Posts tagged protest

oscar grant protest aftermath

well, i wasn’t there.  i was here, just a few blocks away from much of the action, but i wasn’t there, so i’ve been gathering media and blogs and personal conversations, and wanted to make space here to at least acknowledge the events that shaped oakland’s new year, 2009.

the main question out there right now seems to be whether the actions taken by folks on wednesday night were “right” or “wrong”, but i think many of us know it’s much more nuanced than that.

because i wasn’t there, i’m feeling pretty hesitant to even post about this issue.  however, i’m going to take the risk of putting my thoughts out there, and “publicly” try to figure out where i stand in the aftermath of the oscar grant protest/riots.

first things first: a [transit] white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man in the back, while he was lying on his stomach with his hands behind his back, in the early morning of jan 1, 2009, at the fruitvale BART station.

on wednesday, jan 7, after oscar grant’s funeral, an organized protest began at the fruitvale BART station where grant was killed, starting at 3pm to demand:

1) All officers involved be taken off duty without pay, and fully prosecuted;
2) That the U.S. Justice Department investigate the incident as a violation of civil rights;
3) That BART establish an independent citizens’ review board for its officers; and
4) That the BART police officers be disarmed!

artwork by melanie cervantes and jesus barraza

artwork by melanie cervantes and jesus barraza

at some point (around 5 or 6pm?), folks decided to march to city hall, and along the way, some folks decided to branch off to 8th and madison near the lake merritt BART station, where the BART administration building used to be (a big building that still remains vacant).

next, only those who were truly there will ever know who did what, and in what sequence: a dumpster was lit on fire, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowd, a police car was jumped on and rocked.  this event seemed to be what ignited everything else that happened that evening, which was quickly dubbed a “riot“.

in the aftermath, many folks around me are questioning who exactly “started it all”, and whether or not those folks had the right to do so.  if they were “white, masked anarchists”, then the implication is that they did not have the right to start it; but if they were young black men born and raised in oakland (presumably grant’s “community”, although he was a resident of hayward at the time of his death, he worked in oakland – i don’t know where he grew up), then the implication is that perhaps they did have the right to start things.

the argument goes that when “white masked anarchists” start shit [“violent” property destruction/riotous behavior], it is the communities of color who take the fall, in the short and long term – facing increased police targeting.

another argument goes that “riotous behavior” is what wakes people up and brings the issue to center stage.  communities rising up and rebelling threaten authorities and demand change in a way that the oft-mocked “candle light vigils” never will.

and there are the politics of privilege – where young white citizens with privilege CAN and potentially SHOULD play the role of taking direct action and/or “starting shit”, BECAUSE they can risk what others cannot.  this scenario, of course, presumes that the results are desirable at large, and the privileged folks are serving a purpose.

these questions take center stage for me, much more than whether smashing windows is “right” or “wrong”.  generally speaking, i think a more targeted approach to these types of actions are more relevant, strategic, and gain more support and understanding from the rest of the community.  it was heartbreaking to hear about an asian man on crutches pleading with rioters to leave his car alone, but get smashed anyway.

however, i witnessed just how fast all those windows downtown were replaced (though i’m not sure who paid for the repairs…), and perhaps even some of the business or car-owners gained an acute understanding of just how angry people are, and realize that the injustices people were rebelling against CANNOT stand any longer?  that community members are fed up with the injustice and murder, and they see no other outlet and it appears that no other actions are working [quickly enough] to right the wrongs?

so the question of who started it and did they have the right, is foremost on my mind.  for one thing, do only young black men born and raised in oakland (or hayward?) have the right to be angry and take action when murderous injustices take place against young black men in oakland?  and what does it mean to be part of the “oakland community”?  if you weren’t born here, are you never part of the community?

one thing that is very clear to me, but i think gets lost in the media, is that this is not just about oscar grant.  the fact that grant was murdered by the police is sad indeed and he and his family deserve due respect and honor for the tragedy they unfortunately experienced.  however, this is part of a larger systemic injustice — a system that values profit and authority over all life — and THAT is why people took to the streets.

i absolutely believe that leadership in movements for change should come from those most impacted by the injustices at issue.  however, at some point things cease to be an isolated issue.  where is the line?  perhaps there is validity for some people to play the role of “instigator”, escalating things to wake the authorities up and gaining power and leverage for the community’s demands.  or perhaps the long-term negative impacts on the most impacted communities negate the “purpose” of actions like this.

it’s definitely a foggy area, and i won’t presume to know exactly where the line is.  however, i will say this.  when it comes down to it, i know this for myself:  i certainly am no one to condemn as wrong the actions that any of the “rioters” took on wednesday night – those who started it and those who continued throughout the night.  but i am definitely committed to continuing to collectively learn just what types of community responses really are the most effective toward bringing about positive systemic changes in our communities.

for me, what happened this week just highlighted to me once again how important it is to have a diversity of tactics in order to enact real change.  we all play a different role, and we all need each other.  let’s remember we’re all on the same side.

here are some of the resources i’ve compiled about these events:

The Oakland Tribune:  “Unrest in Oakland has deep roots in city’s history of race relations”: “But for Mitchell and others, either those protesting in the streets or supporters cheering them on from their living rooms, the true import of this moment transcends a tragic incident on a train-station platform.”

SF Gate: “Bart Directors apologize to slain man’s family” : a report on the hearing Thursday morning 1/8. “We must learn from our mistakes and we must make sure this never happens again,” Director Carole Ward Allen told the crowd.

IT’S SIMPLE: DISARM BART POLICE!  THAT’S HOW YOU CAN ENSURE THIS WON’T HAPPEN AGAIN!!! blog: “reportback from the oscar grant protests/riots” : “i can smell something burning, and Broadway is obscured with smoke that could be the source of the smell, or tear gas. A metal hulk slowly rolls out of a backlit cloud of smoke. it is a paramilitary tank with a mounted water cannon. Is this my neighborhood?”

Justin Warren’s photo blog “Oscar Grant Protest” “Rally and Rage over BART Police Murder of Oscar Grant”

Adrienne Maree Brown on “Update on Fruitvale BART Protest”: “if police hope to gain our respect and trust in their process, they need to commit to disarming themselves of lethal weapons immediately, and learn the skills of negotiation and community engagement.”


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