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East Bay | Police State and Prisons | Racial Justice

Two standards of grief
by Dana Blanchard/socialistworker
Monday Mar 30th, 2009 9:02 PM
Lovelle Mixon's mother and wife among the mourners during a vigil on March 25
mixonvigil_032509643_2.jpg
mixonvigil_032509643_2.jpg

Dana Blanchard looks behind the sensationalistic media coverage of the killing of four Oakland police officers to examine the factors that led to the tragedy.


March 30, 2009

Lovelle Mixon's mother and wife among the mourners during a vigil on March 25Lovelle Mixon's mother and wife among the mourners during a vigil on March 25

ON MARCH 27, thousands of police from California massed at the Oracle Arena in Oakland to pay tribute to the four Oakland police officers who were shot and killed the previous weekend by 26-year-old Lovelle Mixon.

Two of the officers were shot by Mixon during what was called a routine traffic stop in impoverished East Oakland. Mixon, apparently terrified of being sent back to prison, then fled to his sister's apartment, where he killed two more officers before being gunned down by police in an operation that terrorized the residential neighborhood for almost an hour.

The memorial service was broadcast on all the major news networks, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein flew in from Washington to pay her respects, along with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and State Attorney General Jerry Brown.

The spectacle at the sports stadium is being used to rehabilitate the scandal-ridden Oakland Police Department and draw attention away from the police shooting of Oscar Grant III on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station platform on New Year's Day.

But the funeral pageantry has been unable to hide the broken system of prisons and parole that leave former inmates like Mixon--who had been in and out of prison for almost half of his life--without jobs, homes, education or hope.

In contrast to the scene at Oracle Arena is the mourning of Lovelle Mixon's family members, who are trying to call attention to his plight. Two days before the stadium event, the family was part of a procession through East Oakland. The participants wore T-shirts emblazoned with Mixon's picture and tried to understand how their loved one ended up in this situation.

Lolo Darnell, one of Mixon's cousins who was at the demonstration, said, "He needs sympathy, too. If he's a criminal, everybody's a criminal."

There has been no letter from President Barack Obama to Mixon's family, nor a public funeral or big-name speakers on his behalf. There has, however, been a lot of quiet support for family members from the community, which knows what if feels like to be occupied by the Oakland police and can empathize with a man desperate to stay out of jail who saw no options for himself.

On the Internet, local listservs are filled with comments asking questions like the Oakland police will stop acting like an occupying army that treats residents "like terrorists in their own neighborhood." On the sides of the boarded-up apartment building where Mixon made his final stand against dozens of SWAT team officers, there are impromptu messages like "Stop state killing" and "RIP L.M."

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THE TWO standards of grief in this tragedy are even more clear when considered against the backdrop of Oscar Grant's killing on New Year's Day by BART police officer Joahnnes Mehserle.

The struggle to win justice for Oscar and his family has taken to the streets in demonstrations of thousands, forcing the Alameda County District Attorney to charge Mehserle with murder. But even in this case of the death of a young man whose only crime was being Black, the state has been pretty clear where its sympathies lie.

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums was one of the first on the scene at Highland Hospital to grieve with the slain officers' families after Lovelle Mixon shot them. But he made excuses for the BART police who stood by and watched Oscar Grant die, and who subsequently arrested and brutalized his friends.

As Jack Bryson, the father of two of the young men on the platform with Oscar that night, put it, "Some lives are worth more than others. Where was Governor Schwarzenegger when Oscar got killed?"

At a recent town hall meeting, local Black ministers made the connections between the murder of Oscar Grant and the reasons why four cops were killed in Oakland. "This young man [Lovelle Mixon] has been in the system for 12 years," one of the ministers said. "He was not a violent man when he went in, the system made him that way. These cops were not born racist, the system made them that way."

The need to continue to press for the police to be held accountable in Oscar's death was made even clearer in the aftermath of the shooting of the four officers. Mehserle's first court hearing was postponed until May last week--because Mehserle's attorney, a former officer, said he was too distraught over the loss of his department friends to provide adequate counsel.

This excuse rings hollow to many of us who have seen countless defendants without means represented by inadequate attorneys and shuffled off to prison without a second thought.

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THE RESPONSE from the community shows that many people--especially people of color who have been living through the violence of economic crisis and police brutality--feel that what Lovelle Mixon did wasn't simply a senseless act of violence, but was rooted in the whole relationship of Blacks and Latinos to the criminal justice system in Oakland.

Mixon was 26 years old when he died after the SWAT team raided his sister's house. He had just been released after serving nine months in prison for identity theft and forgery. It was his second time in prison--previously, he served six years as a youth for his part in an armed robbery.

After parole officers went several times to his mother's house to find Mixon after a missed appointment in February, a warrant was issued for his arrest. When Mixon was pulled over that day, he knew he was headed back to prison.

It's neither surprising nor unusual for people serving time in California state prisons to get out and then be sent right back after being paroled--over 70 percent of parolees in the state return to prison within three years.

Why? California is in the midst of a severe economic and fiscal crisis, with an unemployment rate of 10 percent. That means there are almost no job prospects or social services for parolees and their families. Lovelle Mixon was depressed and violent not because that's who he was, but because the system made him that way.

Attorney General Jerry Brown acknowledges that the criminal justice system didn't work in this case, but rather than propose providing money for social services and job training for those caught up in the system, his solution is more cops on the streets and more harassment by parole officers.

Brown, for example, proposed that the state highway patrol, county sheriff's department and the city police force "should have a list of the more dangerous, threatening parolees so they can keep a watch on them." What evidence does Brown have that Lovelle Mixon was any more threatening than anyone else? Nothing more than false accusations and a record showing he was unable to find work.

Brown went so far as to say that there could have been as many as "a hundred shooters" in East Oakland--and no wonder, if his criteria for what makes a person violent is that they are depressed, unemployed and sick of the system.

This racist assessment of the Oakland community by people like Jerry Brown goes hand in hand with the call for the militarization of the police and more cops on the streets. It is up to us to organize for an alternative and stand up for all the victims of police brutality. We shouldn't allow the shooting of four police officers to be used as a way to downplay the murder of Oscar Grant and to justify choices about the budget that mean more spending on cops, and less on social services and schools.

We in Oakland have had enough of police terror, gentrification and racism. We demand our humanity and our community back, in the name of Oscar Grant and Lovelle Mixon.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Maureen Wagener
Monday Mar 30th, 2009 10:11 PM
The March 25th Vigil was organized by the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, which has upheld the right of the African community to resist the public policy of police containment. The Uhuru Movement calls for reparations for the families of victims of police violence. An end to the public policy of police containment of the African community and true economic development to the African community. This is the only solution for the conditions that have been imposed on East and West Oakland's African community.
by ntuit
Tuesday Mar 31st, 2009 12:38 PM
These politicans talk about non-violence. They have led those with little resources to death and destruction whenever they could be it Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan or in the streets of US Cities.

Schwarzenegger showed his true colors when he permitted the execution of Tookie Williams. Talk about humanity and compassion. Tookie had been sitting on death row for almost 30 years. He changed and wrote positive books for kids. He was no threat or harm to anyone. Why then, would the so called peace loving Governor and state of California permit an execution of this man to take place? Why? Because they wanted to demoralize a certain group of people in California. They wanted to show the power of the state to destroy life when they could have shown compassion and love (which they don't have any.)

If they wanted change in the community, they might consider changing the way the government conducts its own business. Also, does anyone with any ingelligence not believe that Reagan and his cohorts permitted cocaine into the US to pay for weapons for their dirty wars in central america?
by a-feminist
Tuesday Mar 31st, 2009 2:11 PM
"Talk about humanity and compassion. "

No doubt. What can you say about someone who doesn't even try to cover up that the reason for signing Tookie's death warrant was because of his political past -- and before you right-wingers and such start in again, Arnie explictly stated as such in his denial to stay the execution.
by junya
Wednesday Apr 1st, 2009 2:24 AM
Thanks for countering the recent police state propaganda blitz. Here are related posts that reveal the hypocrisy:

Text of Obama's letter to the police funeral: Oakland Police Killed: "Change" Has Come
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/03/29/18584436.php

Barbara Lee, Renegade from Peace and Justice, Honors Oakland's "Fallen Heroes"
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/03/29/18584361.php

Another double standard was revealed at the police funeral when laughter and applause arose as Schwarzenegger was identified as "The Terminator": a movie character whose most famous scene is an orgy of cop-killing (Remember when Ice-T, after he played a cop in "New Jack City", sang one character's revenge fantasy in "Cop Killer", that brought protests from President George Bush 1 and pressure from the National Association of Chiefs of Police? Ice T couldn't compare to Terminator/Schwarzenegger's body count, yet while Ice T bowed to the pressure, withdrew "Cop Killer", and returned to a cop role (TV's "Law and Order" ), cop-killer Terminator/Schwarzenegger are honored at a funeral following a real "cop killing".

Oakland PD's Favorite Cop-Killer: Gov. Schwarzenegger
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/04/01/18585104.php