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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Police State and Prisons | Racial Justice
Gone But Not Forgotten - Justice for Oscar Grant! Family Vigil, Fruitvale BART: photos
On the first anniversary of the murder of Oscar Grant III by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, family members organized a vigil at the Fruitvale BART station where Oscar was shot and killed. Community activists, organized as the General Assembly for Justice for Oscar Grant, planned for a rally at the Fruitvale station to commence at the conclusion of the vigil and a cultural gathering for the evening at the Humanist Hall in Oakland. This is the first of three posts on anniversary events.
The Oakland police department and BART officials fought against these events every step of the way, especially the community events. Oscar Grant's uncle, Cephus Johnson, and Jack Bryson, father of two of Oscar Grant's friends on the Fruitvale platform with him when they were all abused by BART police and Oscar was murdered, were harassed about the events for most of the last month. At one point, BART actually canceled even the vigil they had long promised the family, but eventually relented and allowed it to proceed. First BART promised the family a sound system for the vigil, then said all they had for the family was a power outlet that they could plug into. Turns out that even that outlet was unusable for a sound system, so Cephus personally rented the sound system, the stage, and a power generator for the event at a cost of $1700 (Oakland Councilperson Desley Brooks and Minister Keith Muhammad helped to offset the costs to family).
BART officials such as Community Relations manager Roddrick Lee and representatives from Mayor Dellums' office called Cephus Johnson to one or more meetings with them, where they could work him over, so to speak, as they told him about OPD threatening to stop the events, and they tried to divide him from community activists who were organizing cultural and more youth-oriented events focused on justice, as opposed to the vigil Cephus was organizing to feature local politicians and clergy. OPD was insisting that all three scheduled events marking the one-year anniversary were "special circumstances" events requiring a permit and actively worked on intimidating the family by calling them and telling them that they would be held responsible if anything popped off like the street rebellions of last January, even if it had nothing to do directly with their organizing efforts.
At the final meeting with BART, Dellum's and OPD officials, two community organizers attended and reported that OPD was declaring that they would not allow an unpermitted event to proceed at the Humanist Hall, despite the fact that the Humanist Hall hosts dozens of events every year that are not required to hold a permit (a small minority of events there are). OPD, playing good cop and bad cop at the same time, assured Jack Bryson, Cephus Johnson, the three community activists, and Nation of Islam members present that they really wanted to allow the event, but that organizers would have to come up with ten "guard card" certified security people for the Humanist Hall, as if there would be a riot inside the building. OPD was represented by Sargeants Espinoza and Hookfin, both of whom supposedly pushed back against Captain Downing, who wanted to block event. OPD also attempted to divide the diverse community of activists who have been fighting for justice by playing up fears of anarchists disrupting events. OPD said they had no concerns about the event until "concerned citizen" Abdul-Jalil al-Hakim, an Oakland entertainment promoter who had attended General Assembly organizing meetings, came to them and said he was worried that the group was planning something that would lead to "violence" even though he knew full well that organizers were intent on holding a "safe" event where youth of color would be welcomed to reflect on their feelings about the murder of Oscar Grant and other police violence.
Jalil, like OPD, had attempted, rather successfully, to split Cephus from community activists, and his disruptions were highly counter-productive to the work of the General Assembly in organizing the evening event at the Humanist Hall. Tensions and aggravations were heightened and time was lost that could have been spent moving forward on event planning. Cephus and Jalil -- in complete contradiction of the very early agreement that Cephus and family would organize for the vigil and the community would organize for the rally and cultural gathering, as well as the democratic structure of decision-making within the General Assembly -- attempted to take over planning for the Humanist Hall event. The community pushed back and Jalil left the group and Cephus allowed the Assembly to continue planning evening events themselves.
Still, OPD was pressing Cephus and Jack Bryson to comply with their requests for a permit and eventually won out, largely due to the fact that Jack had been the signatory for the Humanist Hall event and OPD was threatening him with legal responsibility for anything that happened, even outside of the venue. OPD did reduce the number of guard-card security people required to four instead of initial demands of ten plus securing an event insurance policy, and OPD dropped the fee for the permit (being that it was a free community event, not some concert with $10-$20 tickets for admission). OPD also waived a 21-30 day advance notice requirement. Nation of Islam members stepped up to satisfy OPD's security guard requirement.
The vigil itself, in some ways, became more of a political rally for powers that be than the somber candle-lit event originally proposed by the family. This was largely due to the influence of Jalil, who continued to work with Cephus on planning the first event of the day. Speakers were instructed not to discuss police or demands for justice, as reported to others by long-time activist Barbara Bechnel who was invited to speak. Jasari X was told the event was canceled, likely so that he would not appear and say anything "controversial." No youth were welcomed to speak, despite that fact that Oscar Grant's friends, terrorized by BART police on the Fruitvale platform on January 1st, 2009, still struggle with the horror of their mistreatment and the loss of a friend -- and despite that the issue of police violence against citizens most often impacts young African American and Latino men.
While Oakland Mayor Dellums has done nothing of note to secure justice for Oscar Grant nor the others murdered and abused by police in the city, the mayor was invited to speak -- Dellums was a no-show though. Similarly, a number of the others on stage have not been involved in the movement for justice for Oscar Grant in any way that this author is aware. BART Board Director Carole Ward-Allen was invited to speak, and BART was thanked profusely on stage for their supposed work towards rectifying the many serious deficiencies and corruptions in their police department.
Off-stage, a few days prior to New Year's Eve, BART and Cephus Johnson released a joint press statement that called for calm on the one-year anniversary, as might have been expected. What took community activists by complete surprise, leading to great angst and outrage, was that Cephus took it further by declaring in the press release that "[in] the year since my nephew was killed, I truly believe positive changes have occurred in the BART Police Department and many more will come. We want to thank the public for their continued involvement in making the BART police the best it can be as we enter 2010."
What positive changes exactly? BART has not fired a single person related to the murder of Oscar Grant nor the subsequent cover-up attempts. BART has claimed that they have increased training for its officers, yet incidents like the BART officer who slammed a passenger into a glass wall are still happening (and that one is known only because it was caught on video). The only concrete change BART police have made is removing the word "BART" from their uniforms. BART's PR machine gins up phony community support at press conferences while working behind the scenes with police lobbies to undermine a publicly agreed-upon proposal regarding BART police oversight. BART, who actively worked with OPD and others to undermine the vigil and community anniversary events. BART, who played games with the resources they would provide the family for the vigil at the Fruitvale station, even denying permission for the vigil at one point. BART, who had Director Carole Ward-Allen give the family flowers at the vigil on a stage paid for by the family spoke using a microphone also paid for by the family. BART, who promised a minimal police presence at Fruitvale but delivered anything but as you will see in the photos below.
What community involvement? The community has given up on negotiating with BART since that sham of a press conference and the police oversight double-cross in August. Virtually no one, except for yours truly, even bothers to attend their meetings any more. BART has operated in bad faith one too many times over the last year. Consider this report by Reginald James on a December public forum BART held regarding the replacement of corrupt and incompetent former BART Police Chief Gee, who was allowed to retire with full benefits rather than be held accountable for any of his failings...
IndyBay journalist Dave Id came to record the hearing but felt obligated to speak in the absence of community members.And so Carole Ward Allen and numerous others, either unaligned with or unrecognizable to the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant, were honored guests at the family vigil. Despite this, community activists remain committed to push forward with their long-sought demands for justice at BART and in the trial of Johannes Mehserle in Los Angeles, and they started with the anniversary rally at Fruitvale BART and the successful cultural gathering at the Humanist Hall that will be featured in two more reports to follow this one.
More photos and audio from the family vigil can be found here: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/01/02/18634083.php.
Demand Strong Civilian Oversight at Assembly Hearing on BART Police Oversight, Tuesday, January 12: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/12/22/18633424.php
There is currently a memorial at Fruitvale BART on the bus side of the station for those interested to leave candles, notes, and other mementos and statements that BART said it will allow for ten days. Feel free to contribute to it while you still can.
Marked cars, SUVs, and an RV included Alameda County Sheriff's Department, Oakland Police Department, and BART Police (but maybe they should just be called "Police" since they removed the "BART" from their badges, likely due to an inferiority complex about not being considered "real" police by the public: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/06/10/18601323.php).
BART had at least five patrol cars in this lot.
MCOPS: Mobile Community Outreach Police Station, funded by U.S. Department of Justice
OPD uses this for a number of activities across Oakland, including "DUI" checkpoints where they mostly impound dozens of vehicles from people who are not intoxicated but rather have a cracked windshield, or a broken tail light, or outstanding tickets
One behind the white barricade here looks familiar from previous protest: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/01/31/18567351.php#18567366
Minister Keith has been active in pursuing justice for Oscar Grant since first pushing former Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff to prosecute Mehserle and other BART officers in the first week of January 2009
Lorrain Taylor, of 1,000 Mothers to Prevent Violence, has long been coming to Town Halls and other justice-related events
Lorrain Taylor lost both of her twin sons to street violence.
Reginald was the only speaker that truly spoke to community activists' sentiments regarding justice for Oscar Grant without couching his comments in "acceptable" language. He did this by reading lyrics to a song by Jasiri X (listen to audio, at about 36 minutes into recording here: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/01/02/18634083.php#18634104). Reginald also recently produced a powerful photo essay around "I am... Oscar Grant" graffiti in downtown Oakland: http://theblackhour.blogspot.com/2010/01/oscar-grant-photo-essay.html
From left: MC Gabriel Wilson, of KPFA's Sunday morning Gospel Hour (who was brought in after people objected to Jalil MCing the event), lawyer with family attorney John Burris' office (standing), Oakland City Councilperson Desley Brooks (in black), Lorrain Taylor (in purple), Minister Keith (with books on lap), Ramona Tasco (over Minister Keith's shoulder), BART Director Carole Ward-Allen (in fur-trimmed coat), Reverend Buford of Allen-Temple Baptist Church (in white tie on far right), not seen at Oscar Grant-related event since BART press conference in August mentioned above. Wanda Johnson, Oscar Grant's mother, Cephus Johnson, Oscar Grant's uncle, Barbara Bechnel and Reginald James not pictured here. Others in photo unknown in general to movement for justice for Oscar Grant.
It's worth pointing out a second time that BART first promised a sound system for the family vigil then refused to provide one. Cephus Johnson rented the sound system, stage, and generator out of his own pocket (with help from Desley Brooks and Minister Keith). And then Carole Ward-Allen had the gall to sit on a stage paid for by the family, and speak into a microphone paid for by family, and pretend that BART is some sort of friend to the family as she handed them a meaningless bouquet of flowers. BART is good at stagecraft via their PR machine and Directors like Carole Ward-Allen, but they aren't very good at being a true ally of the family or justice.
Gone But Not Forgotten - Justice for Oscar Grant! Community Rally, Fruitvale BART: audio & photos
Gone But Not Forgotten - Justice for Oscar Grant! Community Gathering: audio & photos