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First Hand Report of Oakland Riot 7.8.10
by Revolt ( revolutionary_philosopher [at] riseup.net )
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 2:18 AM
A short story of my personal viewpoint in events from tonight's "riot"

I for one didn’t know what to expect today. The corporate media has done a terrific job of playing up the possibility of ‘riots’ and looting, reminding people of what happened after the Rodney King verdict from a police beating in 1992. The scare tactics were second-to-none and have kept everyone in utter fear—including Oakland’s very own impoverished residents. And what a terrific tactic, inducing paranoia among Oakland’s own citizens so they will fear eachother instead of their master. My own logic was this: what sense is there living in fear? I’ll be damned if the police or anyone else is going to keep me from living my life and expressing anger about Oscar Grant’s slaying.

When I arrived at 14th and Broadway in downtown Oakland it was a small assembly with a sound system setup and three news vans already present. It was an odd mixture of brisk wind and sweatysunny ness with extremes in and out of the shaded areas. The location immediately stood out to me as a place that is not“Our Oakland”: mammoth corporate semi-skyscrapers in all directions, immaculately clean and judging from the architecture, fairly new. Most of the stores were strictly out of the price range of myself and anyone else unemployed or working at the minimum-wage-slavery level. The exception to this was a large Walgreens on the corner of the intersection, with massive windows boarded up by clean cut hardwood. Obviously not reused or recycled and an utter waste of trees. I wonder if there’s an entrepreneur wood supplier out there that exploited this situation, encouraging business owners to purchase their safety. It wouldn’t surprise me. Many stores however, were left naked to the wrath of rock-throwing monsters—otherwise known as citizens like yourself.

Walking down the square toward 17th is Oakland’s city hall: a building that has obviously outlived all others around. Apparently there are some things gentrification won’t devour. In front of city hall was perfectly trimmed grass lawn with a token old growth tree, a final survivor of the construction timber slaughters. And in the courtyard was a dance-party setup with a massive 1000 watt+ sound-system. As community speakers began to convey their thoughts and emotions at the opposite podium, including Oscar Grant’s grandfather, the sound system thumped away violently outpowering the weaker setup with heartless disrespect. Obviously this was the rival “peace rally,” setup by the people with property-interests in Oakland who claim affinity with the late Oscar Grant. It had its own private security and musician lineup, including some light guitar and techno. It attempted to draw sections from the crowd, like a breeze over fresh pollen attempting to force seeds from their womb. However, only a handful actually joined what a friend termed the “dance fo’ masta’” party.

As the ‘peaceful’ rally gathered I observed in anticipation the days’ coming events. I was highly impressed with the building turnout which approached one-thousand people. But more important than this was the kind of people. Unlike a typical SF protest of liberals and middle-class citizens choosing to convey their sympathies for the abstract politics of the age, this was a culmination of the real oppressed. There were hoods and hustlers of all kinds, some getting into minor quarrels with hipster-racists (One asked about Oscar’s murder in a remarkably pretentious tone, “what are you gonna do about it?”) and others expressing that binding camaraderie that is so necessary in the hidden ghettos of America. The anger and blunt realism of their feelings was the expression of their pain, a sure sign of frustration with living in this closeted racist society. But people banded together and observed the building perimeter of riot-police with a growing fearful intensity.

I needed to pee badly at this point and naively figured it would be a small problem to solve. Walking down Broadway street my friend and I were met by a wall of riot police.
“You can’t go through here.”
‘We just want to leave...’
“Go over there”
The cop pointed aimlessly north. During the conversation I took a video of the increased militarization of this police front. Behind the front line of over fifty armed police were two cops brandishing M-16s next to a small and unfamiliar red jeep. Provocation and smothering any dissent were at the forefront of this police interest. Unlike protests I have seen before, this was a heavily armed force that obviously had absolutely no intention of letting Oakland’s residents march or even leave a specified area. And they had the vehicles and weaponry to keep their point.

We walked along the outer perimeter of 14th street looking for a place to relive ourselves and began to quickly notice that a grim reality was in place: the police were sealing off the area. Every crevice and alleyway seemed to be filled with a standing riot cop, none of which were receptive to nature calling. They continued to say “go over there,” passing the buck to the next wall of bullet-glassed guards.

Finally we found an escape route between 15th and San Pablo Ave. We walked passed a very luxurious looking hotel which had signs posted of Oscar Grant in the window reading “BE COOL. Mehserle lost his cool. Lets not repeat his mistake.” Along 15th some riot police finally let us through as we passed a golden-trimmed office suite with yellow sheets of paper in every window reading “We Support Oscar Grant.”

I somehow doubt that owners from either building have done anything to “support” Oscar Grant.

At 16th and Telegraph we found an open bar mysteriously named Cafe Van Kleef. I had VIP access since I purchased an outrageously expensive French press coffee there twenty minutes earlier. The dark antique-covered tavern was fascinating as I casually listened over loud conversations concerning events outside. A scronny blonde white man in a business suit was discussing race with a Salvadorian in a purple capped tipped sideways. The Salvadorian was boasting about his Masters Degree in Architecture after saying how shootings can happen anywhere. “Look at Pink Saturday in the Castro. People were shot there and I don’t see anyone rioting over that.”

My friend and I decided to wait here for a few minutes while we tried to get into contact and warn people on the inside. Nothing would happen until the sun went down more, so we ordered a Coke & Whiskey ($6!) and talked about revolution and how knowing 200-year-old texts doesn’t make anyone special. I couldn’t help but feel like we were in a mini Casablanca; the space for neutrals to “wait out” the war and quibble over minor political differences, comfortably sipping on overpriced drinks just as they did after their comfortable jobs most days. Why riot? It was just one man. The uncomfortable truth is that these people have never seen the end of a night stick or lived in poverty. Things are still ‘working’ for them...
Leaving the bathroom a second time I ran into a slightly worried and very tipsy well-dressed white couple. They seemed concerned for their safety and wondered if they should leave yet. I filled them in on the details and told them they had nothing to worry about yet. I had them judged as liberal sympathizers but on the way out the man said “damn, I wanna see some Anarchy!” I got to remember never to judge a book by its cover...

We decided to work our way back into the sectioned off area since the action was inside and it wasn’t leaving. At this point people were filtering out and it seemed like this was a very smart tactic of the police: surround the peaceful protest and refuse to let it move; people will be either scared or bored and will just leave. The numbers were about half when we got back in. But the energy was there with drums and chants and people wearing paper masks of Oscar Grant’s face.
Another friend told me police had beat up a few people including two legal observers. I wasn’t surprised. Then, without notice, the police started shoving the entire line back and everyone started running towards 17th street. A young black man on a bull-horn began instructing people “not to be violent” and that “that’s what the police wanted.” Shortly after the crowd burst into chants of “FUCK THE POLICE!” and then came the ever-so-unfamiliar sound of a cracked window. It sounded like a glass cup breaking inside a paper bag.

The milieu intensified and the media puppets were swarming with dollar signs in their eyes to identify the men in black—Anarchists, the “outside agitators” that they had warned of so consciously, as if a prophetic utterance made on the eve of war. M-16 riot police, armored police cars, and snipers on rooftops got into position as the residents of Oakland joined in on smashing a Footlocker window to pull out the clothes they sweat so much to buy. At this, the protest somehow becomes ‘violent’ because property is attacked—the True religion and sanctity of American Law and Morality. Woman and children began screaming in agony as Footlocker shoes were removed from their natural home inside cardboard boxes. Babies cried feverishly for the lost profits of Footlocker shareholders....

Okay I made up the last two lines.

The police began their armed attack, now having ample “excuse” to do so—thanks to the corporate media trumping up fears for previous weeks all over the state of California. And the people at home watched in satisfaction as The Law did what it does best: Protect Property. Gas masks were donned and batons swung. The carnage ensued for a people that rebelled against its slave masters, only to be reminded that the slaves needed more numbers than they had there that day. So they took home consolation prizes, a glossy pair of Nike’s and fresh-pressed white tees.

I began looking for an exit at this point after being severed from my friends in the scramble for overpriced clothes. I peeked down 12th Street BART only to find a metal gate in my face. Then I scrambled down 14th Street past city hall and into the dark and empty streets. I could see barricades up in every direction and for the first time I really understood the scale of police planning and intervention in this minor civil unrest. This really was a message from the State about rebellion generally and a clear message to the Oakland community to continue slaving away in a broken economy and fearful of the Big Brother Police Dogs. As one man’s sign said, “Police: Join Us! We Get Away With Murder.”

Walking through the dark streets I passed many would-be intimidating characters. Small gangs that could probably tell I was out of my element. But, in a most miraculous and hauntingly beautiful way, I felt more comfortable and welcome than anywhere else in the world. I was quickly assisted with directions to the next BART station, and others swarmed to the vortex of police violence, fearlessly diving into the armageddon for a chance at facing the abstract racist beast that beats upon their shoulders daily. Escaping down these alleyways and under vacant overpasses I knew who really were my brothers and who were my enemies in a world wrought with insanity. And for just these brief moments it all became perfectly sane and perfectly clear.

Rest In Peace Oscar Grant..

§
by Revolt Friday Jul 9th, 2010 2:18 AM


Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Oakland anarchist woman
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 4:26 AM
Unless there was another person with the Join: We Get Away With Murder sign that was a woman :o) Thanks for your insightful post.
by Ri3on
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 4:30 AM
Your story was well put together. I especially liked how you lumped every officer in the area into the "racist" profile. I also loved the way you captured the fact that they were standing by until the "peaceful" people started destroying and stealing items from a store. It goes to show the mentality which holds white and black people apart. Blacks assume whites are scared and therefore racists. Whites assume blacks are likely to be violent law breakers. The main problem is, both are likely to be correct....each causing the other.
by Carp
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 5:26 AM
Excellent, well-written article - like the humor, irony and metaphors. Even though the police used scary SWAT tactics, just making so many of them assemble for a small demonstration is a great. Think how much they are being paid in overtime and how that will affect the city's coffers. The cash outlay must be huge. It's another way to fight back - and without any violence.
by Sludge
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 5:52 AM
Police Planted Comment!

It's easy to spot the plainclosed and the internet plants!
by youtube
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 6:25 AM
Here's a link to a fuzzy film of people throwing plastic items at a police car down broadway and someone tries to tip it
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnkELTlXSvI

some yelling as someone as arrested and people move around for 3 minujtes
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOUQM3I9YTc

There weren't that many stores attacked, but there are tons of youtube clips appearing showing people by the stupid (slave labor made) shoe store.


Smarter people speaking when it's daylight. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5vcm63gaQ4
by Down south a bit
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 8:57 AM
Thank you for the article. Well-written, personal, inspiring. Good job.
by ?
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 10:46 AM
those videos are of 2009, not last night.
by Rocomador
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 1:04 PM
To riot and break property doesn't affect the share holders or the property owners, but the ones lowest on the totem, the workers, the students and the people so desperately in need of social programs that riots hurt.

Riots cost our state tons of money, both due to shutting down commerce as well as the cost of the Police presence that you continually remind us was so effective and prominent (neither of which are cheap) and only goes to fuel "the beast" which you so ardently hate. Enthusiasm is great, and anger over racism or violent acts is reasonable, but to act on this in such a way that harms and does not help is counter productive. I have worked in gang prevention in Richmond California and in helping west contra costa schools so my oppinion is not uninformed, even if I am a member of the White majority which you would probably jude "by my cover."

Also, to identify global geopolitics as something only middle class liberals should care about is ignoring a whole sector of the problem. There is inherent racism involved in these conflicts as well, and to speak out against them isn't some elitist trifle, but a way to express ones political voice against injustice, just as protesting Oscar Grant's murder.

Is rioting understandable? Absolutely, is it the most effective action to take? Not in the least. At the very best it is accomplishing mild media coverage and at the worst it is ostracizing would be allies and taking away state funding from programs that are much needed and giving the police more evidence for asking for more funding.
by Rocomador
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 1:12 PM
"Get out there and do what you got to do - protest, (but) protest righteous - don't come out here fighting," said Grant's grandfather, Oscar Julius Grant II, to a crowd of hundreds gathered at the rally. "Don't dishonor my grandson's death by coming out here and tearing up Oakland."
by Revolt
( revolutionary_philosopher [at] riseup.net ) Friday Jul 9th, 2010 2:58 PM
Thank you everyone for your replies, I am very happy to see people reading this and sharing in my experiences from yesterday.

Carp- you seem to understand the situation very well, I didnt THINK about all that money going towards all those extra police! It must be a small fortune. As most people know already, there were police from San Francisco, Hayward, and other cities. Their pay must be substantial as well.

Sludge, lmao Ri3on does sound like an undercover. Also, Ri3on you may want to reread the article. I did not say that the police stood by until people started breaking into Footlocker. There were people beat including two National Lawyers Guild members WELL BEFORE the window-breaking took place. And the cops would have gladly beat people much earlier than that if there wasn't all the media there watching their actions....but you know this already, no?

and Rocomador, thank you for your comments. Seriously, I respect your maturity in disagreeing. I will share my opinions to clarify some things you mentioned:

"o riot and break property doesn't affect the share holders or the property owners, but the ones lowest on the totem, the workers, the students and the people so desperately in need of social programs that riots hurt."

I would definitely say it does affect property owners at least. And I think you are exaggerating the effects on workers and students (which are not the lowest on the totem, homeless, sick, and unemployed are). I don't know if Footlocker will close this location after this-I somehow doubt it- and even so, people employed there would have a lot of options (they would qualify for unemployment, probably be moved to another store loco, etc). Don't forget to keep the bigger perspective here: this economy has been destroyed by banks gambling our money away and so millions of people are getting laid off left and right without anyone touching a glass window. We are duped by the media that highlights the 'violent' actions of 'rioters'- when in fact the real criminals hand out over 900 pink slips to teachers in California and say it's just 'unavoidable' because of the economy. But the later is clean and calm-for the most part- so we lose sight that a crime is taking place. See Michael Moore's newest movie where he mentions a crime is taking place when a bank comes to take a man's home.

"Riots cost our state tons of money, both due to shutting down commerce as well as the cost of the Police presence that you continually remind us was so effective and prominent (neither of which are cheap) and only goes to fuel "the beast" which you so ardently hate. Enthusiasm is great, and anger over racism or violent acts is reasonable, but to act on this in such a way that harms and does not help is counter productive. I have worked in gang prevention in Richmond California and in helping west contra costa schools so my oppinion is not uninformed, even if I am a member of the White majority which you would probably jude "by my cover."

Shutting down commerce is one of the points of a 'riot' or civil disobedience, or even protesting. The status quo needs to be shifted because the status quo is not working. And if you reread my article you will see the "cost" of police presence was greatly increased by a completely over-the-top sepectacle of armaments and at least double the necessary numbers for "enforcing" the people. In fact, the point I tried to make was that if there were less cops and there were less weapons and if they didn't seal off the protest to make it boil over, things might not even have turned to breaking windows. But the real question is this: why do we, the citizens, get no say in how much the police spend of our money? I'm sure most people would not have approved the probably $100,000++ it cost to have police there. If the property owners were so worried maybe they should pay that.....oh wait, they don't have to pay hardly any taxes. That's right. Tax the rich? yes....

"that harms and does not help"- I think you mean harming property, no? and I don't judge you by 'your cover' but I do judge by your words and actions which sound unsupportive to people and shows a lack of understanding.

"Also, to identify global geopolitics as something only middle class liberals should care about is ignoring a whole sector of the problem. There is inherent racism involved in these conflicts as well, and to speak out against them isn't some elitist trifle, but a way to express ones political voice against injustice, just as protesting Oscar Grant's murder."

I never said anything about it being an 'elitist trifle'- I admit to doing the same thing even in this article. I just said it was different than what took place yesterday. And I don't know about you, but I'm an advocate for the oppressed voicing their anger themselves, especially people of color that are usually overshadowed by whites in the media. But I don't think there's anything wrong with 'identifying global geopolitics'- I do it myself all the time. But i do prefer action to just talk.

Is rioting understandable? Absolutely, is it the most effective action to take? Not in the least. At the very best it is accomplishing mild media coverage and at the worst it is ostracizing would be allies and taking away state funding from programs that are much needed and giving the police more evidence for asking for more funding.

This is debatable and a valid point. I'm not into 'rioting' myself, as the article shows. But to blame people for rioting I believe is a very big mistake. That's when the liberals show their true colors. To side with the media and the police against 'rioting' is to side with the oppressor against the oppressed. Slavery was not ended in the south by casual conversation or 'peaceful' chanting. It was ended by Slave Rebellions, which took many shapes and sizes. Rioting/rebellion- i.e. smashing property is an action against the oppressor by the slaves (us). It's not much different than Nat Turner burning down the Slave Owners mansions in the south--to which many whites and middle-class were appaulled. But today the media demands everyone to be docile and controlled while police can be armed to the teeth with tanks, snipers, machine guns, and tear gas and that's supposed to be perfectly okay EVEN THOUGH they are obviously openly murdering and beating people. BART police are still allowed to cary live ammunition and firearms. And Black and all other residents of Oakland and America continue to live in fear from the terror and (more often than not) racism of cops. This is the problem, not people taking shoes (made from slave-labor I might add) from Footlocker.

by Snake
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 4:04 PM
Dear Sir or Madam,
I liked your article, but don't fully agree with you on all of your points. I live in Oakland, I've lived here for nearly ten years now. I'm a full time student at Laney who's in between crappy retail jobs, and am trying to get an education to better myself. I love Oakland, I love the people, the diversity, the beauty of the city, the neighborhood cookouts, the ten million dogs, all of it. But I don't like the violence.

As of today, the Police Chief has apparently made a statement that the bulk of people arrested were not from Oakland. They were from SF, San Leandro, Richmond, and Hayward. I think these riots had less to do with protesting the miscarriage of justice that was the Mehserle verdict, and more to do with breaking shit in Oakland, stealing, then heading back home to less damaged neighborhoods. I don't think violent protests are ever a good answer. Violence never heals the hurt, and it leads the nation, and the local police to think that we in Oakland are a bunch of violent thugs, too stupid to use our words instead of our fists. I'm going to guess that a lot of the trouble was actually caused by the media, who did everything but outright tell people to head to downtown Oakland to loot and pillage.

And yes, Footlocker may be an overpriced, rotten shoe store that does nothing but glorify the rags to riches mentality that anyone with the right shoes can become an uber-rich super athlete. They may even use third world labor to make said shoes, as another poster stated. But, we need their business in downtown Oakland. We need places to shop for a start, and we also need the tax revenue.

I'm also against disarming Bart Police, we do need them to make our Trains safe for everyone. However, they need more training, and stricter punishment for excessive force infractions.

In short, I feel that the riots did nothing but make Oakland look bad and dangerous. It allowed police to respond with more force against our citizens. I think the riots maintain the undercurrent of distrust, and unrest between the residents, and the police force which can only lead to more violence. The riots tarnished the memory of a young man, gunned down while unarmed and defenseless by an either criminal, or incompetent young Transit Officer. It caused property damage, and has made downtown an eyesore, for at least the time being. I'm all for peaceful demonstration, and challenging an unfair authority, but I think these demonstrations did neither.
by Rocomador
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 6:17 PM
Hi Revolt, thanks for taking the time to respond. Allow me to give you the same courtesy.

While I agree that the level of criminal activity being done by Banks and large corporations far outweighs the minor costs associated with rioting, that does not make them just. True a store might not be shut down, and the overall cost may not reach the workers, however it is more likely that they feel it than the share holders or members of the board. In short breaking into a store and stealing it’s goods really doesn’t send much of a message other than allowing yourself to be demonized. If you need to steal something steal something useful, formula, books, anything, don’t raid a footlocker and try to make it seem as though you are doing it for political reasons, that is very hard to justify. Quite frankly, I don’t believe whoever was the first to grab product thought they were doing it justly, it may have been a rationalization, but when it comes down to it, justice is not striking back, nor is it honoring someone’s memory. Searching for justice would have been going door to door and educating people, or lobbying to try to support education or to speak out against the problems which you address. When a crisis happens there are ways to go about combating it and using an evil to turn it into a force for good, and rioting is not one of them. Instead of breaking that window, or lighting that trashcan fire, imagine if those 1,000 people went door to door leafleting, or helped educated 1,000 more people, that’s grass roots, and that’s how you make a difference, not one concerted and violent action.

Your next point, I agree, we have a regressive taxation system and should be taxing the rich more, absolutely. That being said as long as actions do turn violent and unpredictable, than we will have no say in our police force. If protests never turned violent there would not have been such a heavy force, but groups had been saying for days before the raid that they intended to riot; of course there will be a heavy police presence. I’m sure it cost far more than $100,000 and that’s money that could have gone to help special programs, or clean up schools, but instead since people planned on rioting, the money went to the police, and now next time around they will have no problem seeking funding again as they will demonize your actions in order to get more numbers on the street.

Next, saying I am unsupportive of people and that I demonstrate a lack of understanding is jumping to major conclusions. I have worked for years on helping improve education in California, have marched on the state capitol from the Bay Area, over 70 miles, have led hunger strikes, spoke with lawmakers and been harassed and put on the no-fly-list for my actions speaking out for public education. I have also worked with at risk youth in area’s that you yourself would probably be afraid to go, all as a white male. I have met people who judge me for these actions, and actually ask me to stop because I am not a minority, but time and time again I see my actions helping people, and I see the majority of individuals, including those who have been involved in the game the longest, telling me to continue my work and not listen to those that put race before progress. Please do not judge me without knowing me, I have given more of my time and efforts than just going to one riot, or protest. I have lived and worked in the trenches and seen my personal life suffer for it. And I do not need someone reading three paragraphs and assuming that I am ignorant and unsupportive, far from it.

Also, protesting is action, speaking is action. You do not need to go throw a brick thru a window to prove a point, you are better off having a discourse with your state legislators, they will find that more threatening. And I hope your dig on people working for “themselves” is not to imply that white people should avoid working with the oppressed, I am all too familiar with this sentiment and I would hope you don’t fall into this disjointed trap yourself.

Lastly, your point on slavery is an interesting one, but let’s look at more modern movements. The liberation of India for example, or MLK. Both preached nonviolence, and both vastly more successful. Compare MLK to the black panther movement, and we can see the difference in approaches. Nonviolence does work, it’s just a matter of sticking to it.