The spectacle, like modern society, is at once unified and divided. Like society, it builds its unity on the disjunction. But the contradiction, when it emerges in the spectacle, is in turn contradicted by a reversal of its meaning, so that the demonstrated division is unitary, while the demonstrated unity is divided.
It's been a decade since I walked down that particular stretch of MacArthur, along the foothills, near the Eastmont Mall. The only major change I could see happened years ago when the police station was installed where the old Mervyns used to be. The mall imploded because no one with any money came there anymore and all the big stores pulled out, leaving behind a lifeless shell, a testament to the inevitable failure of capitalism. It is now largely a social services hub, created as an afterthought once the money disappeared.
When I was a kid, the mall was a place to wander pointlessly and stare at the cheap commodities I couldn't buy. Sometimes people got beat up or shot outside the mall and I knew I had to be very careful whenever I was outside. One summer, a drug lab burnt down at the top of 73rd and sent large plumes of black smoke into the sky over the mall. Back then, I knew an old Pakistani man who went on short walks with a large wooden dowel. He did this to protect himself after some kids mugged him one evening. Nearby where he got mugged, people got high on the hill above Buena Ventura Avenue and looked down and out towards the cemetery, the grid of East Oakland, and the Coliseum. This is the same neighborhood where I first saw the police kill someone and where Lovelle Mixon had his shootout with the police.
I walked down MacArthur and noticed that nothing much had changed. There was a new skatepark by the school and a healthy food court for the students. Otherwise everything was exactly as I remembered it. While I've seen West Oakland and downtown change dramatically, filling with money and condos, this particular corner of East Oakland didn't feel any different. Eastmont is too far from the bridge, too far from BART, and has too large a history of rebellion, drugs, and violence for any potential investors. The economic colonization took place elsewhere, leaving the neighborhood as it was. The only difference, as I said, was the police station, standing nearly two stories above the surrounding houses, looking like a military outpost in the ungovernable edge of Oakland.
With silence not only will our history vanish, but, most certainly, the nightmare will be repeated, and other mothers will be made of stone, and they will travel to all corners, above and below, saying, shouting, demanding justice. The executioners are celebrating their impunity (and their impunity is not just that they have no punishment, it is also that the disappeared continue to be disappeared), but also the silence. Nonetheless, not everyone forgets.
-Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
In 2007, I returned to Oakland and attended the funeral of Gary King. He was shot in the back by an OPD officer and then left handcuffed on the cement to die. This happened three blocks south of the school building where Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton first met, along the edge of the Berkeley border. At the funeral, I grew so sickened at the preacher that I walked out of the church rather than disturb the family by screaming at him. Just before I left, the preacher told Gary King's friends that to act on their anger would be to betray their friend. I knew of no active resistance to the police at the time and stepped out of the church onto Telegraph Avenue feeling empty and filled with sadness. Gary King was quickly forgotten by the media and the OPD continued their reign of terror.
Over a year later, Oscar Grant was killed in a similarly brutal fashion. The only difference between his murder and that of Gary King was the simple fact of its mass-diffusion through the internet. Thousands of people were able to see the arbitrary and horrible reality of state murder and hundreds of them felt compelled to act upon their anger. But eventually, the family and the clergy disowned and condemned the rage, retreating back to the safety of the same law and order that had killed Oscar. They wanted orderly demonstrations and peace with the authorities, all in the misguided hope that something would make the OPD stop killing young black men.
Between then and now, much has happened. Oakland became a locus of rebellion throughout the course of the occupation movement and has continued to hold onto the energy that came with it. Despite all this, when a young black man named Alan Blueford was recently murdered by the OPD, it was made clear once again that the police still operate with impunity. Within this same context, Johannes Mehserle is demanding his job back as a police officer. Anger is what caused Mehserle to be arrested and jailed, but it is calmness and peace that is consistently demanded by the families of the dead and the groups that claim to support them.
In a sense, anarchist intervention is the tightrope between living our own struggle in our daily lives and finding the ways to connect this struggle with the struggles of all the exploited, most of whom do not share our conscious perspectives, a connection that is necessary if we are to move in the direction of social insurrection and revolution. A misstep in one direction turns our struggle in on itself, transforming it into an individual radical hedonism without any social relevance. A misstep in the other direction turns it into just another political party (whatever name one might give it to hide this fact) vying for control of social struggle.
On May 6th, Alan Blueford was shot multiple times by an unnamed OPD officer. The officer also shot himself while attempting to kill Alan. The police initially reported that the officer had exchanged fire with the young man and that they had found a gun, but subsequently the OPD admitted that the officer had shot himself. While Alan was left to die on the ground for four hours, the officer was rushed to the hospital. Alan Blueford was an 18 year old student at Skyline High school.
On May 12th, a group of around 200 people converged at the intersection of Birch Street and 92nd Avenue, the place where Alan was killed. After taking over the intersection, the group marched towards the Eastmont Mall. Along the way people chanted and yelled slogans like "OPD's the enemy" and "lock up Mehserle." A small segment of the marchers walked down the opposite lane of traffic stopping cars and handing out informational fliers while the others marched together in a large mass. A wide cross section of groups were present at the march, including the Black Riders, people from the Uhuru House, and people affiliated with Occupy Oakland, among other respective groups.
The mass eventually arrived at the Eastmont police station and ascended the parking lot ramp to the front doors. Once there, a large segment of the march began yelling at and flipping off the police cowering inside, taping fliers to the walls, and banging on the glass doors. For a moment, it felt as if all the anger clearly boiling over in minds of the young people who had attended the march would break the mold of acceptable protest and dialogue. It felt like a siege, a moment of rebellion against the militarized gang that patrolled East Oakland. And then, much to my horror, various men began to yell at the group to step away from the doors. When I first heard this command, I assumed it was a cop. When I looked up to see who it was, I saw that it was some of the people who had called for and helped organize the march.
These men invoked the wishes of the family for a peaceful protest in order to coax the others away from their anger. Less than a week after Alan was shot, no one would willfully or consciously act against the desires of the family. I stepped back from the doorway, remembering how often the will of a bereaved family was used to pacify prior rebellions. The family began to speak out against what had happened, crying through the megaphone, yelling, vocalizing their despair and confusion. But while all this was happening, a man began talking to a cop who poked his head out of the door. Rather than immediately tell the cop to get away from him or react to this disrespectful showing from the OPD, this man shook the cops hand and introduced him to members of the family. My disgust began to increase when this same man started guarding the door, his hands crossed over his chest, displaying all the appearances and functions of a cop. While the family continued to rage over the megaphone, the cops inside worked their dark magic, pitting people against each other and plotting on how to effectively put down this rebellion against them before it even started.
Freedom is a difficult, unknown concept. It is a painful one, yet it is peddled as something beautiful, sweet, reposing. Like a dream so far off that it makes us feel good, like all the things that, being far off, constitute hope and faith, a belief.
-Alfredo Maria Bonanno
I dwelled on these events for the next few days, trying to understand the problem. There is enough clear and glaring proof that the authorities will do nothing to either prevent these murders or restrain the police. But nevertheless, the same pattern of demanding justice replicated itself once more on May 15th inside the Oakland City Hall when the family came to speak in front of the City Council.
The immediate family of Alan Blueford spoke at length, telling the council the details of the life that the OPD had liquidated. Some of the council had visible tears in their eyes, undoubtedly brought on by an urge to appear human for the cameras. Council-member De La Fuente chewed gum while the family explained how the police had told them to sit down, shut up, and wait in the lobby for the news that their son was dead. They told the council of how the police lied about Alan shooting their officer and how the OPD immediately told the media about a gun-battle that had never taken place. They demanded the truth from the council and the OPD and they demanded that it be made public.
When some of the family tried to formulate what they would like the council to do about the police, the most they could awkwardly ask for was "more training or something." Throughout the entirety of their speaking, the family continued to ask the council for help. When they were done speaking, De La Fuente mumbled some vague words about the City Manager getting the truth from the OPD, continued to chew his gum, and moved on to the next item. People filed out of City Hall and into Oscar Grant Plaza, not knowing what to do but knowing something had to happen.
For a commune, self-defense must must be a collective fact, as much practical as theoretical. Preventing arrest, gathering quickly and in large numbers against eviction attempts and sheltering one of our own, will not be superfluous reflexes in coming times. We cannot ceaselessly reconstruct our bases from scratch. Let's stop denouncing repression and instead prepare to meet it.
-The Invisible Committee
Put simply, people must be discouraged from asking the authorities for anything, especially justice. The only practical way to accomplish this is to be able provide a counter-force, not an alternative. We are not dispensers of justice, we are enemies of authority. The only thing we could do for these families is to undermine the police to such a degree that they would never think of murdering anyone again out of fear of what would happen. That is currently not the case in Oakland and the OPD still believe they can murder young men with impunity. Beyond this, Johannes Mehserle is demanding that his record be expunged and that he be able to become a cop once again. This is more than an insult, it is a provocation. It is no surprise that anger is the first thing to be destroyed by the authorities, the clergy, and the politicians. There is a tremendous amount of anger currently waiting to be released.
In East Oakland, the police attempt to control a volatile area where there is much anti-social violence and social cannibalism. The police use the existence of this violence to justify their own existences, despite the fact that the majority of their activity consists of jailing people for petty crimes and increasing the prison and jail population. Whenever there is antagonism towards the police, this social cannibalism must be kept in mind. As everyone saw during the experience of the Oakland Commune, the authorities utilized this type of anti-social violence to legitimate their efforts to destroy the autonomous area. If we are to ever succeed in creating a more substantial autonomous area, one that significantly nullifies the functions of the police and government, we will still have to contend with the social cannibalism that capitalist society has promoted in the population for decades.
The victims of police violence only beg the authorities for help because they have either invested too much energy in the system the authorities maintain or because there is simply no other imaginable option. We must make the un-imaginable real and prove that it can exist outside of authority and control. Our goal is to encourage disdain towards the authorities and promote the total neutralization of the police through autonomous means. Everything that I have related in this article can only point towards the problem and offer a glimpse of how it can be tackled. The Oakland Commune has already realized the microcosm of the autonomous power necessary to defeat the police.
I don't want to ever see this police terror strike again. I want the victims of police violence to know that there are hundreds and thousands of people ready to help them push back against the police just as there has been in past. Let us all remember to channel our anger together and direct it towards those who deserve it, not each other.