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Uncle Bobby in Ferguson, supporting the most fearless youth of our generation

August 29, 2014

by JR Valrey, The People’s Minister of Information

Of all the hundreds of police murders of young Black men in recent years, the two that sparked the strongest resistance and the largest rebellions were the BART police murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland on New Year’s Day, 2009, and now the Ferguson, Missouri, police murder of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014. Before traveling to Ferguson myself, I interviewed some eyewitnesses to the community’s response. Go to BlockReportRadio.com to listen to this interview – and the sounds of the rebellion in the background.

Pittsburgh rapper Jasiri X, who traveled to Ferguson at the behest of Harry Belafonte, stands with David Banner and Cephus Johnson, Oscar Grant’s Uncle Bobby. After Michael Brown’s funeral, Jasiri noted: “There were all these calls for no rioting and no looting, but not one call for the arrest of Officer Wilson. We filled that church because of Officer Wilson’s action,” he said. “We wouldn’t have been there if not for Darren Wilson.”

Pittsburgh rapper Jasiri X, who traveled to Ferguson at the behest of Harry Belafonte, stands with David Banner and Cephus Johnson, Oscar Grant’s Uncle Bobby. After Michael Brown’s funeral, Jasiri told the Pittsburgh Courier, a Black newspaper: “There were all these calls for no rioting and no looting, but not one call for the arrest of Officer Wilson. We filled that church because of Officer Wilson’s action,” he said. “We wouldn’t have been there if not for Darren Wilson.”

Today we’re going to Ferguson, Missouri, to check in with the uncle of Oscar Grant, Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson. Uncle Bobby is live on the ground in Ferguson. What are the similarities to Oscar Grant, Uncle Bobby?

Uncle Bobby: The similarity to Oscar Grant is of course an outraged crowd. We know the murder of Oscar Grant was on video. Many commuters watched it live, and many of those that didn’t see it then could see it on video.

Here we have a community that actually witnessed Michael be murdered and then in the community where he was murdered at, he lay on the ground for hours, uncovered, where children could see his body basically bleed out. For children to see this Black young man in the street dead, for children to see him actually raise his hands and say “Don’t shoot” and yet be shot, killed and murdered the way he was murdered was outrageous.

So the similarity is people are outraged here, and they are outraged to a higher degree than with Oscar because they’ve seen Trayvon murdered, they’ve seen Jordan Davis murdered, they’ve seen Ramarley Graham murdered. I could go on with the names.

People here are seeing young Black men being killed at will by these heinous rogue police officers, and Ferguson, I need to say, is a city that has been pushed down and abused by the system for so long, that was the spark that was needed to cause outrage that the people feel they needed to express.

M.O.I. JR: No doubt. Uncle Bobby, one of the police tactics that they use on rebellions is they try to get the family to come out against the rebels. How do you look at that phenomenon and how has Michael Brown’s family looked at that phenomenon? You’re also the family of a very prominent police terrorist victim, Oscar Grant. Do you think it’s the family’s responsibility to call for peace when it’s the police that caused the ruckus?

Uncle Bobby: When it happened to us, unbeknownst to me, I didn’t ask the community not to rebel because I was finding it hard myself, but I was asked to tell the community to not respond violently. I was blessed to not give those commands.

However, it is absolutely clear that anytime a family is abused like this, there are elements that come within the family to ask the family to face the community and call for a stop to the violence. But we know that violence is the only way we know about Ferguson today, and we know that the violence in Oakland was the only reason we knew about Oscar Grant.

Nobody wants to see the violence, but that’s the only way we can be heard – and you know we’re talking about young people being abused, criminalized and dehumanized. They have no other way to voice their opinion but to say hey, listen, you did this to us. We have to do something because nobody seems to listen to our pain about what’s going on.

So there is always that element that asks the family to say to the community, do not respond in a way that disrespects the loved one, which is understandable. But at the same time we also understand that had it not been for the young people and what they did, nobody would know who Michael was today.

We’re talking about young people being abused, criminalized and dehumanized. They have no other way to voice their opinion but to say, “Hey, listen, you did this to us. We have to do something because nobody seems to listen to our pain about what’s going on.” Had it not been for the young people and what they did, nobody would know who Michael was today.

M.O.I. JR: No doubt. Well, let me ask you this on your definition of violence. Baseballs through windows, electrical fires – how is violence that killed a young Black man equated with breaking a window or burning up a building? Do you see that as violence?

Uncle Bobby: If we look historically at what has gotten a response from the powers that be or those that run this system, it seems that the only response that we get is that there’s some form of destruction according to their law. So what is a life compared to a building? We have to ask ourselves that question. What is a life to a building?

You see, I didn’t advocate going around blowing up buildings or destroying property, but I also understand too that there’s times when that may be necessary. And if we’re going to continue to be put down, stepped on and disrespected, then what will it take for this world or society to understand that Black people feel we have a life in this country?

Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, the young man murdered over loud music, Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, and Uncle Bobby consult in a Ferguson park. They have been supporting other families facing similar tragedies. – Photo: Kumasi Aaron

Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, the young man murdered over loud music, Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, and Uncle Bobby consult in a Ferguson park. They have been supporting other families facing similar tragedies. – Photo: Kumasi Aaron

We want justice and equality and we have a right to life and therefore we need you to hear what we’re saying. And if that’s what it takes for the young people to express themselves, we can’t condemn them. We need to stand up and applaud them for speaking on the issues of the pain that they feel.

M.O.I. JR: Now we understand there’s a no-fly zone; we heard that martial law was declared in Ferguson. What does that mean? Most of us have never been in a war – a battle field type of situation – because you know that’s what they do in Iraq and Afghanistan: no-fly zones and martial law. What does that mean? What are you seeing on the ground and how is that affecting the residents as well as people that came to support the residents?

Uncle Bobby: Well, let me back up. They’re getting ready to serve the mayor papers on violations of human rights concerning those who have been arrested, those who have been ­­­­­­­­­injured with smoke grenades, those who have been shot. Malik Shabazz, the president of the Black Lawyers Association, is here serving notice on the chief of police as well as the mayor today during the press conference and we’re just now having lines at the mayor’s office.

The press conference is getting ready to take off, so the mayor will soon know he’s about to be served with a cease and desist order and the fact that he will be sued, the city will be sued and the state will be sued for the total violation of human rights by these police officers and the way that they’ve been not only arresting but hounding people. I support fully what has happened out here since we’ve been out here.

And I want to go back to your question on what it looks like as far as the militarized police here and it appearing to be a police state. To give a quick example: Last night, without us knowing it, they actually created a curfew time. Nobody knew there was a curfew. However, they said it was a curfew.

They shot grenades, they shot smoke canisters, they shot rubber bullets at the crowd. Young people were affected, disoriented, hurt, hospitalized, beat up – and yet no one here in this community knew that there was a curfew call. So they’re making up laws and rules as things progress that we don’t even know about.

They shot grenades, they shot smoke canisters, they shot rubber bullets at the crowd. Young people were affected, disoriented, hurt, hospitalized, beat up – and yet no one here in this community knew that there was a curfew call. So they’re making up laws and rules as things progress.

This part of why Malik Shabazz has served a notice on the city, the chief of police and now the mayor concerning the complete violation of our human rights – the right to assemble, the right to protest, the right to peacefully organize and speak to this issue.

M.O.I. JR: Last question. Uncle Bobby, I know that you’ve been all around the country dealing with other families that have dealt with police violence. What do you think we need to do? We know what the problem is. What do we need to do?

Uncle Bobby: Well, first of all we know that police are not here to serve and protect the people. We need to understand that the police are here to serve and protect the state.

The issues that we’re saying are plaguing our communities today are unemployment, lack of health care and housing, mass incarceration. That is being protected by the state. Now how is the state protected when they utilize these police officers who have no accountability?

The other piece of legislation that is in place is called the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights. That protects the officers from being exposed by prohibiting public access to their official personnel folders that may show the harm they’ve created.

This officer who killed Michael Brown had a history. This is what I’m hearing. And the way he shot him and killed him, it’s obvious that he had no problem in doing it because he’s had these types of altercations with young Black men before.

This officer who killed Michael Brown had a history. And the way he shot him and killed him, it’s obvious that he had no problem in doing it because he’s had these types of altercations with young Black men before.

The officer who killed Oscar Grant had a history and yet it wasn’t a threat to the officer. Not only was it not a threat, it wasn’t even exposed in front of the jury.

This piece of legislation, the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights, allows non-transparency and unaccountability to continue for these officers committing these acts. But also there has to be a national movement against the system and the crimes it has committed against Black people when it comes to dealing with the criminal justice system.

This is a racist criminal justice system. I don’t need to sing and shout to the choir about mass incarceration and the number of us that are incarcerated because we all know that it’s us that are in jail, it’s us being locked up, and it’s us being killed on the street. We know that, so we have to address that on a national level to where we have to just totally destroy this racist criminal justice system and rebuild it.

But more importantly, Black people must now come to realize that our survival doesn’t mean that somebody has to come save us. We have to save ourselves. We’re going to have to spend our dollars among ourselves. We’re going to have to create an economic pool that is courageous and tough where we can create jobs and schools and opportunities among ourselves.

When we begin to do that, we begin to change the dynamics of the system. So until that happens, we will continue to see young Black men killed in these streets. We will continue to see false arrests and an astronomical number of young Black men being arrested and incarcerated and their lives ruined.

Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s father, holds his hands up as he leaves the church after Michael Brown’s funeral. Contrary to the myth of the Black boy going astray for want of a male role model, many of the murdered young men, such as Jordan, Trayvon, Oscar and Michael, had strong father figures, were unarmed and doing nothing to justify their murder. – Photo: JR Valrey, Block Report

Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s father, holds his hands up as he leaves the church after Michael Brown’s funeral. Contrary to the myth of the Black boy going astray for want of a male role model, many of the murdered young men, such as Jordan, Trayvon, Oscar and Michael, had strong father figures, were unarmed and doing nothing to justify their murder. – Photo: JR Valrey, Block Report

This is heinous what we’re seeing today. Ferguson has to spill over across the United States. We all have to band together.

M.O.I. JR: Well, let me ask you, Uncle Bobby – I’ve heard your argument that we need to build an economic base and it’ll change the situation. I don’t believe that. Black Wall Street does have an economic base. Black Wall Street, if you do the history on it, they have doctors and lawyers and hospitals and banks. White people bombed Black Wall Street.

So I’m saying that to say, us getting money financially is not going to solve our political and human rights problems in this country. We’ve had money. We have a lot of money right now. There’s Oprah Winfrey’s and athletes’ and all of this – so is this just an issue of money?

Because I don’t think that the officer that killed Oscar Grant or the officer that killed Michael Brown or any of the others asked them how much money they had. They saw Black skin and they killed them. Period! They didn’t ask them if they had a job. They didn’t ask them if they were in college. They didn’t ask them none of that. So how do we deal with that, because I feel like all the other arguments are distractions.

Uncle Bobby: We can have a conversation about that at some other time, but I’m in full belief that we spend $1 trillion a year and we do not own nothing. What do we own? We don’t even own our own town.

All we have is a community that is considered a hood that is oppressed because of the fact that we continue to spend our money in white society, and they continue to dictate how we live, how we’re employed, how our health care is given to us.

M.O.I. JR: I agree with that.

Uncle Bobby: So the first movement in order to change our condition has to be love among ourselves. We have to believe in ourselves, we have to begin to love ourselves and we have to believe that the only change that is going to happen is that we change ourselves.

So when Black Wall Street was blown up, many of these young people right here don’t know nothing about Emmett Till. Many of these young people never heard of Black Wall Street. They are looking for opportunities.

We’ve got to give them information is relevant and important from that time period. White folks didn’t like it, so they destroyed it.

I hear what you’re saying. Whatever we get, they’re going to destroy it. They’re going to destroy this nation.

These young people here are the most fearless that we’ve ever had in our generation and they are not going to allow some white folks to destroy their opportunity to have some form of humanity and respect and life in this world.

These young people here are the most fearless that we’ve ever had in our generation and they are not going to allow some white folks to destroy their opportunity to have some form of humanity and respect and life in this world.

And if we had the opportunity to build among ourselves and we build among ourselves and the white folks decide they want to blow up our buildings, we’ve got to deal with our destruction in the United States as it takes place. To avoid that, we have the right to self-determination – not their determination but our own determination based on our own power to love ourselves and pull ourselves up.

M.O.I. JR: Very well said. Uncle Bobby, I know you’re in the heat of the battle, so thank you for coming on the Block Report. We’ll check with you soon. I appreciate you, and be safe out there.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

 

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