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Oakland officials tried to preempt day of verdict community gathering

July 10, 2010

by Dave Id

This story has just become available and, though it reports on events prior to the day of the verdict, it is important to know what obstacles the people had to overcome to make the July 8 speak-out at 14th and Broadway so successful. – ed.

Young Oakland leaders Michael Walker, Jabari Shaw and Tracey Bell-Borden insist on space for youth voices to be heard on the day of the verdict. Reporters from local TV stations attended the press conference. Watch their interchange on the video and take pride in our youth. – Photo: Dave Id, Indybay
The Oakland General Assembly for Justice for Oscar Grant held a second press conference in less than a week after it was learned that Councilmember Desley Brooks was heading up organizing a counter-event at the same time and place as the community gathering set for the day the verdict in the Mehserle murder trial was announced, 6 p.m. at 14th and Broadway. It was obvious that the purpose for the city-led event, although not officially sponsored by the City of Oakland, was to undermine the community gathering that had been called for as early as late May before the trial of Johannes Mehserle even began. Addressing those fretting about civil unrest, Michael Walker concluded the press conference by declaring: “For anybody out there who feels like people are against peace, if you really want peace in this city, then fight for justice, and I guarantee you’ll have peace.”

Tracey Bell-Borden has clad her baby in a T-shirt that reads, "I am Oscar Grant and my life matters." - Photo: Dave Id, Indybay
The press conference was held on the sidewalk on 14th Street at the edge of Frank Ogawa Plaza at the same time that free chicken and soda were being handed out in Room 104 of City Hall, where Oakland and leaders of nonprofit organizations were scrambling at the last minute to organize the city-approved and sanitized event that was to counter the grassroots community gathering on the day of the verdict. They claimed that Wanda Johnson, Oscar Grant’s mother, would call into the city-led event to speak, although that never happened. The idea of a candlelight vigil was discussed, although it was determined that those candles should be electric and not real candles. They had a promotional flier ready that read at the very top “Don’t burn your city!”

The Oakland Police Department likewise did their part to counter the community gathering by visiting Oakland schools to discourage youth from attending the grassroots speak-out. When police asked if students intended to go, they would say “no,” but as soon as the OPD left the room, the students said they couldn’t wait to go to 14th and Broadway after the verdict.

This is what Frank Ogawa Plaza, site of the city-led event, looked like at 6:50 p.m. on verdict day. Half the handful of people there were security or sound-system staff. Even Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Jean Quan weren't at their own event; they were walking around in the street on Broadway. - Photo: Dave Id, Indybay
Besides confronting the counter-organizing effort, five demands were issued at the press conference:

1) Tony Pirone must be tried for accessory to murder,

2) abolish the California Police Bill of Rights,

3) issue a federal indictment against BART for civil rights violations,

4) disarm BART police and

5) declare the new gang injunctions in Oakland unconstitutional.

Speakers at the General Assembly for Justice press conference included Jabari Shaw, president of Laney College Black Student Union, and Michael Walker – both of whom attended Mehserle’s trial in Los Angeles with their friend Tim Killings, who was arrested and spent three days in jail for speaking out in the LA court room during Mehserle’s testimony – and Tracey Bell-Borden.

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 http://indybay.org/oscargrant. This story first appeared on Indybay. Also read Press Conference Regarding Day of Verdict Gathering at 14th & Broadway, 7/1/10: video for a report on the previous press conference.

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