The rally began peacefully at three p.m., for two hours people slowly filed in and gathered around a small circle of people who took turns with the microphone calling for justice, promoting their silly spoken word, praising their god or tearfully recounting the litany of names that have fell before Oscar Grant. The crows grew restless and many young Anarchist from nearby Berkeley milled about. Each time a rabble rouser dared touch the mic another speaker would immediately snatch it back and tell the crowd there was no need for emotions! There was no need to get that upset or for things to turn ugly. I stood about ten feet away snapping pictures and watching the mood shift and change. The tired old chants start up then quickly fade away.
I looked up at the balconies where undercover cops snapped their own pictures of the protesters. The helicopters circled above, many of them from the local news that also swarmed the crowd inward and outward. Their seemed at first to be more people there with cameras than without. I took a back seat moved closer to a wall and struck up a conversation with one of the few people there who also live in the neighborhood. A young black man like me, who had simply come from the dentist office and ran into this steadily growing protest, we commented on how we had never seen this many white people in the neighborhood and how we hoped it wouldn’t come to more than just talk. Little did we know that it would be these young white kids that would bring about some of the change we desired?
At the point when I thought I could stand no more spoken word promotion, the call was given to take the protest to the streets and march to somewhere. Those around me had no clue as to where, but we were tired of standing and listening and were ready to move. A large procession headed down International Boulevard towards downtown Oakland. Waving signs and banners and stopping traffic. The police were ready and within seconds five police cars were slowly trailing the procession. They blocked off side streets as to keep us from taking it to the residential neighborhoods that bordered the main drag. We walked and walked with no seeming direction, the destination was passed through the crowd like your usual game of telephone. No one seemed to be sure of where we were going. Every couple of blocks it felt as though the cops had blocked the path, then we would proceed. Until corralled to a side street, one with less traffic parallel to our unknown destination. Someone in the front of the pack must have had an idea of where we were going but I was at the tell end with the elderly and my fiancé.
We talked and discussed the events that brought all of us strangers to this point in the middle of the road. The injustice suffered by Oakland citizens for so long, and the history of civil unrest that famed the city so long ago intertwined. I was introduced to a woman claiming to be the first female Black Panther. We talked about Oscar Grant, Bill Clinton, and Malcolm X’s speech writer. Before we knew it we were downtown and several children who had joined us somewhere around The Jack in the Box and The Polo Loco had begun to randomly smash the windows of a police car. Within an instant they were on top of the car, and then after each window had been removed they attempted to overturn the car. As they were busying themselves with the task, some of the young Berkeley Anarchist decided to light a fire in a small dumpster and roll it near the patrol car. This is when the peaceful march finally turned up the adrenaline. In came the police in full riot gear, far quicker than one might expect. My first thought is that the initial agitators where somehow undercover officers. It wouldn’t surprise me.
The crowd I witnessed from three to five at the Fruitvale station was not organized enough to start a riot. It could have been the kids that joined off the street. Earlier they had run into a store and knocked over items and stole a hand full of Slim Jims. Things were moving fast by then I had no time to think I tried my best to snap off a few pictures, of which none came out clear enough. I missed the shots I waited all day for and my fiancé was screaming my name for me to run. The tear gas canisters started popping off and I saw a young girl on her ten speeds get popped in the arm with one. To my right another young girl was screaming as two police officers pulled her arms in separate directions as if in a make shift drawn and quartering. I saw a few of the Berkeley kids against the side of a church caught like dears in proverbial headlights.
The cops were yelling it was time to go home as the crowd scattered. I decided for once they were right. I had no idea those that managed to escape the initial burst of violence would go on to create more havoc. Though, I suspect when they ran into the usual contention of thuggish teens that spend their nights on the streets downtown that things extrapolated. Once home the evening news showed a few bike riders and protesters survived long enough to draw out the city’s mayor.There was no need for much of the store front smashing; Oakland is poor and rundown enough. Though as someone who arbors driving I applaud the old fashion SUV torching. I regret sadly that I went the other way now. I would have loved to witness the destruction first hand. It had been a while since I smelled tear gas however and I quickly remembered that I didn’t miss it.Throughout the early morning I searched the internet for news and posted my pictures at various sites. I thought over the events from 3’o’clock onward and wondered how things would have been had the protesters been better organized.
How much damage could they have done with a leader? Though, I stand firm with my belief that police informants and outside instigators played a bigger part than actual concerned citizens. I do not deny the fact that ha not the event turned violent the story never would have made it past the second page of the local papers. Because of the violence more people are aware of what is happening here. And while the internet is a haven for closet racist to voice their opinions on message boards and forums. They leave angry comments on You Tube and newspaper columns saying that blacks and Latinos deserve the abysmal treatment given to them by the police assigned to protect and serve the community. The point is often lost that a human being (many human beings) has lost his (their) life to a corrupt and unjust system that is more inclined to shoot first and cover up the evidence later. This is not an isolated incident.
Those kids that joined in and later attacked the cop car did so out of frustration over what the police state they found themselves born into, the inequity of not just the American criminal justice system, but the system in Greece, China, Gaza, and across the world. There is no excuse for violence some claim, but when confronted with violence on a daily basis how, do you combat that with words and slogans and peace? Fire is sometimes only fought with fire. These children are out gunned and outnumbered and they react like anyone would when cornered in such a fashion. You can have your opinion about how to deal with the situation, but as you debate others react. The events of January 7th in Oakland are only a brief glimpse of the turmoil that simmer underneath the surface. We sit comfortably in our homes now hidden behind monitors that and television screens that shield us from the realities that most of these people live with everyday. I live in this neighborhood; I see them every day I could have easily been Oscar Grant a few years ago. I consider myself lucky to have only spent a few months behind bars; many black men my age have been incarcerated since they were the age of the kids jumping up and down on the cop cars.
There are many problems seething in the underbelly of cities across this nation that Barack Obama’s election will not solve. There is no appeasement for the years of injustice. A man executed by police in the way that Oscar Grant was should not be simply tolerated, riots should be held from coast to coast. The world should be outraged. It shouldn’t even matter what color his skin was, it should matter that a human being was killed in the manner that he was. It should anger everyone that the investigation has moved so slowly, and that the officer who shot him was allowed to sit at home and resign and not face questioning. Over a week later the man has yet to answer a single question from any source. This is appalling, and there are no excuses for that. Even if the shooting was a mistake which I do not believe it was, he should have still been made to answer at least one question. Have we become so complacent in the loss of our basic human rights that we can find no reason to be angry in this? People are dying around the planet and we all need to stand up before the only people left are the police.
Now playing: Talking Heads – I Zimbra