No Justice, Just Us.

**Hey folks, this is a hot topic with a lot of feelings attached to it. Take some time to check out the links (highlighted in orange) to see more media surrounding these issues.**

Thursday, July 9th, was a heavy day for Oakland, California. After less than 6 hours of deliberation, the jury from the Johannes Mehserle trial, the BART officer who shot and killed unarmed passenger, Oscar Grant, in the back (click for video), came back with a verdict: involuntary manslaughter. While this is not a complete acquittal, it was not the justice that the Grant family or people around the Bay Area were calling for. Folks started gathering at 14th and Broadway in Downtown Oakland as soon as it was clear that a verdict had been reached. As it was announced, anger and disappointment were apparent and the call went out to rally and speak on the issues and feelings directly related to this case. For two hours, from 6pm to 8pm, people of Oakland and the Bay Area spoke to remember Oscar Grant, condemned the actions of the police, called for the community to organize, encouraged young people to learn their rights and know the laws and pleaded for all of those assembled to respect the wishes of the Grant family with non-violent protests. Unfortunately, vandalism and looting became the lead story in the media and as the sun set, the rally ended and emotional open wounds festered. Crowds continued to stand in the street, chanting, playing instruments and expressing frustrations at the lines of riot police. Soon, bottles were thrown at cops and the people moved in the manner of a stampede. Organizers of the rally quickly interceded reminding everyone that the purpose of the takeover on Broadway was to call for justice, not to cause destruction in Oakland. This is how the situation turned from a peaceful protest to unrest.

The anger was evident and palpable, but the violence (perpetrated by looters and by the police) against our city was ignorant. For weeks, there has been hype in the press that on the day the verdict came down, riots would occur. That didn’t happen. There is a difference between what happened last night, July 8th 2010, and what happened on January 7th, 2009. Referred to as an Uprising or Revolt, the ‘riot’ in January was a direct response from citizens to the silence from people in positions of power. After the world became familiar with the Fruitvale BART station through youtube, Mayor Ron Dellums, D.A. Tom Orloff and the BART Police department had NOTHING to say about the death of Oscar Grant for SEVEN days. One week after the killing, people decided to rally and make their voices heard. This video shows the intentions of organizers at the Fruitvale rally in 2009 to get some sort of action from authority figures before Mehserle resigned. They knew his resignation meant he could not be questioned further by BART officials. Some factions of the protests called for a march on the BART headquarters (which was NOT endorsed by the organizers) and that led to the riots/uprising/revolt. Don’t get it twisted, violence is never a positive solution, but afterwards one woman was quoted saying, “Windows can be replaced, our babies can’t.”

Last night, Oakland was hurting. The Mehserle trial was the first time in California history that an on-duty police officer had been charged with murder. The response from the people in January, 2009, helped, in part, to bring about these charges with hope for justice for an unarmed man who did not deserve to lose his life. Unfortunately, burning cars, broken windows and arrests were all that was seen by the national media. By the end of last night, Oakland was again portrayed as a city out of control. KCBS breaks down the people arrested for unlawfully assembly, vandalism and assaulting police officers. Over 75% of those arrested for violence weren’t even from our town. Oakland wasn’t out of control, we were caught in the middle. The property damage last night was not a representation of those who cared about the issues raised by Oscar Grant’s death. It was a display of disrespect by opportunists and agitators.

4 Square of the East Bay takes a deep interest in this case because, not only do we play our weekly game at a BART Station, but also because our gathering retakes and repurposes public space. It is paramount to the well-being of our square that we create a safe environment for people to have fun and express themselves in a playful manner. While Rockridge is a far-cry from Fruitvale, we understand the importance for citizens of our city to feel that sense of safety wherever they go. Sadly, one of the things that makes Oaklanders, especially Oaklanders of color, feel unsafe is the attitudes of the police as they patrol the city. This must read article by Chela Simone speaks of the experiences of a black person growing up in Oakland, relating to the police and how the Mehserle trial has affected attitudes towards the justice system. Having fun is no longer an option if the area in which you play is unsafe, when you cannot trust those who are supposed to keep you safe. For some people, the outcome of the Mehserle trial seems like it sets a precedent for police around the country to shoot first and never ask questions. While the media was prepping the city for riots from protesters, protesters feared violence from the riot cops steadily boxing them in on all sides. This fear is ever present in the lives of people who look like Oscar Grant. It is important for our entire community to come together and help banish this fear from our everyday lives by building positive relationships and speaking out on issues that go against our conscience. For this reason, 4SEB takes up the message that WE ARE ALL OSCAR GRANT, and our lives matter. We want justice and action, but we also want safety and peace. We must work together with our city and community in mind to make this happen.

In spite of all the action Downtown, 4 Square did happen on Thursday night. Smiles were exchanged and games were played. We weren’t afraid to show up and be ourselves. Players were Rachel, Lee, Robert, Mars, Sam, Kendall, Caroline, Uriah, Monk, Jordan, Phil, Angie, Liz, Gabby, Daniel, Parker, Sheer, Jared, Sonia, Austin, Xago, Simón, John, Isaac, Charlie, Ariel, Jerome, Casey, Pete and Michelle. 4 Square Challenges were called and won by Robert, Jordan, Sam and Lee.

The night ended with Lee taking his second elimination win in as many weeks. Congrats!

Lastly, 4SEB wants to invite those of you who are interested in moving forward on the issues surrounding Oscar Grant’s death to the meeting that is happening next Thursday at 7:30 at the Continental Club in West Oakland. Let’s make change together, cuz if we don’t, nobody will. We love you Oakland, stay smart, sane and savvy.

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3 Responses to “No Justice, Just Us.”

  1. Bill Wong Says:

    Excellent post. Well stated with passion & reason.

  2. Very well written. Not sure about blaming the police for people getting violent. There is no power in blaming, I’m assuming you think there would have been no violence if they were not there? I can only imagine.

  3. […] of Jefferson Square Park! 4SEB also commented on issues happening in our community, covering the aftermath of the Johannes Mehserle verdict in downtown Oakland and giving folks a unique perspective on Oakland’s Mayoral […]

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