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Oakland rebellion: Eyewitness report by POCC Minister of Information JR
During the first Wednesday of 2009, downtown Oakland was physically rocked by the justified fury that the rebellions brought out in response to the police killing of 22-year-old unarmed Black male Oscar Grant, who was fatally shot at the Fruitvale BART station while he was face down, being restrained by two officers, in front of dozens of witnesses New Year’s morning.
For me, that day of protesting started at the Fruitvale BART station with a peaceful rally that was organized by members of the Bay Area’s activist community. Speakers included Crea Gomez, a community non-profit advocate, local rappers like Zion of Zion I and Mistah FAB, as well as concerned community members like myself who were appalled at the police murder. I was there as a member of the Black community demanding justice for the police murder of Oscar Grant, as well as I was in attendance as a journalist on assignment.
When I arrived a little bit after the protest started, I witnessed at least 200-300 people who were demanding justice for Oscar Grant’s family at the BART station. BART had shut down the station so that it would slow the pace of protesters who could have used the BART to get to the rally but had to rely on Oakland’s slow ass bus system to make their voices heard. People of all nationalities, ages, classes and religions were chanting angry slogans led by the speakers: “Fuck the police!” “No justice, no peace!” “Justice for Oscar Grant!”
One of the things that struck me most about this rally was the fact that it was so many people who were moved to protest in East Oakland, which is rare during a workday. The question that I asked on the microphone when it was my turn to speak was, “Why didn’t people come out when Bay Area police officers murdered unarmed Terrence Mearis, unarmed Casper Banjo, unarmed Anita Gaye, unarmed Gary King, unarmed Gus Rugley, unarmed Cammerin Boyd, unarmed Idriss Stelley or when the police terrorized 15-year-old unarmed Laronte Studesville, unarmed Randy Murphy or unarmed Nadra Foster? Is it because these cases were not caught on camera?”
It seemed to me that people have to see police atrocities on television to believe that they happen in the Black community, when young Black males in the Bay Area and all over the country know from experience that the police have a legal license to kill you, severely beat you or frame you with no repercussions. An example of this is the Oscar Grant case, where he was unarmed and shot point blank, while being restrained by two officers and surrounded by at least three more, yet no one was charged with murder, manslaughter or as an accessory to murder. After a few hours, this demonstration ended peacefully, with the remaining protesters marching to downtown Oakland.
I left and went and hung out with some of my friends that were at the Fruitvale BART protest. About an hour later, I got a call telling me that I needed to cover what was going on in the streets of downtown. When I got there, I saw dozens of police in a huge circle on 14th and Broadway, occupying the intersection in front of City Hall. The Oakland hummer, the tank-like armored vehicle that was shown on the news, had just shown up.
On one block, the militant activists were shouting slogans face to face with police. Behind them, a few bands broken up into racial groups were smashing car windshields and storefronts on 14th, using their feet and their skateboards. Many of the white protesters, who had their faces covered up, were involved in setting cars on fire. I was photographing this historic time, where the people’s patience ran short on city officials, including the mayor, who refused to indict any of the officers involved.
Since this day, I have seen many reports talking about white invaders taking over the rebellion, which is b.s. Yes, they played a part, but so did everyone else. They didn’t take over anything, and the Black, Brown and Asian youth involved were taking leadership from themselves, not the white people.
I’ve also heard some criticisms of the rebels, because of the fact that they tore up innocent people’s property. But the reality is that the peaceful protest outside of Fruitvale BART as well as the meeting of ministers, reverends and local politicians that took place that morning demanding an explanation from the D.A. did not put the mayor, police and city officials on notice nor did those actions have the energy behind them to make the police execution of Oscar Grant a national story.
The rebellion did. As a matter of fact, during the rebellion, Mayor Dellums had a secret meeting with many of these suit-types, then proceeded to walk through the rebellion like Black Jesus, with about 50 primarily Black people in suits following him across Broadway to City Hall, where he held a press conference. Needless to say, the protesters he was talking to demanded that he indict all of the officers involved, but the mayor clouded the issue with words like “respect” and “civility” while the city was burning and being trashed in the backdrop due to his negligence in dealing with a police force that has a notorious history of terrorism in the Black community - as if it had not been police who shot an unarmed Black man, Oscar Grant, a week prior.
Once the mayor was booed and run off from his press conference, Round 2 of the rebellion began, claiming Broadway and 17th. This was at about 9 p.m. The Oakland police escalated their attacks on protesters by six or seven of them at one time breaking ranks from the other dozens of officers they were originally standing with to tackle and arrest anyone in the vicinity. Another tactic utilized by the OPD was to roll up to an intersection in a hummer with about 10 pigs hanging off of it, and the cops would jump off, brutally arresting everyone in reach.
I was arrested in front of the Ron Dellums Federal Building, after at least two officers broke out running after me for no reason, tackled me to the cement, injuring my left leg, and bouncing my camera off of the ground. I was charged with the trumped up charge of felony arson. Luckily, a few legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild saw the whole episode.
After I was arrested and in the paddy wagon, I heard a dispatcher say that the police needed to confiscate all cameras and camera phones from arrestees, which they did, so that they could use this info as evidence in different cases. To add to their reasoning, they also wanted to cover up and slow down the amount of information that could be posted, broadcast and published that was live from the street rebellion in Oakland, where protesters were being routinely roughed up and beaten by the Oakland police, while the mayor, who was on the scene, refused to act in this case, as well as in the case of Oscar Grant. A week later, I still don’t have my camera, which I use daily to bring in an income to support myself and feed my family.
When I got locked up, the solidarity was amazing. Blacks, Latinos, Asians and whites were in North County being booked on misdemeanor charges like “inciting a riot,” “vandalism” and “failure to disperse.” I was reportedly one of three or four who were charged with a felony directly related to the case. A guy that I got booked into Santa Rita with, a Black Puerto Rican, was charged with “felony vandalism.”
Now the truth of the matter is that most people arrested were cited out, but the felony charges were saved for Blacks and Latinos. Me and the brotha were the only ones on our bus to Santa Rita who had to put on the “Yellows,” which represent violent inmates, while the rest of the people on the bus with us put on “Blues,” which designate a prisoner as general population.
Behind enemy lines, the inmates at Santa Rita put their fists in the air, smiled, cheered and gave us dap when we told them that we were being held captive because we were in the streets during the rebellion. Mexicans were congratulating Blacks, Blacks were congratulating whites, Norteños (a Latino street organization) were congratulating Bloods (a Southern Cali street organization), who are their rivals, for their participation in fighting the police and the city for justice against police terrorism.
When it is all said and done, I’m proud of Oakland people in general and youngstas specifically for standing up to the occupying army in our community: the police and the city officials that support the system that lets the police kill us wantonly. Like what was being said in the streets of the rebellion, “Oscar Grant is not Sean Bell, and New York is not Oakland.” In other words, we are not just taking this police murder sitting down, like other big cities have in recent years.
I’m proud of Oakland people in general and youngstas specifically for standing up to the occupying army in our community: the police and the city officials that support the system that lets the police kill us wantonly.
The rebellion was just the beginning of a longer political education class in Amerikkkan politics and how it fails to meet the needs of its Black and Brown low income dwellers. I will continue to cover how the cops who were involved in the shooting of Oscar Grant are handled by the city, how the protesters who caught charges in the rebellion are handled, as well as see how the police are handled after they were brutally beating people up, framing people at the rebellion and stealing their cameras and telephones without warrants to build cases against people.
Don’t miss these upcoming events
The arrested protesters’ next hearing is this Friday, Jan. 16, 9 a.m., in Department 112 of the Wiley M. Manuel Courthouse, 661 Washington St. in downtown Oakland. Strong support from the community will help win justice for Oscar Grant and for the protesters.
You could hear from the family of Oscar Grant and from protesters, community leaders and artists at the “Town Bizness Townhall Meeting - Against Police Terrorism” on Friday, Jan. 23, at the legendary Black Dot Café, 1195 Pine St. in West Oakland at 6 p.m. It is free. All are invited. For more information, you could hit up http://www.blockreportradio.com and http://www.sfbayview.com.
Thanks to the generous support of Black Repertory Group Theater producer Sean Vaughn Scott, the matinee performance of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” on Saturday, Feb. 7, will benefit my legal defense fund and Block Report Radio. Doors will open at noon for a talk by Prisoners of Conscience Committee Chairman Fred Hampton Jr., and the play will follow.
Meanwhile, here’s what you can do
Demand that the police involved in the execution of Oscar Grant be charged and that the trumped up charges against JR Valrey and all the other arrested protesters be dropped immediately. Call, mail, fax or email:
• Congresswoman Barbara Lee, 1301 Clay Street, Suite 1000-N, Oakland, CA 94612, (510) 763-0370, fax (510) 763-6538; for email, go to http://lee.house.gov/?sectionid=128§iontree=18,128.
Also, all who can are urged to offer your financial support to Minister of Information JR for his legal defense and to replace his camera by donating online at http://www.SFBayView.com. You can also donate by credit card by calling the Bay View at (415) 671-0789 or you can mail your donation to SF Bay View, 4917 Third St., San Francisco CA 94124.
Email POCC Minister of Information JR at blockreportradio [at] gmail.com and visit http://www.blockreportradio.com.