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An Anarchist Perspective on the “Violence” of the Oscar Grant Riots

by bay area (a)narchists
The news of the riots that followed the shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant has sensationally occupied the headlines of Bay Area newspapers and television programs over the last week. These reports have focused almost exclusively on the vandalism of local businesses and cars and have remained chillingly silent on the topic of the police violence that occurred that evening. The troubling assumption made throughout all of the reportage is that the destruction of storefront facades and car windows somehow equates to the horrific execution of Oscar, and that it justified the police violence against demonstrators that night.
As anarchists who were involved in the demonstrations, we fully reject the notion that the vandalizing of private property could ever be weighed against the violence committed against not only Oscar Grant, but against youth of color every day by police and the prison system. This way of thinking, that gives property more value than people, is what allows the violence of the police to become dangerously normalized and unquestioned.

At the time of this writing, the police officer that executed Oscar Grant in cold blood still walks the streets without criminal charges, while some of those arrested during the demonstration are locked away in prison awaiting trial and will likely face harsh sentences. The violent system that so quickly punishes those who demonstrated while simultaneously protecting the murderer of Oscar Grant should be the target of our collective criticism and condemnation, not the angry youth who reacted to the shooting in the streets that night. While Bay Area journalists have presented themselves as being objective reporters of the aforementioned events, their reports and broadcasts repeatedly reveal their bias in favor of the police when recounting the evening of the demonstrations. The endless images of smashed windows and burned cars, and the litany of condemnations of "lawlessness" and "destruction" serve to obscure the most violent events of the night, and indeed the only violence perpetrated against human beings: the brutal police beatings of protesters. One witness described a police officer beating a protester on the head so severely his bike helmet was split in two. Another described how police made over 70 protesters lie down on their stomachs in positions that eerily echoed Oscar Grant's pose as he was shot. A visibly pregnant woman was screaming in pain after being attacked by police. It is clear to us that the police were protecting private property and not human beings that night. We are disgusted by this, and we condemn Bay Area journalists for being complicit with police violence by attempting to justify their actions.

A very distorted and troubling view of what constitutes violence in our society is perpetuated by the current coverage. A car does not scream in agony when it burns, and similarly a storefront facade does not sob when its plate glass window shatters to the sidewalk below. It is true that the cost of replacing cars and windows may be a burden for the working-class people who were affected, and that is certainly regrettable. However, there is simply no comparison between those costs and the brutal consequences of police violence. The youth who were brutalized by police the night of the demonstration will have to live with their injuries and traumas for years to come, and Oscar Grant cannot be replaced. We call on the public to recognize the real violence in our society – the violence of the police, the prisons and the politicians. As long as police and corrupt politicians protect the cop that killed Oscar, as long as youth of color are continuously attacked and criminalized by the police and court system, as long as property is valued over people - we will not grieve over the property vandalized on Wednesday night.

-Bay Area Anarchists
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by anarchist
whole heartedly agree with every word.

well done.

"I'm sorry my car was burned but the issue is very upsetting."
-Ken Epstein, assistant editor of the Oakland Post, who was finishing an article about Grant's death, watched from the 12th story of his office at 14th and Franklin streets as his 2002 Honda CR-V disintegrated in a roar of flames (Oakland Tribune)

Any consideration for Ken and his car? Are any @'s going to admit that torching Ken's car, (a person actually sympathetic to the protest) was wrong?
by me
The main source of violence youth of color face is from each other. For black males from15-35 the leading cause of death is homicide. 90% of those killings come from their peers (same racial group) and 99% aren't by the police. I critically supported the protest and attended. That said, I reject the simplistic little formulas some anarchists try to assert as reality.

by hooligan grrrl
Um, I think Epstein has answered this question for you.
by rebecca (rebecca415 [at]
hi bay area anarchists,

do you mind if i use your riot image for el tecolote newspaper, where i am photo editor? i assume has somekind of creative commons license.. please email me photo credit otherwise we can credit bay area anarchists
by Real World activist
There will be a large rally and march this Wed. The demands are for murder charges for the killer cop and for at least some serious charges against the other cops there that morning.
This almost certainly will be a very age, race, gender, diverse event .
But make no mistake . No small businesses will be trashed . No Honda Suv's of progressive journalists (or anyone else ) will be torched . This campaign for Justice for Oscar Grant is too important to be jeopardized by ''Infantile Leftists '' (as a certain Long dead Russian once wrote ) or genuine agent provacteurs .
If there is any violence it will come from the cops . Not from us .
If that happens people certainly have the right of self defence . But any silly spasms of window smashing etc . helps the local Rulers. Make no mistake .
by then don't riot.
But we still need you to take action:

*Why is there business as usual at BART headquarters, City Hall, the Alameda County DA while Oscar's killer remains free? We need blockades and civil disobedience to shut these offices down.
*We need more people and more cameras watching the police. Everyone in Oakland should know and exercise their rights when they are hassled by police.
*We need a complete accounting of BART police's murders and abuses.
I'm sure folks here can think of other ideas.

We need to sustain the pressure on BART, BART police, the City of Oakland, the Alameda County DA, and the whole damn system. We need to hold firm and not budge an inch from our demands. We need to make it clear that police murder and police violence is unacceptable in our community and will be met by uncompromising explosions of rage and protest.
by (A)
I did not see any anarchists attack cars any cars that night. period.

I did not see any anarchists attack any small businesses that night. period.

I did see anarchists join youth in placing themselves between protesters with bricks and the windows of a high school on 17th street.

I saw anarchists de-escalate a situation between a middle aged white guy who was trying to defend of his precious windows with his dog and a group of protesters who were about to hand his ass to him.

I saw anarchists building barricades to prevent the armored personell carrier from driving into crowds of people.

I saw anarchists yelling "Hey! that's a poor person's car! don't fuck with that one!"

I saw anarchists yelling "Don't run, walk!" to keep people from panicking when the police charged.

I saw anarchists sharing their water with first time protesters, giving tips on treatment for teargas exposure, showing people how to make masks from t-shirts.

I saw anarchists let complete strangers stay at their houses that night.

I saw cops hit people with clubs. I saw people shot with rubber bullets. I heard a cop yell to a group of black youth "I'll see you on bart!"

Yes, it was unfortunate that a few first time protesters gave the pundits a straw man to distract attention from the inherent violence of the racist police state which holds us all hostage. It's unfortunate that the television viewing masses are buying into the bullshit about a nail salon's windows being more important then the life of a young father. It's unfortunate that certain assholes and police agents are using this as an opportunity to spread divisive lies about all the people in bandannas having trust-funds and coming in from walnut creek to incite the locals.

But all that is beside the point.

Point is, a young man was murdered in cold blood, and the legal system is arranged in such a way that the killer continues to walk free. While 120 people, most of whom were engaged in simple civil disobedience have trumped up charges, bail, court dates, fines and jail time to worry about. While the killer is being protected by the same state that clubbed and gassed us for questioning it's wisdom. His defense is gonna be paid for with our money. that's some fucking bullshit.

we didn't sign any social contract giving cops power of executioner. We think its time for a new social contract, one which eliminates oppression, exploitation, coercive violence and systematic racism, a social contract we can all live under. and we're willing to fight for it.

Justice for Oscar Grant!!!
by @
"Any consideration for Ken and his car? Are any @'s going to admit that torching Ken's car, (a person actually sympathetic to the protest) was wrong?"


Ken's car wasn't torched by anarchists. Unlike the Communists, we feel that it is not our place to tell other people how to run their revolution.

We support a diversity of tactics. There is a time for candlelight vigils and letters to the editor and community meetings, and there is another time for doing things that actually get people to notice what were protesting.


"I'll say nothing against him. At one time the whites in the United States called him a racialist, and extremist, and a Communist. Then the Black Muslims came along and the whites thanked the Lord for Martin Luther King."

- Malcolm X
by seriously
Hey Real World Activist, check this out: you gotta read this essay again. It points to the idea that a culture founded on giving property more rights and attention than people of color is a bankrupt culture. If folks of color want to shatter that illusion for a night, or forever, and as an woman on the night of the 7th said "we live a life of fear, and tonight we want to make them afraid" than that is part of standing up for ourselves. I know there's lots of professional activists out there who are afraid about consequences and strategy, but no matter how active/engaged you are in bay area politics, you can't control people's rage and quest for recognition and dignity. We stomp away millions of people in prisons in this country, so don't be so sorry for some stomped out car windshields. I'm sure no one wants to be a leftist manager, sounds like a miserable position to me, but go out there and do some legal trainings, or on Wednesday bring bandanas in a zip lock bag soaked in apple cider vinegar so people can breathe through the tear gas, or bring know your rights cards from the NLG. But quit being a cop and just listen to people.
by Real World activist
I know all too well that the capitalist media will distort just about anything that we do . My plea is that we not hand them ammo !!!
One distortion is that ''near 300 businesses were struck '' on 12/07 . I doubt there are even 300 businesses in downtown Oakland . But irregardless that figure was bullshit . Last Night Channel 2 TV News acknowledged that the real figure was 45.
BUT WHETHER 45 OR 300 WHY WERE ANY Delis, Bars, Cafes, African Bead shops (?!!!) targeted ? Yes of course a human life is worth more than any property but what do in (many cases very) small businesses have to do with the New Years murder ?
I;m glad to hear that some sane anarchists prevented some especially crazy acts but why you would allow trashing and torching of any working people's vehicles for example is beyond me . And Please no more nonsense about that being , as one poster wrote , part of someone's ''revolution !
As for tommorrow there is a universial determination that that nothing that occur that will endanger the potentially thousands of marchers including probably the families of not only Oscar Grant but the other guys on that platform who probably were terriffied that they would be shot next .
The overwhemily Black and Latino working class volunteer monitors aren't ''cops ''. They will not be armed and they won't be ''detaining '' anyone . But they will be determined that no provacteaur like acts will occur that would give the cops a pretext to attack and break up the rally .
Can't you Black Blocers understand that ? Do you even admit that there are such creatures as ''agent provacteurs '' ? I don't think that any on this list are anything other than what you say you are or i wouldn't be bothered to post on this thread.
Please think before you act.

by reader
>>but no matter how active/engaged you are in bay area politics, you can't control people's rage and quest for recognition and dignity.

This is an excellent observation. Everyone should listen to it. The strategy of most left groups will be to try to contain and redirect the rage at every opportunity, but the rage is natural and for a reason.

When I saw the description of Wednesday's event I felt deflated -- not because it didn't suggest property destruction, but because the walking with candles and signs often accomplishes zero and although I've participated in many demonstrations like that in the past, I haven't now for years because it's so painfully obvious that these do virtually nothing, themselves unless the numbers are shocking to view by the public.

What DOES do something is taking action -- going to the halls of Sacramento, going to City Hall, going to Council meetings, writing letters and essays in local newspapers, arranging meetings between authorities and activists, but also blockading, boycotting, and yes, destroying property if necessary.

The candles and signs are great for uniting in grief, but the grief can't go on everyday in circles from Dolores to Market and Powell.
by pissed off brown organizer
if anarchists dont believe in determining the tactics and strategies of peoples revolutionary movements, then stop being such entitled opportunistic fools and plan your own event using whatever tactics you want instead of coopting a black organized action responding to issues that effect young black and brown working class people in this city to have a field day in downtown oakland!! whether or not you believe property damage to be an apporpriate way to achieve our liberation goals, and regardless of how sincere your intent may be, it is not for you to to utilize the arena of the oscar grant marches which were EXPLICITLY asked to remain peaceful. your role as solidarity is to move forward with those plans, and respect them whether you agree or not.

this is a basic issue of respect and solidarity for the self-determination of the communities most impacted and the ones organizing, including the family of oscar grant, and many other oakland based folks who have been dealing with these issues for a long time. you think we dont have rage???? you think that we dont understand that rage is inevitable in moments like this?? of course, but it is not for you to provoke or innitiate these actions. nor to call for and encourage and support them. frankly, the objective outcome of that evening was MORE police brutality, 105 folks with charges--mostly black youth who still lack proper legal support and will be dealing with that for probly the rest of their lives-- and NO CLOSER JUSTICE FOR OSCAR GRANT, NOR CHARGES TO THE PIG WHO MURDERED HIM.

and at the end of the night, most of the white folks on bikes walked away just fine, and there was almost NO media coverage of the extremely powerful and well attended group who started at the bart station, and the leverage that was intended to pull in support of the case that Grant's family is waging.

respect and entitlement. that is the issue at hand.
by Anonymous
Wait, did the Anarchists provoke the events that occurred last Wednesday?
by John
I agree with your general sentiment, but when you write things like "not only Oscar Grant, but against youth of color every day by police" you run the risk of turning it into a race issue.

This is the citizenry vs. fascist government thugs. Not white cops vs. black kids. That would be awfully self-serving wouldn't it? We ALL suffer when police shoot innocent people in the back. Like innocent white people haven't been shot in the back before? What about all the mentally ill people who get killed by cops every month, too?

I am white and have been harassed by the police state many times in my life. Why? Because I am the working poor-underclass. Keep race out of it. There is no war, but the class war.

I am opposed to cops shooting innocent people in the back, regardless of color.

For all you folks who don't understand the connection between property violence and things like Oscar Grant's public execution, you have to think of it this way; Would you rather have your windows broken and cars burned, or to have a cop stand on your back and fire a bullet into your life?

If we don't stand up to unruly public servants now, you can expect more of the same. It doesn't mater what color the President is, because he is not of our class anymore.

Race ≠ Class.
by a Concerned Black Man Who was There
I was at the 1/7/09 situation, and I must admit that I did see mostly white (or latino) people with bandanas over their faces engineering the more violent aspects of the happening, while mostly unmasked young black people sort of fell in line with the violence. And because they were on the back end of it, they were the ones getting captured by the pigs. The property targets i must say, were off center. And had the rebels any cause, courage, consciousness or real revolutionary zeal, it would have been the police department and only the police vehicles that would have suffered at the hands of the rebels. I did see one young androgenous looking Black man with very smooth skin with a bullhorn rebel rousing the crowd, and I am wondering where he came from because I have never seen him before in my life and I've been on the scene for a long time. he seemed to believe he was the leader or something, but he seem to me more like an agent provocateur. all in all, tho, the violence was productive in that it has brought even more national attention to what's going on in oakland. It is now up to us to seize the time and do some real building, more so than burning and thrashing.
by John
Excellent insight Mr. Black.

You are correct. I regularly attend direct actions in San Francisco. All the usual suspects were in Oakland last Wednesday, January 7th... starting at the Fruitvale Station and working their way downtown. I've met many of them personally and generally appreciate their work. The ones I have met are not provocateurs, but I can see why they appear that way. They are kind of the new-school activists. It's like Mall Punk .... kind of sounds like punk, but misses the whole point. Some might say "posers," but that's a bit harsh. You're right - they are primarily latino and white.

The biggest problem I have with the "troublemakers" is not that they completely miss their own point (people vs. police, NOT people vs. entrepreneurs), but that they are not really "anarchists." They are closeted Communists. And, as every good anarchist knows, Communist rulers can be just as fascist and tyrannical as Capitalist rulers. Remember, "Anarchy" is simply Latin for "No Ruler." It doesn't mean "property damage and mayhem," or "Che Lives."

Funny how the national press has avoided this story like the plague. I guess it's not L.A. 1992... and Oscar Grant isn't Rodney King. Got the same lawyer though ; )

by tiamat
This is addressed to the various self-identified "activists" and "organizers" on this thread and elsewhere:
The joke is that you don't realize how quickly you'll be tossed into the trash as social struggle reemerges. So many of you are so eager to use the language of "autonomy" and self-determination to impose your interests and decisions on people much angrier and more intelligent than you are. It's clear that while Mayor Dellum calls for calm on behalf of one segment of the local (and sometimes Black) ruling class, other ruling fractions prefer to administer repression via so-called community groups, and sometimes even "well-known and respected anarchists." You've gotten away with this for a little while now, but the mood in the U.S. and globally is changing. And as people learn to collectively organize their anger and their thirst for (real) autonomy, they'll learn quickly how little they need professional organizers, peace police, and anarchist activists.

As a side note: In this context, "diversity of tactics" is at best a cop-out, and is more probably straight-up reactionary. While well-over a hundred people are facing charges for rioting, "respected community organizers" put together peaceful rallies, supposedly to be accessible, but more importantly to create a dichotomy of "respectable opposition" vs. thugs and vandals. The forces of repression use more than just tear gas and batons- they also invite you to get politically and responsibly involved. So again, accepting the leadership of the local, peaceable bourgeoisie of color through "diversity of tactics" is an attack on the many people facing serious charges, including many young proletarians of color.
by Scott D
What would you think if someone burned down your houses and destroyed your personal property? You would cry like a baby and be too dense to see your blatant hypocrisy. In the USA an anarchist is a simply a bored capitalist with nothing else better to do. An anarchist is also someone if tested by a mental health professional, would be found mentally unstable. Get a life and a real world view. Anarchists are society's losers.
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