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Reporter faces felony charges for covering Oscar Grant rebellion
“J.R. has really been a thorn in the police department's side,” said San Francisco Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff, whose online publication has published Mr. Valrey's work. “His stories are like those of Mumia Abu Jamal. He's young and really smart, and the people love him, they are really organizing, so the police are always after him."
By Diane Bukowski -Special to The Final Call- | Last updated: Sep 4, 2009 - 7:14:25 AM
J.R. Valrey, an Oakland, Calif., multimedia journalist, was bound over Aug. 20 in Alameda County Superior Court on a felony arson charge related to his coverage of a January rebellion against the police murder of Oscar Grant III.
Mr. Valrey faces up to three years in prison. His attorney Marlon Monroe said his next court appearance is set for Sept. 3.
Mr. Valrey's supporters say prosecutors are pursuing his case despite having dropped charges against over 100 individuals arrested during the rebellion because of his unflinching coverage of “police terrorism” as they term it.
“J.R. has really been a thorn in the police department's side,” said San Francisco Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff, whose online publication has published Mr. Valrey's work. “His stories are like those of Mumia Abu Jamal. He's young and really smart, and the people love him, they are really organizing, so the police are always after him. The judge even tried to get him (Mr. Valrey) to cop a plea to a misdemeanor, something I've never seen a judge do. But they really blew it this time because he didn't do anything except his job. The police even admitted that they didn't see him set any fire.”
The profferred plea bargain involved five years of felony probation, warrantless searches at any time of Mr. Valrey's body, car, home, and places of employment, time served, and restitution.
Mr. Valrey is associate editor of the Black-owned San Francisco Bay View newspaper, and also a radio reporter for Pacifica, with his own show available online at blockreportradio.com.
“I've been covering what we call police terrorism for a good six to seven years, not just in Oakland, but Chicago, New York, and Atlanta,” Mr. Valrey earlier told this reporter. “I've covered not only the police killing of Lovelle Mixon after he killed four officers in Oakland, but the murder of Anita Gaye, a 52-year-old grandmother and Gary King, a 19-year-old Black youth.”
Regarding the controversial Mixon case, he said, “The saying among low-income Black people in the streets of East Oakland, and in the Bay area, is ‘How does it feel when the rabbit has the gun,'” he said. “That's a response to all the Three Strikes supporters, police sympathizers and prison industry businessmen. We separate the word ‘hero' from the term ‘heroic act.' Mason carried out a heroic act, and most Black men between the ages of 12 and 45 in Oakland have felt the same way at least one time.”
Among Mr. Valrey's supporters is former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who was in town to aid his newspaper's fundraising efforts, and the Bay area's most popular hip hop broadcaster Davey D, who interviewed her on his behalf. Former Congresswoman McKinney was not available for comment due to an illness in her family.
Mr. Valrey said the Oakland police finally returned the camera he was using the night of the rebellion, his main evidence that he was there as a journalist. Their months-long refusal to give it back had delayed his preliminary exam.
The Oscar Grant rebellion Jan. 7 was one of three that took place in Oakland after the New Year's Day murder of the 22-year-old Black man. Mr. Grant, a father and an apprentice butcher, was lying on his chest when Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Officer Johannes Mehserle shot him in the back. Mr. Grant's murder was captured on cell phone cameras and posted worldwide on the internet. Mr. Mehserle resigned afterwards, was arrested after the mass protests, and faces trial later this year on murder charges.
Mr. Valrey is also minister of information for the Prisoners of Conscience Committee, an organization headed by Chairman Fred Hampton, Jr., the son of the Black Panther leader executed by police in his bed in Chicago in 1969, as his girlfriend Deborah Johnson, who was pregnant with Fred Jr., slept by his side.
(For information on activities for Mr. Valrey and the fundraising campaign to save the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, contact the Committee to Free M.O.I. JR at editor [at] sfbaview.com, or 415-671-0789.)