Searching for Justice as Oakland Streets Turn Lawless

Searching for Justice as Oakland Streets Turn Lawless

by Jesse Strauss

check out yesterday’s radio show to get a blow by blow account of what happened on the streets of Oakland the night of the verdict

http://kpfa.org/archive/id/62458

As the Oakland community begins to understand the meaning of Johannes Mehserle’s involuntary manslaughter verdict, the streets exploded angrily last night.

Mehserle is the former BART cop who killed Oscar Grant on New Year’s morning, 2009. As Grant was lying face down on a BART platform, Mehserle stood up, grabbed his firearm, aimed down, and shot Grant. Mehserle’s next action was to handcuff the wounded 22 year old father before calling for any kind of medical assistance. Oscar Grant was killed that morning, but the Oakland community will never forget his name.

Yesterday at 4pm, an LA courthouse announced the jury’s verdict, that Mehserle killed Grant with “criminal negligence”, receiving the charge of involuntary manslaughter. From what I understand at the time of this writing, the verdict could mean that Oscar Grant’s killer will serve anywhere from two to fourteen years in jail.

It’s clear, though, that the Oakland community does not consider the conviction strong enough. Speaker after speaker at the 6pm rally in downtown Oakland told the crowd of at least a thousand that they were disappointed with the verdict. Many folks spoke out about their feelings in different ways, but no one seemed comfortable with what had happened.

At the same time, no one seemed uncomfortable by the huge amount of support given by the larger Bay Area. What many sources have called “outside agitators”, many people in the streets last night recognized as community support.

While we think about the mainstream narrative of “outsiders”, it seems important to keep in mind that Oscar Grant himself lived in Hayward, and Mehserle was not an Oakland cop, but a BART officer, which meant his jurisdiction spanned across a range of cities throughout the Bay Area. Oakland simply and justifiably is at the center of this action.

The inside agitators, which are mostly Oaklanders (although I did see some people from Berkeley, Hayward and Vallejo), clearly played a strong role in the community response to the verdict. As the formal rally came to a close at 8pm as organizers were ordered to shut it down by the city, it became clear that the police forces, whether Oakland cops, California Highway Patrol, or others from nearby cities, were excited and ready to use their new training and equipment on the people who came out to voice their opinions.

Once the rally ended, at least two people had already been arrested, but it was fully unclear to any of us witnessing the events what prompted those arrests. Only a few minutes later, I was told that a block away a Footlocker’s windows were broken and its contents ransacked by community members. When I arrived there, I watched some young people grab shoes in the store and run out before two others blocked the entrance, telling others that justice for Oscar Grant does not look like what we were seeing.

But what does justice look like?

As I walked away from Footlocker, I saw freshly sprayed graffiti covering windows and businesses with statements like “Justice 4 Oscar Grant” and “Off The Pigs”. Continuing down the street, I saw protesters running in any direction they could find to avoid confrontations with police, who were slowly marching up Broadway Avenue in Downtown Oakland.

Then the shattering started. Much of the next few hours became a blur. I watched numerous windows at the downtown Oakland Sears fall to the ground as someone lit small fireworks nearby. Sirens echoed in every direction and police announced that the gatherings were illegal and we would be arrested and possibly “removed by force which could cause serious bodily injury”. Minutes later, the wind carried a draft of pepper spray toward me as I walked by three large flaming dumpsters in the middle of Telegraph Avenue.

In the midst of all the action I searched for some kind of organization—some kind of unified goal or idea of justice. The community is angry, and there is no correct platform to address that anger. For those who are sure that Mehserle should be charged with a crime stronger than involuntary manslaughter, the legal approach did not work.

While leadership and organization seemed to have flown out the window, it did seem that the rebellions were much more calculated than those just after Grant’s murder, as most of the broken windows were concentrated at corporate giants like Footlocker and Starbucks. The strongest piece of organization I witnessed in Oakland’s streets last night were the groups of people preventing attacks on local businesses.

The police came in as a close second. They didn’t seem to know how to deal with what was going on, but they would march in formation down a street, only to watch new trash cans light up and windows shatter another block down. While they may have been organized within their small army, officers had no idea how to deal with the realities of last night. In fact, it became clear to me that they made Oakland’s streets very unsafe.

As I walked from Telegraph to Broadway on Grand Avenue, first watching a Starbucks window broken and then that of a sushi restaurant, I realized the night was getting out of hand for everyone. Trying to stay connected with some sort of normality and step away from the crazy streets, I called a friend. As soon as my conversation was over I looked down at my phone to hang up. Then a hand came out of nowhere, perhaps over my shoulder, and grabbed the phone. I tried to hold onto it until I was startled and disoriented by a fist slamming into my eye and I let the phone disappear as blood began dripping from just above my left eyelid.

But where were the police to respond to a robbery and assault in the middle of a major intersection in downtown Oakland? They were clearly not making it safe for me to be in that space, and it is still unclear who or what they made it safe for. The person or people who have the phone and gave me a black eye and some possible medical bills were not crazy and violent Oaklanders that need to be policed to help or save people like me. These were people who took advantage of a lawless space that our law enforcement officers created themselves.

The night started with people moving and becoming angry (or angrier) because police declared a peaceful gathering in the street to be illegal. Windows were broken because people were angry and moving quickly down the streets with nowhere to voice their anger safely.

Hours later, I’m lying in bed with a black eye and a gash above my eyelid. I can only imagine how my night would have ended if the police hadn’t declared the peaceful gathering illegal and created a sense of lawlessness in Oakland’s streets.

This is not justice for Oscar Grant. But what is? From the Grant’s murder to those of us who were endangered by police last night, law enforcement needs to be held accountable to the communities they serve. That at least seems like a good starting point.

———

Born and raised in Oakland, Jesse Strauss is a producer for Flashpoints (www.flashpoints.net) on Pacifica Radio. His articles have been published on Truthout, Common Dreams, CounterPunch, Consortium News, and other sources. Reach him at jstrauss (at) riseup.net.

check out yesterday’s radio show to get a blow by blow account of what happened on the streets of Oakland the night of the verdict

http://kpfa.org/archive/id/62458

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLy25lOggJQ

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Comments

  1. You want protection from the same police you are attacking during a riot? Good luck with that.

    I don’t want to say you got what you deserved because no one deserves to be hurt but you don’t deserve any sympathy.

    You can pretend there was an organized attempt to target chains but more likely Starbucks & Sears & Footlocker were attacked because they simply didn’t board up their window. Tell your “targeting” corporate giants bs to the small coffee shop owner & the jewelry shop owner who will have to scrounge up the deductible for their insured damaged storefronts.

  2. Isn’t it now time to focus this much needed unity attention to the imminent murders perpetuated by our own brothers and sisters against each other in our own communities. Or is this just another reason to self-destruct and lash out without cause and return to “normal” in a couple weeks?

  3. Jerrold Trice says:

    I have heard the phrase, “We need to hold them accountable” many times in situations like these. In fact, it is all I really hear coming from the PEOPLE when those in charge abuse their power. With all due respect, and not trying to be sarcastic or anything, but how do we do that? Is there an historical example that someone can point to that will help me understand? Can anyone break it down to me so I’ll be clear what it means and how it’s done? Because, with all due respect, I think “Holding them accountable,” is way past due.

  4. Jerrold Trice says:

    Oh…forgot…I appreciate you being out there Davey D to report what happened first hand! We need more soldiers like you!!!

  5. @Anders Apparently you can’t read correctly. If so, you would have noticed, he said he was looking for protection from the ones that are paid to “protect and serve” the law abiding citizens, and those that are victimized which was happening to him. At that moment, a person’s life is much more important than a building or it’s contents. He was being robbed, and punched, while trying to leave the chaos, which is the police job is to protect the lives of people first..
    This in itself show the priority of the police, and that their had to be “outside agitators” to make the peaceful citizens of Oakland look as they were eventually going to act like animals, which was farthest from the truth if the police had acted in a professional manner from the start.
    If the people of Oakland had intentions of rioting because of their anger against the verdict against Johannes Mehserle it would have started immediately. They would not have waited until the end of the rally.
    Thank you Davey D for giving us the real insight to the aftermath of the verdict of the murder of Oscar Grant. I’m sorry you had to endure the robbery and pain for reporting the real story. But you did a great job!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Searching for Justice as Oakland Streets Turn Lawless (via Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner-(The Blog)) Posted on July 10, 2010 by Davey D Searching for Justice as Oakland Streets Turn Lawless by Jesse Strauss check out yesterday's radio show to get a blow by blow account of what happened on the streets of Oakland the night of the verdict http://kpfa.org/archive/id/62458 As the Oakland community begins to understand the meaning of Johannes Mehserle’s involuntary manslaughter verdict, the streets exploded angrily last night. Mehserle is the former BART cop who killed Oscar Grant on N … Read More […]

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