IT’S BEEN MORE THAN TWO WEEKS SINCE THE murder of Oscar Grant, and the struggle is still raging: people’s anger is still intense—and there have been further eruptions of protest and much speaking out. Meanwhile, the system responsible for Oscar’s murder is doing everything it can—from trying to steal and suppress videos of the murder, targeting and brutalzing the protestors, to calling meeting after meeting to control peoples’ rage, to behind-the-scenes legal maneuvering to contain and misdirect peoples’ rage and protect the legitimacy of their armed enforcers.
On January 13, after repeated eruptions of defiant protest and rebellion, killer cop Johannes Mehserle, who had not been detained since the killing, was suddenly arrested in Nevada, brought back to Oakland and charged with murder. Although cops are responsible for 100 homicides (1/17 Oakland Murder Mystery by Tim Rutten, LA Times) per year in California, this is the first time anyone can remember a cop being charged with murder for a killing committed while on duty.
What was different this time? For one thing, the police execution of Oscar Grant was caught live on video by courageous witnesses who in at least one case refused demands by police to turn over their cameras. The videos which clearly show the cop pulling out his gun and shooting Oscar Grant point blank as Grant lay face down on the ground, with no sign of resistance were viewed over a million times on YouTube. But even then, the authorities didn’t bring murder changes until the courageous, determined, sustained protests and rebellion. Still, being charged is a long way off from being convicted, and no doubt there will be other efforts to protect the legitimacy of their police and their “right” to monopolize violence.
In no way can people think that a murder charge means justice has been done. The police who pumped 50 bullets into Sean Bell’s car, killing him, were indicted, and walked away free (and Barack Obama told people they had to “respect the verdict.”) The four police who fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, an unarmed man, and killed him in his doorway as he reached for his wallet were acquitted. Even the police who brutally beat Rodney King, and who were caught on video, were acquitted. It was only because people reacted forcefully to that verdict that the police were retried.
Oscar Grant’s Murder
Oscar Grant was a 22-year-old Black man who worked as a butcher at Farmer Joes, a family-owned grocery store that is an institution in the Fruitvale district of Oakland. He was trying to take care of his 4-year-old daughter. Even on New Year’s Eve he tried to make the “right” decision. His aunt was saying as she was sobbing that Oscar and his friends had decided—very responsibly was her implication—to take public transportation when they were celebrating New Year’s so they would not be driving when they had been drinking, and look what this got him!! This is a bitter reminder that “smart choices” in the end do not matter under this system.
After the murder, Oscar’s family and friends publicly demanded that the cop be arrested. Three days after the murder they hired an attorney who launched his own investigation, released more shocking eye-witness videos to the public, and filed a 25 million dollar lawsuit. But for a week, BART, police and the authorities were urging calm, calling the videos “inconclusive.” They made every possible excuse for the cop and brought up things from Oscar Grant’s past, announcing he had a criminal record, and had been in jail before, as if that itself was grounds for a police execution. They suggested different scenarios that might exonerate the cop: Oscar must have been struggling when the gun went off, or the cop mistook the gun for his taser. The cop seemed “too relaxed” on the video to be capable of an intentional shooting. Etcetera. The BART spokesman, Linton Johnson made daily appearances on TV news, urging calm, piously invoking “fairness” and cautioning against anything that would “taint” the investigation. And every day there was some kind of meeting: a BART official’s meeting, a meeting of the clergy and the District Attorney, a community meeting in a church, and still, for 13 days, no arrest was made.
The cop, Mehserle, was allowed to resign on January 7, and on January 13 the BART Police Department sent a report of their “investigation” to the district attorney that didn’t even recommend prosecution.
After many days, the murder, the video, and then the system’s refusal to take action was too much for the people—on January 7, after Oscar’s funeral, the anger exploded in righteous rebellion in downtown Oakland that sent shockwaves through the area.
An afternoon protest at the BART station spilled onto the streets in an evening march downtown. Here, youth yelled at a riot line of cops, “this is 2009, we ain’t taking that 2008 shit anymore.” There, one of Oscar’s aunts, Bertina Grant, held a sign and stood alone, in the middle of Broadway demanding that the cop who murdered her nephew be arrested. Police moved in with a big armored vehicle that looked like a tank. Then cars went up in flames. Windows broke. Something like 120 people were arrested. Thursday, the next night, a smaller crowd of 100 took the streets of downtown, with police helicopters once again hovering over the downtown area for hours, and there were more arrests. On Friday there were walkouts at Oakland High and other schools. On Monday a rowdy evening protest marched through downtown San Francisco, and there were more arrests.
Since the January 7 rebellion there is a different mood in the air, a complex mix of defiance on the part of some masses, along with criticisms of the rebellion by some clergy and small businesses owners whose businesses were damaged. At the same time, police and politicians, mainstream media, and rightwing bloggers are slandering the protests, targeting revolutionaries, attempting to isolate people and divert and contain peoples’ anger. And there is a big struggle to understand what this murder represented, and what needs to be done, as the struggle continues to change and erupt.
We Are All Oscar Grant
In Oakland, a predominantly Black city, youth of color have endured a lifetime of insults and threats from police. And almost everyone has a story, often too painful to tell, of some sudden, often random abuse. Like a sharp, raw memory of being six years old and seeing your brother beaten by police. Like why you are in that wheelchair. Like your uncle doing 25 to life. When asked to look up the file, an African American clerk at the Oakland Courthouse turned to a reporter and said, “That’s the man who killed that boy. I’d like to see that file. It could have been my son.”
And the face of Oscar Grant appeared on murals, on posters and soon in rap tributes to Oscar on the internet. These songs show a snapshot of American history. Images of slavery, lynching, snarling police dogs and the 1992 video of the Rodney King beating: giving a taste of how these artists see that shit comes from the system and is deep, pervasive and it is past time for it to end. Some of these tributes also comment on Obama, how people’s hopes were high but how he will change nothing, even while illusions remain about Obama. They show clips of news footage of the January 7 rebellion, promising more. Some talk of revolution.
Losing Faith in the System, Firemen to the Rescue
Ron Dellums, Oakland’s Black mayor, did not step in to condemn the killing or do anything until 6 days after the murder. Some three hours into the rebellion he suddenly rushed out into the street to try to quiet the anger and defend and restore faith in the system. Videos show him struggling to speak in the dark to an angry crowd. In a chastising tone he asks for calm, civility and respect and people answer angrily that what the cops did was not civil, that they did not act with respect when they killed Oscar Grant. He says, “I understand that you have lost confidence in a process because you have seen what you believe has been a homicide.” He insists that “we are a nation of laws” and tells people to disperse and leave in the “spirit of peace”. “Tell the police to leave” someone shouted, and “It’s been seven days. You can tell that stuff to people who don’t know.” The rage in the streets only intensified after Dellums tried to drown it.
On January 11, State Attorney General Jerry Brown held a news conference to say that he, too, wanted to assure “the community that it’s moving at the proper pace and no stone is unturned” and would appoint an “independent observer” to the investigation. Even though, “There’s no evidence that anything has been done wrong in the investigation so far.” he said.
Media Machine of Lies and Spin
Since January 7, the mainstream media has tried to morph the story from the outrage over the murder of Oscar Grant to outrage over broken windows. They have tried to deflect people’s anger away from the system and aim it at the people who are protesting. The police and the media exaggerated the number of stores that were damaged in the outbreak, at first claiming in headlines that 300 stores had been damaged but later admitting that the number was about 45. The media articles used words like “ thugs” and “a mob” to criminalize the youth who took part in the rebellion. Ron Dellums was quoted in the SF Chronicle saying those who took part were “no different than somebody today picking up a gun in anger and blowing someone’s brains out.”
The whole way that the mainstream press has dealt with this shows that they are part of the machinery of the state, bent on preserving the legitimacy of an unjust system at the cost of the truth. A system that holds private property as more important than the life of a young man. Where was the outrage in the media at the murder of seven other people by Oakland Police over the last 15 months: Gary King, age 20, Vallvatin Villa, 26; Andre Moppin, 20; artist Casper Banjo, 71; Jose Luis Buenrostro-Gonzalez, 15; Lesley Xavier Allen, 20; Mac “Jody” Woodfox, 27. And what about the San Pablo Police who shot Rosalyne McHenry 18 times when they responded to a domestic dispute? Or in Berkeley, when police there shot Anita Gay twice in the back! Where are the muckraking reporters of the objective mainstream press? Out investigating police murder? No! Taking dictation from the murdering cops and the authorities!
Targeting Revolution Books
Early after the murder Revolution Books made posters saying “the whole damn system is guilty.” People in the Revolution Club and around the bookstore distributed Revolution newspaper broadly in protests and gatherings, bringing out that the same criminal system of capitalism was killing the people of Gaza and sending thugs with badges to patrol and oppress on the streets of Oakland. The San Francisco Chronicle immediately targeted people from Revolution Books as part of the “core group of the mob.” Mainstream TV and print reporters came into and called the store for interviews. With few exceptions they had no interest in the bookstore’s views on the murder of Oscar Grant, or exposure of this murder as just the latest killing. They were not interested in what we tried to tell them about the source of this oppression and what should be done to end it. They mainly asked two questions, “when did the protest turn ugly?” and “Who was responsible?”
To this, a staffer from Revolution Books said she upheld the protest as “a “righteous rebellion” that stemmed from a “long history of oppression and police brutality.” Since then the bookstore has gotten support from people who want to stand up against police brutality. And off this they have taken up copies of Revolution newspaper have been distributed, as an indispensable tool in this struggle, pointing to the system as the source of police murder, and awakening people to the possibility of revolution. But the store and revolutionaries have also been targets of email and phone threats from some people who don’t give a damn that Oscar Grant was killed. Some come from people who are upset about the property damage during the protests from the point of view of the small businessman. But others are blatantly racist and reactionary, including threats to break the store’s windows and racist statements saying that the protesters should go “back to Africa.”
It’s Right to Rebel Against Oppression and Injustice!
First of all, let’s be clear, it is right to rebel! And it is beautiful and not ugly when people stand up and act after a lifetime of injustice, brutality, and dead-end choices offered by this system. These rebellions are the only way people can get even a shred of justice under this system as has been proven repeatedly throughout history, from the civil war to the civil rights movements and the Black liberation struggles of the 1960s.
Second, youth who take to the streets against police murder are not thugs, but the people’s future, in rough, raw, embryonic form. Without outbreaks of resistance against things like police murder, the people cannot build a revolutionary movement.
The only thug who used a gun to kill someone was the murdering cop people were in the streets protesting. Pictures from that night show youth lying down on the pavement in front of police in riot gear, demonstrating the position Oscar Grant was in when he was killed. Demonstrators were shouting at the cops “I am Oscar Grant” and wearing signs on their back saying “shoot me.” These courageous youth faced down lines of cops with riot gear who used tear gas and rubber bullets—and even brought out an armored tanklike vehicle to try to quell the rebellion.
The attacks on the rebellion have also come from those who claim to be opposing police violence, while protecting the system. So they end up spouting the same shit the mayor, the police and the media are putting out. In this vein, a letter from the Ella Baker Center condemned “some people” who “lashed out with inexcusable behavior,” adding that they do not “condone vandalism or the destruction of property while speaking truth to power.”
Another group, The Coalition Against Police Executions (CAPE), after condemning the “violence” of the previous Wednesday, made a point of meeting with the police to work together to create a “peaceful” protest on January 14, enlisting dozens of people as security to stand between the police and the protesters if the youth got out of hand. They featured Oakland Mayor Dellums at their rally, again pleading for faith in the system—and they preached at people to “be peaceful”, as if the people, and not the murdering cops, were the problem. They said people should not show anger lest the media portray them as “animals”—as if that racist characterization of the youth was correct. They called for the city to build “healing centers” for the youth. But how can there be healing when the murderers are still in the streets? They pointedly refused to demand that all the charges on the people arrested on January 7 be dropped. After a short, controlled march they tried to end the protest, telling people to “go home”. But then, as a Cal Grad student wrote, a crowd of “youth of all colors” refused to let the protest be squelched and had had enough. Soon, the windows of a Wells Fargo shattered to the ground, followed by Jamba Juice and Radio Shack. Police and youth played cat and mouse, and helicopters buzzed late into the night again, with police on the ground beating and arresting about 20 people.
When people rise up against the forces that are oppressing them it isn’t all nice and neat. That’s what Mao meant when he said, “A revolution is not a dinner party.” People who want justice for Oscar Grant need to stop attacking the protesters, when what is needed is to continue and intensify the struggle. Stop standing on the sidelines, or getting in the way. Instead everyone who desires justice must join with the struggle and help people fight better. An indictment does not mean justice has been done! Right now what is needed is more resistance.
People are going to strike back at various forces including some who are not the enemy. The question for people is do you stand with the people or do you oppose them? Do you help lead them forward (including to unite with potential allies and to aim their anger at the real enemy) or do you block their path or stand on the sidelines criticizing?
While some middle class people have joined the authorities and media’s attack on the protesters, others have stood firmly with the people. An example of this is the stand taken by Ken Epstein, a reporter for the Oakland Post who told CBS Channel 5: “I was writing a story for the paper about how upset people are and how unjust the killing of Oscar Grant was and my car was being burned up. But at the same time I really understand how outraged people are and I’m outraged myself.”
Right now, many youth and others are beginning to resist the system and are speaking out and acting in many ways. The authorities are counter attacking and there have been some outrageous acts of police violence against protesters (see article of high school protests). There are also dozens of possible cases against people who have been arrested and an important part of the battle at this point is for many people to raise the demand that all charges against all protesters be dropped.
The intolerable murder of Oscar Grant has shown a spotlight on a whole set up of oppression and brutality, it has brought deep anger to the surface, and has caused many people in the Bay Area to lift their heads, to start to fight, and it shows the need for a real, deep change—revolution.
WE ARE ALL OSCAR GRANT!
THE WHOLE DAMN SYSTEM IS GUILTY!
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