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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Police State and Prisons | Racial Justice
March of Stolen Lives Braves Massive Police Intimidation -- Enough Is Enough!
You know they used to lynch us. Now they're just shooting us down. Just shooting us down like it’s the thing to do. And its not just here. It's everywhere."
-- Patrician Johnson, sister of Anita Gay, a grandmother shot in her home by the Berkeley Police
OAKLAND – On February 6, about 200 people gathered at the main intersection of the city to say: "Enough is Enough. No More Stolen Lives! We are all Oscar Grant!" They came to protest an epidemic of police brutality, with the murder of Oscar Grant only the latest example. As they gathered the crowd learned that Johannes Mehserle, the BART officer who was captured on video shooting Grant in the back, had been released on bail.
The action was determined and strong in the face of, and defying the intimidation of, a huge show of force by the Oakland Police Department. The downtown plaza was completely surrounded by rows of heavily armed police and metal barricades. Anyone who came to the protest had to walk through metal barriers surrounding the plaza and through a gauntlet of menacing riot clad cops. It is an outrage that at the same time Mehserle was able to go free on bail, the victims of police brutality were not permitted to march down Broadway even on the sidewalk. Despite the intimidation, and efforts by the police to stop the protest, an angry and defiant march took to the streets.
The families and friends of people killed by police stood together, their combined presence was both a powerful statement and a reminder of the brutal reality of police murder. Rashidah Grinage, whose son AND husband had been killed in her home by Oakland police. Sonya Wahnee, the mother of Andrew Moppin, a 20-year-old Native American (Comanche/Klamath) stood side by side with Robin Glenn, the aunt of 27-year-old Jody Woodfox. Both young men were killed by the same Oakland cop. Danny Garcia, brother of Mark Garcia, Kathleen Espinosa, mother of Asa Sullivan, Mesha Irizarry, mother of Idriss Stelley, all killed by SFPD. Cora Lee Simmons, a relative of Acorn Peters, killed on the Round Valley Reservation in Northern California. Tara Batts, a close friend of Julio Diaz, shot in the back of his head outside a card club in Oakland. Statements in solidarity were read from other family members of victims of police terror from around the country.
Ara Jo, a cousin of Michael Chou who was killed in 2007 said, "I wish we had no need to be here. I wish we had no pain. I wish there was no need for us to mobilize and get here together and feel angry for something that we lost. But that's reality. That's our everyday life. We can't afford to be scared and not think about it, which I wish I could do but I can't. I wish we could just tell these cops to go away. But we can't. That's reality. It's in our face every day."
David Santos of the Bay Area Revolution Club, which called for the march and helped lead it, spoke to the need for revolution: “You have these fool in the media and elsewhere saying that the problem is these 'rowdy youth.' Well tell me this was it these who kidnapped millions of Africans and used them as slaves to build this nation's 'unmatched wealth'? Was it these 'thugs' who unleashed a wave of terror by KKK lynch mobs to rape, hang and burn alive Black people all while not even allowing them to drink out of the same water fountains as whites? Was it these 'hoodlums,' who, after granting formal rights to Blacks used the police to carry on this 'American tradition' of white supremacy and lynch mob terror? No it was not! All throughout this period, from slavery to the KKK, from lynch mobs to the police and prisons, there was a system that benefitted from everything I have just laid out."
The rally was ended and the march kicked off by a spoken word reading of the Revolution centerfold, America 2009.
Joining the family members at the protest were college students from UC Berkeley, people in suits who work in the downtown financial district, high school students from Berkeley High, Oakland Tech and School of the Arts. The Women’s Collective of the Day Labors Organization – spoke at the rally and brought a banner and contingent of immigrant women. A group of 40 Latino day laborers sent a solidarity message to the demonstration: "Jornaleros de San Francisco declaramos: Todos Somos Oscar Grant. Presente! Presente! Oscar Grant Esta Presente! (Day Laborers say: We are all Oscar Grant. Present! Present! Oscar Grant is Present!).
The plaza was lined with the “Wall of Stolen Lives” listing the names and ages of hundreds of people killed by the police. Larger than life pictures of people like Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Gary King, Anita Gay and others were held high for all to see the faces of some of those who were murdered by the police. The front page of Revolution newspaper was worn by one woman as others raised their copies up along the march.
When people tried to march down Broadway, Oakland’s main downtown street, they were blocked by police, even though there is no law against marching on the sidewalk! There was a tense standoff for about 15 minutes as brave organized and determined protesters stared down rows and rows of these cops demanding the right to march to represent for the thousands of lives stolen by the police.
Kathleen Espinosa, mother of SFPD murder victim Asa Sullivan described the scene, “I helped carry at times the banner of Stolen Lives (from The October 22nd Stolen Lives Project). If anyone stepped off the sidewalk, which was easy to do if the walk area got narrow, the whole group of people were pushed back onto the sidewalk by the police. Mind you, there were many women and some children in our group. Family members and others held the pictures of the victims of police killings high…This showed our rights to walk on Oakland city streets is not a right in Oakland when police are ordered to block peaceful people by blocking their way by force." Once again, proof that there is a whole system behind police brutality.
Relatives of victims of police murder are forced by the system to endure indescribable agony, and then the police and the City of Oakland – the imperialist state – attempts to prevent them from even voicing their outrage and grief for a few hours.
This sickening display of naked state violence – aimed at physically preventing people from joining the rally and march and intimidating and terrorizing those who did come -- came after a week of battles with the city to even get a sound and march permit – despite having no legal grounds for the denial – prompting protests from the ACLU and Amnesty International. This battle continued throughout the rally and right up to the moment the march left Frank Ogawa Plaza, with march organizers and their attorneys going toe to toe with the police and city officials.
The march was forced to take a side street to the police station. Helicopters circled overhead Cops in riot gear flanked the march so tightly people could not join in. Dozens of people many wearing stickers saying “Danger – Police in the Area” followed the march from the opposite side of the street wanting to join in but also considering what the police might do to them if they did. “Fuck it”, said one young woman. “I’m going anyway!”
People were not intimidated. Along the say, youth and others got right in the face of the riot clad cops holding up pictures of people who had been murdered by the cops or copies of Revolution with Oscar Grant’s picture on the cover Others held up cell phones – as a way of saying, "We're watching you." When the march passed by the Oakland jail, prisoners inside the jail could be seen crowding into the small windows to get a glimpse of the march and giving a clenched fist salute.
On that very evening, following the release of Mehserle, liberal Black Mayor Ron Dellums issued a statement: “In challenging violence, we must not engage in violence. In challenging injustice, let us not engage in unjust acts.” Meanwhile Dellums has giving his full support to the unbridled violence of the Oakland Police – from shooting down unarmed youth, beating an=d jailing people righteously protesting, attempting to intimidate people from even coming to the February 6 protest.
The slogan "The Whole Damn System Is Guilty!" resonated deeply with people on the march, who have seen the way the system has covered up for Oscar's murder, not even charged the other cops involved, let Mehserle go on bail, arrested over 100 people who have protested against the murder, and now they were trying to stop family members of those they had killed from taking to the streets.
When the protesters returned to the plaza police lines formed within the approved protest area. They targeted one protester but released him as people chanted “let him go!”
As the family of Andrew Moppin attempted to catch public transportation, a family member was grabbed by police who detained him with the excuse that they thought he looked like someone who had jumped on a police car in a previous protest. When they released him 10 minutes later they warned him not to protest again because they might mistake him for that same person. Yet more proof that this system’s response to the abuse it heaps on the masses is to heap more violence and threats of violence to prevent people from lifting their heads.
An organizer told Revolution that family members were tremendously inspired and strengthened through the protest, coming together and standing up in public, in the face of police. One family member said that this showed that we are not afraid. Another family member said that she thought being on the march was "therapeutic" and that she had come out of it changed and strong.
The rally ended with a speech by Clyde Young of the Revolutionary Communist Party who emphasized the importance of the powerful statement made that day and the need to continue to wage the fight against police brutality and the system behind it. These threats and intimidation will not stop this movement against police murder from growing.
Robin Glenn, aunt of "Jody" Mac Woodfox and Sonya Wahnee mother of Andrew Moppin. Jody and Andrew were killed by the same Oakland cop.
Sonya: "We are proud native people. Last year Andrew was killed, murdered, on a dark street, shot in the back eight times. We got to go on raising his two babies without their mother or their father. It's been hard for us. This is his sister. She wants to know why her brother was killed. Why was [the cop] put back to do it again?"
Robin: "We want to know why the officer was put back on the streets so my nephew was killed six months later by the same officer who killed her son? My nephew had three children. They want to know why too. Why aren't they going to be able to see their father? We want justice done TODAY. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!"
Patricia Johnson: the sister of Anita Gay killed in her house by the Berkeley police: "Hopefully no one else will be shot down like my sister. She had four kids. She just became a grandmother, but she'll never see that sweet little boy. Her kids have to go on without her. All of us are here because we feel each others pain and it’s a pain that never goes away. So we are saying: "enough is enough!" Matter of fact, it's been too much, too long for people in this city and other cities – the head people -- to just keep turning the other way. Looking the other way. Making up excuses. Making no one accountable for all these murders. Who do we turn to? What do we do? Where do we go? Who is going to stand up and say: "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!" It's really sad to say in this day and age this is going on. You know they used to lynch us. Now they're just shooting us down. Just shooting us down like it’s the thing to do. And its not just here. It's everywhere."
Kathleen Espinosa: "I am the mother of Asa Sullivan, killed June 6, 2006. Sixteen bullets. He had no weapon. No mother should have to stand here and tell you that their son was killed. It's time for the public to know what is going on. It's time for the records to be opened. I'm so glad that Oscar's incident was on tape. Thank god for video cameras. Why is there not any accountability? Why does the public not see what happens. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!"
Tara, close friend of Julio Diaz killed by Oakland Police, July 4, 2005: "I'm speaking for my friend Julio Diaz who was killed by the Oakland police in front of the Oaks Club on July 4, 2005. They tried to say he stole a car and they shot him in the back of the head. That was just an excuse, you know what I'm saying. They're always making excuses. I'm also here to represent for Oscar Grant and all the people who were killed by the fucking police. Fuck the police that's what I got to say. They're always killing our people. And then they say that Oscar Grant was drunk. Come on, that ain't no reason to take somebody's life! That's the same thing they said about my friend Julio. They shot him in the back of his head, execution style for no reason. FUCK THE POLICE!"