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Criminalizing our youth to excuse police murder

August 23, 2011

Stop the appointment of Raheim Brown’s murderer as chief of Oakland school police! Pack the School Board meeting Wednesday, Aug. 24: press conference 4 p.m., meeting 5 p.m. at Paul Robeson Building, 1025 Second Ave., Oakland

by David Slagle

Raymond Hérissé
After the London riots in August, the theorist Paul Gilroy made a rousing yet frighteningly honest speech to a crowd of community leaders and activists in Tottenham, North London. In his speech, Gilroy argued that Black and poor youth had been subjected to what he called “processes of criminalization,” re-creating them in an image they did not choose. This carefully moulded portrayal of the “feral street thug,” the “violent monster,” emerges only through a close alliance between information – from newspaper articles to public relations statements – and power.

This relationship between information and power is shown in its stark nakedness by the failure of the American media to cover stories relating to police murders. The Raymond Hérissé murder [in Miami on May 31] is a case study in this regard: Out of the thousands of media outlets which can be searched through Google News, only five have dared to print the slain man’s name and only the San Francisco Bay View gave the story a face by printing a photo of Hérissé.

It is as if, in a bizarre kind of instant amnesia, Hérissé’s identity itself, the fact that he had a name and a face, is an act of treason, a threat to the power of the state. One is reminded of the days immediately following the emancipation of the slaves, who were told that they didn’t need their 40 acres – their freedom was enough.

Mark Duggan
In a similar way, the media seems to be saying, especially to young Black men, “Don’t try to find out more about this Hérissé case, because you should be thanking God that it wasn’t you,” as if educating oneself would be a way of cursing one’s own life. Whereas the supposed job of the mainstream media would be to cover stories, we find in this case that they are prime agents of cover-ups, not only relating to the circumstances of police terror but, equally, to the names, identities and livelihoods of the people themselves.

People like Hérissé, Oscar Grant [murdered by BART police in Oakland Jan. 1, 2009], Mark Duggan [whose murder in London on Aug. 4 touched off the rebellion in England] and Raheim Brown Jr. are, after the fact, “criminalized,” made into the criminals that the media-police information alliance wants to convince us that they always were.

This posthumous act of “criminalizing” the person who is pulled under the fiery storm of police bullets is an act of desperation on the part of a state and an elite, which is struggling to reconcile its idea of the world with the ugly truth of the world.

Oscar Grant
The newly-promoted Barhim Bhatt and his accomplice, Jonathan Bellusa, are experiencing this same conflict: On some level they know, just as well as Lori Davis and Raheim Brown Sr., that their son, Raheim Brown Jr., was not a murderer. But this knowledge is drowned in the myth that forms an unfortunately vast part of the “American Dream” – the myth that justice lives in the hands of the white man, the police, the cowboy who raped and murdered American Indian children.

The other side of this myth, and the crucial part here, is the idea that if Brown, Hérissé, Grant, Duggan and thousands of others met their deaths this way, at the hands of the “enforcers of justice,” then they must have done something wrong. This is why the only information the Oakland police seem to have released, in the scant few news stories about Brown’s death, is that one of their officers was “stabbed with a screwdriver,” that Brown’s car “smelled of marijuana” and that it was stolen. Their stoicism is evidence of both their power and their fear that such power will be challenged by any real information about the incident.

In this case, we have the word of the Oakland Police Department, the same department which – only a little more than 40 years ago – unwillingly served as the worldwide emblem of the ongoing war between the police and the people via the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. On the other side, we have the word of Tamisha Stewart, the only civilian witness, who was beaten and jailed after the crime on Skyline Boulevard. Stewart claims that the screwdriver never left the ignition.

Raheim Brown
One thing that should worry us, and perhaps gestures toward the years to come, is the question: How do the average Oakland Hills residents, the people whose mansions stand within a mile of Skyline, justify this murder and cover-up? When they opened the paper and saw the news story, did their eyes focus on the words “marijuana,” “theft” and “screwdriver,” rather than “20-year-old,” “student” and “excessive force”? And, if so, is there any hope for them? Is there any hope that they might, one day, be able to devote their time to understanding the way in which the American republic punishes people for the fact of their own birth, twists and pushes and moulds people into criminal mentalities and behaviors?

I write these words with a tearful hope that some understanding may be reached between the people in the community who know Raheim Brown’s situation and the people who devote their every waking minute to ignoring the fact that he was born, that his parents and siblings and fiancée loved him, that he made mistakes, in part, due to his country’s disavowal of his human rights, of his humanity and his dignity.

The media criminalization of the young Black male victim of a police murder was blatantly apparent in the case of Kenneth Harding, killed by San Francisco police in broad daylight at the main intersection in Hunters Point on July 16 for having no proof he’d paid his $2 train fare.
I write because I know that not all of the former group are Black and not all of the latter group are white, but that, nevertheless, it is still an issue of white supremacy, because – as James Baldwin and Malcolm X always said – whiteness is a matter of worldview, a worldview which has trapped and condemned not only Hérissé, Brown, Grant and Duggan but, in a terrible death embrace, their executioners as well.

David “Shoshone” Slagle is a researcher and journalist born and raised in Oakland.  He has studied in Los Angeles and London, U.K. He keeps a blog at and can be reached at



7 thoughts on “Criminalizing our youth to excuse police murder

  1. seamus

    Don't you think the public should know as much history as possible of a person in a news story? Like with Harding, shouldn't we know he got busted for pimping a 14 year old and was wanted as a "person of interest" in the murder of a woman in Seattle? The background helps us to understand Harding behavior.

    I don't think hiding a person's history serves anyone well.

    And, by the way, when are you going to print an article about the majority of shootings in the Bay Area instead of just the police shootings? There's lots more thug shootings than there are police shootings.

    1. @dreamofsafety

      Part of my point, in writing this article, was that Raheim Brown Jr. had committed a crime, stealing a car. It is important to present the whole story. But when the shortcomings of the murdered begin to outweigh the context of the shooting itself–the question of just cause for their deaths–we enter a lynching mentality. Do you see my point?

      1. seamus

        I have noticed what you're talking about. Rape victim's histories are often framed in a way that makes them look as if they are 'asking for it.' Mr. Raheim Brown Jr. apparently tried to stab an officer with a screwdriver, so he might not be such a helpful example. Oscar Grant, on the other hand, did nothing to warrant his killing. He appears compliant moments before his death. I know people who say, 'Well, he was a thug and had it coming.' I remind them that Grant's history had nothing to do with his killing by police.

        W/regard to Harding, the history clues us into us why he ran from police over a small infraction and used a firearm.

        It seems to be a case-by-case thing. I do see your point & now will make an effort to see if a person's history is relevant to a story or superfluous before supporting universal history disclosure.

        Thanks for the think!

  2. Selina

    I don't think Seamus gets your point at all.

    It's a waste of time and energy to try to explain anything to Seamus and individuals with similar mentalities.

    People like him think that the police should act as jury, judge and executioner to these four men and several others who have lost their lives at the hands of the Nazi-Storm Troopers. People like Seamus believe the Nazi's act is justifiable based on the victim's pass and color of skin.

    1. Joe

      So the victims past cant form a pattern? Basically what you have just said is that if someone has raped 100 children before a certain day, they would be OK to watch children because we "shouldnt look into their past". Fucking retard

      1. Selina


        Theodore Bundy, John Wayne Casey and David Berkowitz

        All were allowed to cover the U.S. with there murderous acts they were suspected in between
        their killings but not until they finally began to get clumsy with their executions of young women and men. They were captured after killing several people, opposite to Kenneth's person of interest which was later found he never killed anyone.

        Those men killed 100's and your RETARD police look the other way non of those men while in custody were never beaten or shot at w/o mercy, hell they were glorified as intelligent, allowed to write books, show off the art work. Kenneth Harding was executed because hr ran there's no proof that he kill 3 people and pimp'd out a young, according to his mother and court records she quotes in prev/article the girl lied about her age maybe Kenneth was wrong for getting involved with her

        But your country JUDICIAL syst. is retarded syst design by retarded criminals

  3. seamus

    Hello again, Selina!

    I don't support what you say I support.
    You're relying on strawmen and source-attacking, which suggests you no better tools to work with.

    Thanks for your time.


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