As I write this there are no less than 6 helicopters circling overhead in downtown Oakland. On the first day of the 10th year since Amadou Diallo was brutally gunned down by police in New York City, Oscar Grant was fatally shot in the back by a BART police officer, and the event was caught on video.
As I write this, rumors are flying and media is fanning the riot flames - car and trash fires, police in riot gear and tanks, restaurant windows being smashed, tear gas and rubber bullets being used. We won’t know the full picture till the night is over and the smoke clears, but the story of the successful nonviolent protest earlier this evening has been overshadowed by this angry chaos.
What is absolutely clear is that folks are furious about the murder of Oscar Grant, furious that a week has passed with no statement or acknowledgment of what happened. What is clear is that we currently don’t have community accountability over our police here in Oakland. In this bubble of progress we are hampered by the same brutal power dynamics that plague the rest of the nation. Racially driven policing that allows the use of lethal weapons in the pursuit of justice is a failed model.
What we need:
- we need police to be accountable when they participate in brutality against us. In this situation, BART police should have issued a statement acknowledging what we all saw, including an apology from Johannes Mehserle, the officer who pulled his gun and shot Grant in the back. There also needs to be a transparent process for the officers involved to be charged and held accountable for what happened. Otherwise, this is just another brick in the wall between police and the communities they are paid to protect.
- we need community justice processes that allow us to address moments of tension and unrest without the lethal presence of police. In Detroit, Ron Scott and others are working actively on Peace Zones, where the community comes together to assess community crises and mete out restorative steps for the guilty party. They are not the only ones piloting this model.
- In addition, if police hope to gain our respect and trust in their process, they need to commit to disarming themselves of lethal weapons immediately, and learn the skills of negotiation and community engagement. There is a BART board meeting TOMORROW Thursday, Jan. 8, 9 a.m., at the Kaiser Center, Third Floor - they need to hear our voices.
- We need ongoing supported focus on police brutality and accountability, even as we develop our own peace zones. It’s no longer sufficient to get furious when a civilian is killed by police, and maintain that fury until the officers are acquitted or resign. For the past 10 years it has been nearly impossible to get sustained support for this kind of work from the foundation world, so as organizers we have to sustain this work in other more community-based ways. I definitely want to shout out The Gathering, who have picked up this unpopular issue as it relates to juvenile justice, with the commitment of Harry Belafonte - they are joining the Oakland community for actions next week. I have also heard that Uhuru will be hosting a meeting tomorrow evening to discuss accountability and healing.
- we need to express our gratitude to groups like Community Justice Network for Youth (CJNY), who identified the gaping hole that exists in the non-profit and organizing community of Oakland in terms of police accountability work. CJNY stepped up in a major way for today’s nonviolent action, but they can’t maintain this effort on their own. Bay Area groups who focus their work on young people of color, this political moment needs you.
- And I know I am biased by the perspective of working at The Ruckus Society, but we need to engage in the deep training and skill development around pulling off large scale strategic direct actions. There are ways to pull together mass actions in a short time period that gain media, build the power of our positions, and help the community to see and understand the situation and how they can get involved. Over the past few months organizers from directly impacted communities - Bay Area immigrant youth and a multi-racial LGBTQ coalition - have successfully shut down the ICE headquarters building and protested Prop 8 in downtown San Francisco using affinity groups, action teams, brilliant blockading tactics, and police and media liaisons. Those actions were planned and pulled off in VERY short amounts of time, and Ruckus is definitely not the only group that does this sort of skill building. Most importantly, in terms of tonight’s events, there are also ways to de-escalate situations, even when people who aren’t directly impacted by oppression start losing their composure.
We know how to do this, and must apply that knowledge, or risk losing all credibility in terms of our demands for peace.
At this moment, as Mayor Ron Dellums meets with protesters, and the Oakland Police Department hold a long overdue press conference, we must not sink to the reactive and chaotic level of Officer Mehserle. This is our moment to unite behind a nonviolent call for transparency, accountability and justice from Oakland Police Department. We must model the community we wish to be.