Right, Wrong or Good News?

by Belinda Munoz on July 9, 2010

riot police

My fingers hesitate as I begin to type.  Discussions of right and wrong are a sticky, sticky thing.  And frankly, if it’s not jam or peanut butter, I’d rather not touch anything sticky.


But something in my midst happened recently that I’d like to explore a bit.  Yesterday, one town away from me, the jury returned its verdict on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police shooting of Oscar Grant.  To summarize, Grant, a young, unarmed African-American man, was fatally shot on New Year’s Day by a BART police officer.  Johannes Mehserle, the young Caucasian BART police officer responsible for the shooting, was tried in a court of law.  The jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

The case is a mixed bag of race and justice issues.  Oakland residents gathered downtown to protest the verdict.  Many feel it does not justify Grant’s death and that a verdict of second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter would have been more just.


For days before the verdict, local activists sent out mass e-mails and bulletins warning people about what to do in case riots break out.  Oakland police was in riot gear, prepared for anything.  The protest turned out to be largely non-violent for several hours.  (I learned hours after writing this that about a dozen businesses were looted by “outside agitators“.) In a state where 18 years ago, the verdict on Rodney King’s case incited the 1992 Los Angeles riots, this is considered progress.

It could have been much, much worse.

It’s a huge relief, though hard to say why the 1992 Los Angeles riots were not duplicated this time around.  Could it be that we mostly learned our lesson from 18 years ago?  Could it be that the light of love, peace and understanding shines brighter in our warm California hearts today than it did 18 years ago?


Was the verdict right or wrong?  Was it too soft?  Should it have been harsher?

The question of right or wrong, in my view, is a freeway to disagreement.  Right is what we insist we are when we feel sure of ourselves.  Wrong is what no one wants to be, often to the point of denial.  Clearly, we can’t all be right, no matter how often and how strongly we feel we are.  And so we clash.  It’s no wonder we continue to disagree and cause feuds to break out, friendships to sour, families to be estranged, partnerships to crumble, marriages to end.  I have been on both sides of this question and frankly, I have been wrong many times despite feeling certain.


It’s possible that the largely non-violent protest (considering what could’ve been) will turn out to be one of those good news that gives us hope for humanity when we scour the media for something to be happy about.

But then again, perhaps no one but those of us in the Golden State will take notice.  Because I suspect that bad news makes more of an impression.  Unlike good news, bad news is like an open wound that smarts for days and leaves a scar, never completely forgotten.

My guess is this verdict and the small scale looting (compared to the material damage that cost up to $1B in the Rodney King case) will be analyzed for years to come.  But for me, I’m choosing to stay publicly neutral on the verdict and happy about the relative lack of rioting.  Even if it turns out I’m completely wrong.

As for being right, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just not always the most important thing?  At least right now, for me.  I’d rather be happy that the California streets are safe.  That my family and I are safe.


Had you heard of the Oscar Grant case before?
Do you agree with me that the largely non-violent protest following the verdict is cause for celebration?
How do you handle discussions of right and wrong?
How important is being right to you?


Image by George Laoutaris

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July 9, 2010 at 11:15 am

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Colleen July 9, 2010 at 4:25 am

I was not aware of the case as I am all the way down under in Australia but the result of no rioting sounds like good news to me. I did however google the case and have a quick read before leaving this comment. One thing I know for sure, the media are never going to give you all the details. There is definitely a right or wrong here but who will ever know that except the man who pulled the trigger.
Sometimes there is no right or wrong just shades of grey. The only problem is when your mind is closed to the possibilities. People are often confused between fact and opinion. I hope I am improving at this as I get wiser with age.


2 Roman Soluk July 9, 2010 at 4:47 am

I also wasn’t aware of this case. And I can’t judge whether it was wrong or right. And you asked how important is being right to me. It’s extremely important, I don’t like injustice, I hate it and try to eliminate it from my life.


3 Donna Brogan July 9, 2010 at 4:47 am

I was not aware of the case. These kinds of things are the reason I don’t watch the news as much as I should. I get to watch plenty when my husband (truck driver) is home. I believe the media always leaves important details out of a story in order to make it more appealing or puts in details to do the same. We never really know the complete truth and like Colleen said only the man who pulled the trigger knows the whole truth. I believe our country and the great people in it have come a very long way in understanding the races and are more determined than ever to try to get along. I am so glad that there was not a repeat of the Rodney King case. California, too, has come a long way since 1992.


4 Katie July 9, 2010 at 6:45 am

Not aware of the case, but I’ve been taking a bit of a news break lately. I think you said it well, it’s not always important to be right or express an opinion just to insight a reaction. Sometimes neutral works and is about not knowing, being compassionate and being able to admit you don’t have all the answers all of the time. Your post is a very thoughtful expression of something impacting your immediate world. I am glad you are safe.


5 Joshua Noerr July 9, 2010 at 7:52 am

Belinda, this was the first I had heard of the case, and in a sense, I guess that is a good thing. Had more violent demonstrations taken place, I am sure we all would have known.

For me, considerations of right and wrong depend largely on what we are talking about. 2+2=4. That is right, no question (unless I missed something).

But ethics, morals, cultural truth…now those areas are much different. I don’t feel I need to be right, as long as I have based my opinion on something that agrees with the values I hold.

Cheers on a great post!


6 rob white July 9, 2010 at 10:01 am

Hi Belinda,
Nobody ever wins the “rightness game.” Our most tormenting days are when we insist there are no alternatives to our opinions. Being right gives a false sense of power. The truth is that insisting on being right destroys our sense of inner peace, and without inner peace there is no power.


7 Sandra Hendricks July 9, 2010 at 11:23 am

Hi Belinda,

The shades of gray in this area are obvious. I mean what is right for me may be wrong for someone else. It is important for me to keep an open mind and allow other people to affect their own destinies. Perhaps this is taking issues too lightly, but it is what works for me to maintain my tranquility, and enthusiasm for humanity.


8 Meg July 9, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Very aware of the case here in the American Midwest, but then we watch MSNBC. Thought the verdict was abysmal. Glad on one hand there were no riots, but can understand that it would take riots to make public dissention heard. Cops make “mistakes” like this all the time in Chicago and Gary and Detroit, and there are rarely riots in protest. Reminds me of the quandary of the 60’s–it took violence in the streets to get the attention of the public, the media, and the governing bodies, but it also permanently stamped the rioters and their race as Unreasonably Dangerous, which brought on a whole ‘nother set of problems. But hopefully the time of needing violence to effect change has passed and enough nonwhites in positions of legal power (police through judges) will enable change through the judicial system. I don’t hold my breath, though.

I actually enjoy being proven wrong on things which I hope I am wrong about, but that is probably true of most people. Doesn’t happen enough, though. Being right or wrong is not enough–life has too many gray areas, and shifting contexts. Those who would hold strict interpretation of the constitution or of religious texts are the most likely to be wrong. The ultimate wrong is being inhumane. But the definition of humane changes as humanity itself changes. (My amorphous liberal roots are showing. Sigh.)


9 Madeleine Kolb July 21, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Belinda, I had not heard of this case before, but it sounds as if the non-violent protest is cause for celebration. Incidents involving the police and a person who may be doing nothing wrong–especially a young black man–get be really difficult and contentious.

There was a recent case in Maryland, reported in the Washington Post, where a young black man with severe autism was arrested while just sitting near a school. Perhaps more police training would have helped. Often people with autism cannot bear to be touched, so this young man put up a fight. I think the police were wrong, but the whole thing is very sad. His mother is terrified that he’ll be sent to prison which would be unbearable for him.


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