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Fear closes downtown Manteca but listening can keep our hearts open
target carts
Corporate ordered the Manteca Target store closed Tuesday at 5 p.m. Employees lined shopping carts across the front entrance, piled pallets on the inside against the glass doors and then hemmed the pallets in with shopping carts.

There was a lot more retail in downtown Manteca in 1992.

But when riots broke out and spread nationwide in the aftermath of the Rodney King arrest that — based on testimony by a CHP officer who tried to stop it — turned into an outright beating after just over a minute into a struggle to subdue and control a suspect, there was no lock down of downtown Manteca.

That was despite significant looting of the East Mariposa Road Kmart store in Stockton less than 12 miles from downtown Manteca.

In recent days the criminal and lawless element that have hijacked the rage as well as peaceful demonstrations spurred by George Floyd being robbed of his life under the color of authority, has led to looting, vandalism, and acts of violence across the country. That has included looting as well as setting fires to stores in the Bay Area including a Walmart in San Leandro. There was also “small scale” looting in Stockton at Weberstown Mall and a Walmart. “Small scale” is apropos for two reasons. In each incident there were less than four people. And had it happened at another time if not in the aftermath of the killing of Floyd while being arrested in Minneapolis the Weberstown incident would have been viewed as breaking and entering while the Stockton Walmart incident would have been a classic grab and run crime.

The 1992 Stockton Kmart looting was far more serious yet Manteca authorities didn’t secure downtown back then and post police officers throughout the night “out of an abundance of caution” to — there’s no other way to put this — discourage looting and vandalism.

That is not to say it couldn’t happen here.

What it speaks volumes about is how instantaneous social media fans the flames of fear.

If one wants to contain a wildfire one doesn’t pour on gasoline and try to find ways to fan the flames. The same goes for making tectonic societal shifts needed not simply to address injustice but to put in place permanent and effective changes in our behavior and how civilization secures law and order.

The Manteca Police Department’s unprecedented decision to shut down the central district from 8 p.m. Monday to 5 a.m. and then do the same thing 24 hours later was the direct result of the buzz being created locally on social media. Rumors were circulating that the Manteca Walmart was being looted. Social media neighborhood postings even popped up the gem of someone being attacked randomly near Woodward Avenue.

Idle time, fear, and access to social media are not a combination that bodes well for serious reflection and coming together as a community whether it is one as large as our nation or as small as our community and even neighborhood.

The simple decision by a group of residents to call for neighbors and others in Manteca to join them Tuesday evening in a Black Lives Matter gathering at Sequoia Park set off a social media storm concerned how the event would lead to destruction that has occurred in other cities when such events have taken place.

With just Tweets and knee jerk postings in social media a handful of people have managed to generate fear.

Similar gatherings in Manteca organized by the same people have never caused a problem. And while it is true there are opportunists out there who could hijack such an event, the decision to close downtown as well as some businesses boarding up windows did nothing to reduce fears.

Second guessing the Manteca Police decision isn’t the point.

What is are how people by playing Chicken Little in real time armed with a smartphone as well as their fears, biases, and knee jerk reactions created a situation where the men and women charged with keeping the peace as well as Manteca secure concluded that it made sense to lock down the center of town simply based on anxiety that had been whipped up on social media.

Yes, there was more to it than that given the curfew imposed in the Bay Area that has a small but significant concentration of anarchists as well as other instigators and outright opportunist criminals that you can find on this side of the Altamont Pass as well.

It was more about protecting ourselves from our fears.

That is why the real answer to keep your family, friends, neighbors, and community safe lies in being open minded enough to listen.

The social media chatter around downtown streets being blocked off is sensational, shallow, and fleeting. It also helps to fuel fears just on the fact in 102 years police have never cordoned off downtown to protect it from the perceived threat of looters and/or roving bands of vandals.

If you want a safer and better Manteca it makes more sense to not necessary join but to observe outreach efforts like Tuesday’s Black Lives Matter gatherings. Listen to what your neighbors say. You’ll be surprised it isn’t the same as the endless repeating clips of enraged protestors on cable TV shows or the YouTube videos that get a million plus views within an hour.

You will find your neighbors — regardless of gender, ethnicity, religious preference or lack thereof, age, sexual orientation, and other categories used to designate unique individual traits and values — aren’t really all that different when it comes down to what they wish for their loved ones and friends.

We need to stop clouding issues by letting them be hijacked by thugs and fear.

We need to harden our collective resolve as individuals working together in the community.

Hardening our hearts by taking to social media to spread fears by latching onto rumors or even creating them by jumping to conclusions does no one good.

If you want to give it a try and missed Tuesday’s Black Lives Matter event that took place at Sequoia Park Tuesday there is a similar event taking place this Saturday, June 6, at 11 a.m., at Mistlin Sports Park on River Road in Ripon.

It’s dubbed “Rallying for Peace with Peace.”

It’s an opportunity to see through the smoke of fear that has been whipped up in the past week and get a better understanding of the world.