Report on the Speak-Out in Oakland following the Mehserle verdict

Report on the Speak-Out in Oakland following the Mehserle verdict

I joined many hundreds at a speak-out at Broadway and 14th St. from 6-8 PM the night of the manslaughter verdict in BART policeman Johannes Mehserle’s straight-out murder of Oscar Grant. The speak-out was organized by One Fam and the New Year’s Movement for Justice for Oscar Grant, and was done as an opportunity for young people to express their feelings at seeing yet another murder of a young black man by a police officer who is barely slapped on the wrist. (See video of press conference several days earlier, announcing the speak out.) The people were largely young people and older family members or older people who responded to a call to be present to protect the younger people from the police. There were a substantial number of younger white people.

You can see Bill Carpenter’s video of part of the speak-out here. You can also read a complete and non-sensational account of protest activities that evening here. This account is good because it describes the frustration people felt after the speak-out at being penned in by the police and not allowed the right to march, which would have been a reasonable expression of political outrage.

The speak-out itself took place in a very threatening situation. The stretch of Broadway between 12th and 14th Streets is an intersection of several major streets, and all of the streets were blocked off by formations of police in riot gear several rows deep. Police snipers looked down from the tops of the huge office buildings, and police helicopters circled overhead. In contrast, the atmosphere of the speak-out was very warm, with barely, barely contained rage at the system on one hand, and big support for the people, mostly young, who spoke and with hugs and profuse thanks to everyone for being there.

This is a report on what people said in their short turns at the microphone.

Virtually everyone gave their condolences to Oscar Grant’s family; many had some connection with the family or with Oscar himself.

Everyone was outraged that a killing of a young black man by a white policeman that was documented beyond any denial, and that was laced such obvious racism by some of the BART police should have been judged involuntary manslaughter, the least severe offence short of outright acquittal.

Virtually everyone said that the police and justice system were racist to the core, that there was no way minorities could get justice from the system, and that black and other minority young people were regularly killed by police with impunity.

Many said that only thing different about this case was that it was so completely documented and publicized, that nobody could deny or try to make us forget that this was a police killing of a black man who was lying down with his hands behind him with two police officer’s full weight on his back and neck. And still the police officer that shot him got only a slap on the wrist.

Some people pointed out that of all the police shootings in Oakland (45 reported between 2004-2008, 80% with black male victims) none had resulted in police being tried, let alone convicted, so there was a small victory in this verdict. People also expressed hope that a federal investigation would lead to federal charges against Mehserle.

Many people called for charges against ex-BART police Tony Pironi and Marysol Domenici, especially for Pironi’s role in (barely) leading police operations at Fruitvale BART that morning, in singling out and punching Oscar Grant as Grant tried to calm the other detainees as they sat along the wall prior to the shooting, and for his racist outbursts (“bitch-ass nigger”) shortly before the shooting, arguably the incitement leading Mehserle to murder Grant.

Several people spoke about how the mass incarceration of black youth was a slow form or police murder, and how the prison-like school system and lack of jobs was shuttling minority kids from school to prison.

Many people applauded when several speakers said that capitalism and racism were partners in crime, that they depended on each other, and that the only way to get rid of racism permanently was to get rid of capitalism.

Finally, on the subjects of violence and rebellion, which could not help but be foremost in peoples’ minds, there was a diversity of feelings.

Absolutely everyone agreed that tonight was NOT the night for violent rebellion. Oakland had assembled 6,000 police and tens of thousand National Guard and had been training them for weeks for tonight. People repeatedly warned about plainclothes police agents that would probably try to incite crowds to violence that night.

Some speakers said violence and rebellion were intrinsically bad, and for us to engage in violent rebellion would make us in as bad as them.

Some speakers said Oakland is our city, and please don’t trash it.

Many people said tonight was no night for rebellion, but we need to hold onto our anger and our determination, and keep coming back, coming back, demanding our rights, and not stop until we got them.

Other people said that although it was imperative to be cool tonight in view of the overwhelming odds against us, it’s also essential to remember that it was only the January rebellions that resulted in Mehserle being taken into custody and charged. Before the January rebellions, the City and BART police had dithered around doing nothing, allowing Mehserle to lay low, get his strategy together, and hope things cooled down.

Finally, to put this all in context, I’d like to print part of an IndyBay posting:

According to Oakland’s December 11, 2008 Citizens’ Police Review Board’s Policy Forum on Officer-Involved Shootings, an estimated 45 reported officer-involved shootings occurred from 2004-2008 in Oakland. Victims’ ages ranged from 16-50 years old; of these victims, 36 were African American males, 7 were Hispanic males, and the remaining 2 were an Asian male and an African American female. All of the shootings were “deemed to be in compliance with Departmental policy.” In 2008/2009 the Oakland City Attorney’s office paid out $3,755,698 for documented claims and lawsuits on police matters. These payouts were founded in claims and litigation about excessive police force and fatal/non-fatal police shootings. These claims do not reflect the thousands of complaints brought to the Oakland Police Department’s Internal Affairs Department, nor does it reflect experiences of harassment, violence and racism of residents at the hands of the police that go undocumented .

shortlink to this posting:

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