys on it the week before I left so I figured I had better call 911.  (seriously sad, the neighbors had to go out and hold a towel on this kid’s bleeding leg while waiting for the ambulance, don’t think either victim will die, fortunately).

I mean, it was NYE and it could’ve been fireworks, but I figured that if a person was hurt in the street I had a responsibility to let someone know.

Similarly I think people feel a sense of responsibility to document possible crimes they see happening in front of them, or possible abuses of power.  A really strong example of this is the video of the Iranian protester Neda, whose death was documented on a cameraphone and became a powerful symbol of the Iranian protest movement.

Closer to home in East Oakland there was the tragic shooting of Oscar Grant by the (unfortunately-named) public transport official Johannes Mehserle on early New Year’s Day 2009.  Grant was 22, African American and unarmed.  He was shot in the back, and it was captured on video.

This case obviously stirred up a lot of angry feelings in Oakland, with multiple protests (riots?) destroying private property and bringing up the very real possibility of the sort of “civil unrest” we saw in post-Rodney King 1992 LA.

While I was definitely aware of the case, for some reason I had never watched the video.  The main piece of media that had stuck with me was testimony from the Johannes Mehserle’s partner, who remarked that before they responded to the emergency call about a New Year’s Eve fight at the station, Mehserle had asked his partner in the case that anything terrible happened that the partner tell Mehserle’s wife that he loved her.

While none of this excuses shooting an unarmed man, it made me at least empathic towards the officer’s point of view.  This was a scared man going into a possibly violent situation.  It seems that his actions were the result of fear, not hatred, and violent protests aren’t going to do much to heal that mutual mistrust in our community.

However, when I watched the video I could understand the citizens’ collective rage.  I mean, the young man is literally face down on the ground, cooperating with the over-freaked police when he is shot in the back.  Cowards shoot in the back.  Cowards are scared.

Oakland is scary.  We all are scared.

Johannes Mehserle / Oscar Grant

So in a relatively short period of time, it’s become obvious that people feel responsible not only to capture crimes and bad behaviour but also to share them with the world.  But what about the other way around?  In the age of ubiquitous recording devices and distribution do we have a responsibility to document things that are amazing?

One thing that Double Rainbow did (besides make me cry with laughter), was bring up that question for me.

On one hand it’s easy to argue that we are becoming detached from reality by viewing it constantly on a screen, that concentrating on capturing a moment takes one out of actually experiencing it.  On the other hand, Double Rainbow video brings joy and laughter to everyone who watches it.

So while we now understand a collective responsibility to whistle blow crimes and disseminate truth, if you have a chance to spread joy and laughter all over the world, do you have to do it?

The answer is obviously complicated.  An online interview between Elspeth Jane and HungryBear9562 (aka Paul Vasquez, the panting crying envirofreak behind DoubleRainbow) reveals a mix of narcissm and altruism, using the words “viral” and “Holy Spirit” in the same breath.

Elspeth: What do you think of the attention your video is receiving? Do you like it?

HungryBear: I’m not surprised by the attention, I always knew someday I was
going to go viral, I knew when I shot the vid that it was special, it
was a reaction to the Holy Spirit and people would react to my
reaction, it’s as expected. Spirit is speaking through me, people are
connecting to Spirit through me, they have a sense of recognition of
the power of the Universe. I love it!


I think you can opt in if you want, which is how I justified taking the crazy Oakland fireworks video while the clock struck midnight on one of the best years of my life.

(video at top of post, taken at First Church Of The Buzzard in West O.  Countdown starts at about 1 minute in, EXPLODING XMAS TREE THAT LASTS FOR 2 WHOLE MINUTES starts at 1:50)

All the fire and rain brought out a crazy beautiful feeling in me, first time really thinking about rain, realizing that it falls FROM THE SKY, so high!  so far away!  and it comes down in little droplets!  It’s truly a miracle that even ICP couldn’t fuck with.

So after the countdown I stood and looked up at the sky and felt amazed and in awe.  But I knew better than to try and capture that feeling on film.


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