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East Bay | Police State and Prisons

From Oakland to Santa Rita, the Struggle Continues
by George Ciccariello-Maher via CounterPunch
Wednesday Feb 4th, 2009 8:06 AM
Efforts at the moderation and cooptation of the Oscar Grant movement had failed in the face of revolutionary pressure and state weakness. The various radical organizations that dot the Oakland landscape had slipped the yoke of the official organizations with links to Mayor Dellums’ campaign and enmeshed in the non-profit industrial complex. The place was the historic Black Dot Café in West Oakland; the event, a “Town Bizness” town hall meeting hosted by the Prisoners of Conscience Committee (POCC) with the presence of Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. and a number of others, former and current Black Panthers included. “This ain’t like the other town halls where a preacher talks for three hours,” said POCC Minister of Information JR by way of introduction, in oblique reference to the weekly meetings held at Olivet Baptist Church.

Those gathered at the Black Dot were among the few organizations and individuals still insisting, with the unequivocal support of all the events that had come to pass in recent weeks, that organized rebellion in the streets had been fundamental in the arrest of Johannes Mehserle for the murder of Oscar Grant. Many of those present took aim at the “opportunists” and the self-appointed leadership which, by virtue of city contracts and non-profit status, had been perceived as hijacking a city’s anger and turned it down the path of institutional power (some hoping, no doubt, to ride the masses all the way to elected power themselves). As an alternative, those gathered at the Black Dot agreed on a list of demands, and on a strategy of mobilizing for the bail hearing of Johannes Mehserle, to be held on January 30th.

New Video, New Pressure

But in the intervening days, the political balance of forces had shifted dramatically, with the legitimacy of both the BART police and the OPD seemingly in free-fall. First, it was announced that the head of OPD internal affairs, Ed Poulson, had been suspended and that the FBI is currently investigating the force over the death in custody of Jerry Amaro some nine years ago. This combined with a threatened no-confidence vote for Police Chief Wayne Tucker partly over handling of the investigation into the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey, led Tucker to announce his unceremonious resignation, leaving a gaping power vacuum at the head of this force, which would make itself felt later.

In addition, BART police chief Gary Gee, who seems hell-bent on infuriating the public as much as is humanly possible, was circulating a memo instructing all BART officers on how they could show their solidarity with Mehserle by making a donation to his defense. “You have our full support,” writes Gee, who went on to blame “public abuse and the media’s reporting” for placing undue stress on his department. As Grant family attorney John Burris put it, “It is unacceptable for the police chief, who ostensibly is investigating Mehserle and other officers, related to their conduct on the night that Oscar Grant was killed, to encourage officers to visit and make financial contributions to Mehserle.”

But perhaps the most important element in this new upsurge in public anger and disillusionment with the police was a new cellphone video release by KTVU news, and taped on the BART platform the night Oscar Grant was executed. The recording shows a different officer, now identified as Tony Pirone, who would later have his knee on Oscar Grant when he was shot by Mehserle, punching Grant in the face for no apparent reason, and clearly escalating the tone of the situation. While those in the streets have been demanding the arrest of the other officers as accessories to murder, this demand had been largely ignored until it gained a degree of tangible reality in that video, at which point BART officials announced an investigation would be opened.

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Interview with George Ciccariello-Maher [2.2.09]Maestr@Wednesday Feb 4th, 2009 8:09 AM