Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Searching for Justice in Oakland

by JESSE STRAUSS

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.

JESSE STRAUSS was born and raised in Oakland. He is a producer for Flashpoints (www.flashpoints.net) on Pacifica Radio. Reach him at jstrauss (at) riseup.net.

 

WORDS THAT STICK

?

 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail