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‘Operation Small Axe’ highlights resistance in Oakland’s occupied territories

October 30, 2009

by Dave Id

Minister of Information JR and his partner in filmmaking Angela Carroll presented their flick, “Operation Small Axe,” at the 43rd reunion of the Black Panther Party at Laney College, on Oct. 24. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
Minister of Information JR and his partner in filmmaking Angela Carroll presented their flick, “Operation Small Axe,” at the 43rd reunion of the Black Panther Party at Laney College, on Oct. 24. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
“If you are a big tree, let me tell you that we are the small axe, sharp and ready to cut you down.” – Bob Marley

The new short film, “Operation Small Axe,” by Prisoners of Conscience Committee Minister of Information JR Valrey, debuted in October as an official selection at the Eighth Oakland International Film Festival with screenings at Merritt College, Jack London Cinema and the Uptown. The short has been shown at other venues as close as the Rock Paper Scissors Gallery in Oakland to as far away as Cape Town, South Africa.

Plans are in the works for it to be shared with audiences across California as part of a speaking tour sponsored by the San Francisco Bay View newspaper which will feature Oscar Grant’s Uncle Bobby – Cephus Johnson – and Jack Bryson. The film will also be featured during the Nov. 7-13 speaking tour by POCC Chairman Fred Hampton Jr., headlined “You Can Kill a Revolutionary but You Can’t Kill the Revolution,” to mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of his father, the legendary Fred Hampton, head of the largest chapter of the Black Panther Party, in Chicago.

“Operation Small Axe” takes a raw and unflinching look at life under police terrorism in Oakland, drawing parallels with the struggles against oppression in Palestine and South Africa. Through the stories of Oscar Grant and Lovelle Mixon, the film focuses on the occupation of Oakland’s communities of color by militarized and racist police forces.

Oscar Grant was shot in the back and killed by Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle on January 1st of this year. On March 21, Lovelle Mixon was killed by Oakland police after having allegedly shot five OPD officers, killing four.

Overwhelming force is used by the state to maintain its oppressive regime, as documented in the film, but the state has other tools at its disposal as well. The use of agent provocateurs within a movement to disrupt popular uprisings is examined in the film. Particular attention is paid to one such accused agent prominently involved in early Oscar Grant protests.

Minister of Information JR was the very next speaker after Panthers cofounder Bobby Seale at the 43rd anniversary of the Black Panther Party at Laney College in Oakland. Instead of Bobby Seale, in today's times it is Minister of Informiation JR who is facing politically trumped up charges. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
Minister of Information JR was the very next speaker after Panthers cofounder Bobby Seale at the 43rd anniversary of the Black Panther Party at Laney College in Oakland. Instead of Bobby Seale, in today's times it is Minister of Informiation JR who is facing politically trumped up charges. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
It is the people’s resistance to occupying forces, though, that is the driving theme behind the film, be it through independent media such as JR Valrey’s Block Report Radio or street-level protests such as the Oscar Grant Rebellion. The film tells its story through interviews with prominent activists such as JR and the voices of people on the street, all pointing to a frustration with police abuses in Oakland’s lower income neighborhoods and a determination to fight back.

Lovelle Mixon, in allegedly shooting and killing multiple police officers, is once described as a “suicide sniper” along the lines of suicide bombers in the Middle East and Central Asia. An artist paints a row of chickens on a wall followed by the words, “Home 2 roost. RIP Lovelle Mixon.” JR speaks to the sense of karma felt in East Oakland when the Oakland police officers were shot and killed, as residents are almost always on the receiving end of violence by police who are rarely held to account.

Addressing international audiences, JR assures them that the people of Oakland are in solidarity with the struggles for justice in the West Bank, Gaza and South Africa, and asks for their support for those fighting in Oakland. In a closing statement, JR notes that this film is one way to help build an alliance between resistance movements across the globe.

“Operation Small Axe,” directed by Adimu Madyun and edited by Angela N. Carroll, is a work in progress with the release of a full-length version anticipated some time shortly after the conclusion of the murder trial of Johannes Mehserle in early 2010. Stay tuned.

Dave Id is a journalist and activist who has thoroughly documented the Justice for Oscar Grant Movement with vision, sensitivity and consummate expertise in prolific postings at www.indybay.org/oscargrant.

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