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Why the Spin Regarding "Outsiders" Protesting the Mehserle is Bullshit (and Illogical)
by Michael Siegel
Saturday Jul 10th, 2010 2:09 PM
Don't believe the hype. Let's build a movement for justice and police accountability. [Originally posted elsewhere on 7/9/10]

Dear Friends,

We wake up today in Oakland to the aftermath of the Mehserle verdict. The major media are presenting a litany of images and catch phrases that essentially sum up yesterday's mass demonstrations as a series of broken windows and stolen sneakers. One of the most-repeated lines essentially states that "outside agitators" are responsible for the property destruction. In my opinion, this line is ill-informed, based on OPD hearsay and hype, and also plainly ignores the fact that politics are not circumscribed by municipal boundaries. To the contrary, Oscar Grant's murder by BART police is an issue with local, regional, national, and even international relevance.

First of all, here is my quick summary of what happened yesterday. We received the verdict a little after 4:00 p.m. The speak-out in Oakland's town square -- Frank Ogawa Plaza, at the corner of 14th and Broadway -- began immediately. Countless speakers addressed the injustice of the minimal punishment applied to Mehserle, contrasting his lightweight conviction with the treatment of countless youth of color subjected to the California prison system. By 4:30 or 5:00 p.m., representatives from the General Assembly for Oscar Grant began setting up a sound system. Soon after, Tony Coleman, one of the spokespeople for the General Assembly, took the mic and initiated a formal speak-out that gave priority to youth speakers who wanted to express themselves.

Between 4:00 and at least 8:00 p.m., we essentially had a "liberated zone" in downtown Oakland encompassing a few blocks downtown. Over a thousand people listened to one youth speaker after another express themselves -- in the spirit of the ancient tradition of the town square, free speech, and the right to criticize government oppression. At the same time, the liberated zone had a festive feel, with all sorts of side conversations taking place, a volunteer brass band playing, and some folks even sitting on blankets and playing chess in the street.

In the background, while the people continued expressing themselves, police massed at every intersection. First at 12th and Broadway, police formed a line 20 wide and 3 deep, pushing back the demonstrators into a smaller, two-block zone. Every ten minutes or so, a new squadron of cops would block off another side street. By 7pm or so, the community at 14th and Broadway was surrounded by a cordon of hundreds, if not thousands of cops blocking every egress from the liberated space.

As nightfall approached, OPD moved in, and squeezed the community out of the peaceful, central space. From there, the chaos that you have read about ensued.

Now, to the point: do we blame all of the negative behavior on "outsiders" and "anarchists"?

My first response would be: who are the outsiders? Oakland is a major city that, each day, is populated by tens of thousands of workers who drive in from the suburbs to work for city, state, and federal government, major and smaller corporations, and so forth. Are they "outsiders"? Our police force is populated by, according to some accounts, up to 90% of individuals who DO NOT LIVE IN OAKLAND. Are OPD the "outsiders"? Are we saying that only people who live within Oakland's municipal borders are entitled to protest the murder of an Oakland resident? Why are so many of us repeating this illogical dichotomy between inside and outside, when so many of us who are in Oakland right now are not originally from Oakland, and when so many of us are obviously aware that what happens within Oakland affects many people outside of Oakland?

Which brings me to my next response: why should the universe of protestors who protest Oscar Grant's murder be limited to "Oaklanders"? We protest the Mehserle verdict in Oakland, because the murder happened here, Oscar Grant lived and worked here, and so forth. But police murder: isn't this an international issue? And how often is a police officer charged with murder? As many of us are aware, the mere fact that Mehserle was charged with murder presents an exceedingly rare situation, and very important for many reasons. In Los Angeles alone, I've heard that police kill 30-35 residents a year. Yet, none are prosecuted for murder. In New York, we know of Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, obvious victims of police murder -- but who were never avenged by a criminal prosecution of the killing cops. So it seems obvious that this is a bigger issue, much bigger than Oakland. Folks in Richmond or San Francisco or elsewhere who experience police oppression may want to come to Oakland to express their solidarity. Oscar Grant's murder is an international story -- why should only Oaklanders take the streets to express their displeasure with the murdering officer's lightweight conviction?

And one more response: politics are never purely local. Think of Bush v. Gore back in 2004 -- do you remember those George Bush operatives who disrupted the recount before Gore could garner enough votes for victory? (Check Michael Moore's flic if you haven't seen this story.) Do you think those operatives were from that particular county of Florida? Or how about the foreign policy of the United States, when a country like Venezuela elects Hugo Chavez, or back in the day when Patrice Lumumba was elected leader of the Congo (and then murdered with CIA complicity) -- was the U.S. staying out of "local" issues? Here, in Oakland, BART police (representing nine Bay Area counties) murdered an African-American young man (resident of Hayward, CA; likely descendant from African nations; clearly affected by local, national, and global policies that contribute to systematic racial oppression). Only after intense community pressure (including pressure by non-Oaklanders) was Mehserle charged with murder. And, oh yeah, here's another indication this is not a local issue: the Department of Justice, led by Eric Holder (yes, an African-American), has gotten involved -- all the way from Washington, D.C. -- to say that Mehserle and BART may be subject to a civil rights investigation. Are we calling the President and DOJ "outsiders"? (No, I'm not talking you, Mr. and Mrs. Birther.) Let's drop all this talk of who is outside and who is inside, because it really makes no sense.

Finally, some of you may be waiting for me to condemn the folks that set fire to dumpsters and stole tennis shoes. But really, I'd be a hypocrite to do so -- if you knew me back in high school, at good old Skyline High in Oakland, you'd know I have never been a perfect citizen, and it would be foolish for me to pretend otherwise. In fact, I will admit it -- I have broken a window or two in my lifetime, and I am sure that I stole candy on more than one occasion. No, I did not break any windows last night, and no, I am not sporting a brand new pair of Air Force Ones this morning. But, let's not get it twisted -- a few burglaries and broken windows are not the same as a police murder; and they pale in comparison to a larger system that supports and condones police murder.

To take a step back, I would say that the civil rights movement in Oakland -- and particularly the movement for police accountability -- needs some work. I would like to see us get to a place where there is enough organization and leadership so that we can do a better job of controlling the message and working towards political outcomes. For example, the media frenzy regarding last night will not do much to create political pressure on the police. We are still a long way away from getting action on our demands (including the need to indict racist, former BART cop Peroni, the need to take guns away from BART police, and the need for increased oversight of police use-of-force).

For now, though, let's engage in some of the nuances here, let's get away from blaming "outsiders," and let's work together to build a cohesive civil rights movement in Oakland.

In solidarity,
Michael Siegel

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by outsider from Berkeley
Saturday Jul 10th, 2010 3:40 PM
Yup, damn those civil rights workers in the 60s who gave their lives to advance equality in the South. Outsiders! They had no business there!

To have people call me an outside agitator because I live in Berkeley and travel a couple miles to protest in Oakland is rather spurious logic.
by OaklandPride
Saturday Jul 10th, 2010 6:41 PM
"Outsiders" being arrested are emphasized because the cost to pay for the mess is paid for largely by Oaklanders.

When my family business was wrecked in protests of the past, how does taking money out of our pockets have anything to do with the issues being protested? It only makes businesses want to leave Oakland, giving even less opportunity to people in impoverished areas.
by konsider
Saturday Jul 10th, 2010 7:03 PM
I live in Berkeley but I go to Oakland all the time. I used to live in Oakland too. So Oakland should exist in some sort of a vacuum where people, who don't reside there, look the other way.? That's stupid.

We should understand "insider" and "outsider" to mean, instead, the difference between those inside the system, and those, like most common people, who are outside. With that definition in mind, we can begin to break down the many divisions used to divide us, such as right and left, and us and them.

by -
Saturday Jul 10th, 2010 8:37 PM
yeah - Hayward and Berkeley residents definitely aren't outsiders to Oakland, although it isn't that clear why downtown is the focus when BART in Fruitvale was the shooting location. At least Oakland has much more recognizable center than the disperse commercial streets of San Leandro.

Did you know that Mitt romney - governor of Massachusetts and likely 2nd time presidential candidate just bought a huge house in La Jolla, CA, and Al Gore from Tennesse bought a Santa Barbara house? Some loyalty to their home state.
by curious
Saturday Jul 10th, 2010 9:32 PM
By your logic then, I suppose your family business rejects dollars from customers who reside outside of Oakland, right? Do you ask for people's papers before they can shop in your store? Should we wall ourselves off from other cities? Are friends of Oscar Grant's who live in Hayward outsiders? Was it "outsiders" going for the free Air Jordans and beauty shop hair extensions? Be honest.

If you really want to trip about outsiders and Oakland money, how about the OPD? They consume over 60% of Oakland's tax dollars and 90% of them don't even live in the city, so over half of all of our taxes (mainly property owners' taxes and business taxes) are NOT recirculated into Oakland but are spent in area suburbs. Those burbs have better funded schools and are laying off less teachers, thanks to Oakland taxpayers like you and I.

A riot/rebellion/whatever rarely happens and certainly never effects every taxpayer in Oakland, but OPD sucking out dollars away from the city every day of every year.

Keep perspective, por favor. It's far too easy to buy into over-simplistic politicians' and cops' talking points that the corporate media amplifies 1000 times over. A lot tougher to face that giant financial sucking sound coming from the OPD.

by i was there
Sunday Jul 11th, 2010 12:22 AM
Thanks for this. Yeah, the ol' divide and conquer. I dont live in Oaklands 'boundaries' but shit...wasnt this all native american land anyway? (oh yeah, were not supposed to bring that up--its not 'tasteful' to remember genocide).

This is all just another way to increase racism and flare up the race-divide. Basically what the media is saying is ONLY black people can be angry about this and ONLY they can express that anger within a small geographic area.

Fuck that. Were all brothers and the police are a problem to all of us.
by miles
Sunday Jul 11th, 2010 8:18 AM
I think you forgot the fact that there are people who are not "brothers" involved in all aspects of life. They are our sisters dummy.
If that's your thing, go do it in your own city. You keep saying, wait till the cops ain't ready, well, they're not expecting you in Berkeley and wherever the thirty-something of you arrestees from completely outside the Bay Area come from. Maybe you should interview 50 angry black people at the protest next time and if you get more than 50% of them saying we'd like you to go vandalize our city at the end of this powerful non-violent protest, then consider yourself invited. If you find more than one or two, consider yourself amazed. We are interested in allies in powerful, organic social change, not the ungentle ministrations of professional shit-stirrers from outside the area and restless white kids itching for some excitement.

We love you, but really we wish you would "get somewhere and sit down." And if you can't do that, go act up where the consequences fall on your own community, not ours.
by jw
Sunday Jul 11th, 2010 10:35 AM
I should say, young brothers and sisters, that I know many of you had it hard--REAL hard, and that many of you have serious, REAL, independent beefs with the cops. The privilege I'm talking about is White privilege, which I don't blame you for in the slightest, because it's handed into your lap in this racist society whether you like it or not. But the fact is that the color of your skin gives you some real advantages.

Use your privilege, don't take it for granted.

B well, B powerful!
by ...
Sunday Jul 11th, 2010 10:51 AM
you obviously weren't there
by oaklander
Sunday Jul 11th, 2010 11:26 AM
1) The cost to Oakland
As an "inside agitator" I would like to point out what should be the obvious economics of the situation, but which are glossed over for quick sound bite crap. Businesses, especially the large corporate chains and banks which were most of the businesses vandalized, have insurance.
So a national insurance company, say All-State for example opens its wallet and gives money to the vandalized businesses. Those businesses do something quite extraordinary in "recession era" Oakland, and open their wallets to hire construction people to fix that shit. Then those construction people spend the money in the Oakland economy, so the say $200,000 in damage has circulated in Oakland three times by today and has come from "outsiders." Your welcome for both the economic boost and the economics lesson (which is that money is valued by how many times it circulates inside a community, not the face value of the note).
2) Outside Agitators
This term is a term from the Klan and Klan supported southern officials in southeast during the civil rights movement. It first gained popularity during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and early voter registration drives, when white college students from a thousand miles north came south to support these civil rights campaigns. Some of them died at the hands of racists doing this, so there is a very long history behind this term. It was used to dismiss MLK among other African American leaders in the south who, for example, went from Georgia to Selma Alabama to fight injustice. JUSTICE KNOWS NO BOARDERS! Re-read your history liberal Oakland.
Imagine what the responce would have been to no whites at all or non-Oaklanders showing up to support justice in this case. The same liberals in the African American community who are freaking out about outside agitators, would be saying that knowbody cares what happens to blacks in Oakland. Which would be a worse situation?
Which brings me to point three.
3) A pre-planned media strategy
The Oakland Police Department, mayors office, and many non-profits including the Ella Baker Center, Youth Uprise, and others, sat down together and planned what they would say ahead of time. This "outside agitator" bit was among their talking points. Don't take my word for it though. Look it up yourself. Meeting announcements and outcomes have been posted here at Indybay. That makes them SNITCHES, which is too bad, because up to this shortsighted decisions by the leaders of these non-profits, they enjoyed to political support of the same white activists they turned on. What could motivate them to turn of the white activists of oakland and the Bay Area that have supported them for years ... why money of course.
What is even worse, is that because they preplanned their talking points WEEKS BEFORE PEOPLE EVEN TOOK TO THE STREETS, and were in lockstep with the police, and the mayors office, they overshadowed the African American community organizations and their white allies who have actually been working on this issue for a year and a half.
Ella Baker Center's statement about all this says "how do we build a real movement instead of a one off flash mob." Well, that starts with trust, which you broke. Furthermore, this was not a "one off flash mob," it is a movement for justice, in a context, which has been ongoing for some time, and will continue, so thank you Ella Baker Center for creating a false dichotomy.
An apology is surely in order. Though the white, black, inside and outside agitators would settle for you shutting up now, and going back to what ever desk you spend your time at when your not jumping on someone else organizing to screw.
by jw
Sunday Jul 11th, 2010 1:37 PM
Oaklander has some good points.

Here is some stuff to balance it though:

1. When I think of the damage done to Oakland, I mostly think of the damage done to the reputation of Oakland and of the people of color who live here and work for racial justice here. When young black people and elders give speech after impassioned speech warning about the fact that the white racist system WANTS to have an excuse to look on black people as violent, as senseless, as animals, maybe it's the better part of respect and solidarity to take them at their word, to credit their understanding of the complex reality that they have to live in. Maybe it's worth genuinely asking them how you can be the best ally to them. This is part of the humility that is required to unlearn white racism, which arrogantly assumes that it knows better than those poor people of color whose cause we're sure we're helping.

2. My comment on point two (about outside agitators) is related to my comment on point one. The situation in the South might have looked a lot different during the civil rights movement if white people had come in uninvited and started breaking windows on white churches all over the place. There is such a thing as solidarity, and there is such a thing as pouring gasoline on a fire, with the great likelihood that it won't be you that gets burned in the aftermath.

3. Local groups like Youth Uprising and Ella Baker have cred because what they're saying they say every day, and they back it up in action by working on the ground with the people they advocate for every day. Their talking points and desired outcomes were no secret. There's something kinda heady about being able to label everybody but your group as trusties and collaborators with the oppressors. I don't recommend it. It kinda leaves everybody with a hangover.

C U in the streets next time! Let's look for each other and talk!
by check yourself
Sunday Jul 11th, 2010 1:53 PM


Check yourself and get over your egos so we can come together and build a real movement!

We were lied to under the direction of CAPE and even folks who were recently arrested. Their egos were too big for the rooms we filled and many organizers felt talked down to and disrespected because there was no space for us to express our own strategies!

Good to see at least 3-4 of those so called leaders have now come around this time to VOICE THAT PROPERTY DESTRUCTION IS NOT VIOLENCE!


And how effective was that?

by sjmn
Sunday Jul 11th, 2010 3:32 PM
Don't miss this probably pre-drafted article, citing various historians. One thing to point out is that it shouldn't be called a black protest. Even Grant's friends were not all black.
History shows agitators can turn protests into violent mobs
by facts over rhetoric
Sunday Jul 11th, 2010 3:35 PM
White 125,013 31.3%
Black or African American 142,460 35.7%
American Indian and Alaska Native 2,655 0.7%
Asian 60,851 15.2% 56,374 15.6%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander 2,002 0.5%
Some other race 46,592 11.7%
Two or more races 19,911 5.0%

now the question is, why are all these Berkeley outside agitators living in Oakland? do they hold duel citizenship?

and of course we all know that those people liberating the air jordans and the hair extensions were most definitely outside agitators. most likely anarchists who are well known to covet such items
by Martin Luther King Jr.
Monday Jul 19th, 2010 11:57 PM
“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow provincial 'outside agitator' idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds." –Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail