Tell the BART board, ‘No jobs, no justice, no peace!’ at their next meeting, Thursday, Feb. 12, 9 a.m., 344 20th St., Oakland
Editorial by Willie Ratciff
A new wind of change is sweeping America and the world. And generating that wind is the power of the people. In the first month of 2009, we put a Black man in the White House with our votes and convinced a DA to charge a white cop with the murder of a Black man – possibly for the first time ever – with our rebellion. Yes, we can!
The three police shootings of young Black men on New Year’s Eve – two fatal, in Oakland and New Orleans, and one disabling, in Houston – must weigh heavily on President Obama’s mind. They have escalated Black rage to a fever pitch.
While Black power is changing the world, back home in the hood, little has changed. Black people are still locked out of the economy, denying us our right to earn a legal living, and Black youth are still terrorized by the police – every single day – denying them the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on which this country was founded.
After celebrating New Year’s in San Francisco, Oscar Grant III, 22, father of a 4-year-old daughter he adored, was responsibly riding BART rather than driving his car back home, when he and his friends were racially profiled and pulled off the train by BART police at the Fruitvale station. There on the platform, in front of hundreds of other passengers, as Oscar appealed for calm, Officer Tony Pirone punched him hard in the face, knocking him down. As Oscar lay face down with his hands behind his back and Pirone’s knee on his neck, Officer Johannes Mehserle rose up, stood over him and shot him in the back – a cold-blooded lynching.
You’ve seen the videos. They’re etched in the minds of millions around the world; we’ll never forget them. Thank God so many witnesses had the presence of mind to record this terrorism on their phones and that some escaped having their phones confiscated by police, who left Oscar for over a half hour to bleed to death while they snatched the evidence of their complicity in his murder.
An hour earlier in New Orleans, Adolph Grimes III, also 22 and the father of an 18-month-old baby, who had come home for a family reunion – he’d been driven out of New Orleans after Katrina – was sitting in his car outside his grandmother’s house waiting for his cousin. Suddenly an elite squad of plain clothes police in an unmarked car swooped down on him, guns blazing. He was shot 14 times, 12 bullets in his back.
At 2 a.m. New Year’s Eve in the Houston suburb of Bellaire, Robbie Tolan, 23, son of retired baseball star Bobby Tolan and already a professional player himself, was shot in the driveway of his own home by a cop who supposedly suspected he’d stolen his own car. Robbie and his cousin had been walking up the driveway, when “an unidentified man emerged from the darkness with a flashlight and a gun pointed at them,” the cousin told CNN. Police ordered the two to lie down, Robbie’s mother came to the door and was slammed against the wall, and when Robbie raised his head to ask them not to hurt his mother, he was shot in the chest, the bullet piercing his lung and now lodged in his liver.
Bellaire is upscale and mostly white. When I was a teenager in Houston, it was all white. I worked for a drug store there, delivering prescriptions on a bike, when Blacks knew to get out before dark. Police profiled us then as now, and now police lynching has become an epidemic.
In Oakland on Jan. 7, following a full week of silence by the BART board, the mayor and the district attorney, the people hit the streets. After gathering for a rally at the Fruitvale BART station, they marched toward downtown Oakland. When the Oakland PD set up a roadblock and used teargas to stop them from proceeding to the District Attorney’s Office, instigating a confrontation with the peaceful marchers, some could no longer contain their rage.
Oakland youth, attacked from all sides by economic, environmental and educational racism, gentrification and corporate land grabs of their neighborhoods, all enforced by police terrorism, and finding few if any advocates for justice at any level of government, finally found a way to get the attention and break the silence of the authorities responsible for justice in the murder of Oscar Grant. They set fire to a police car, a few other cars and some dumpsters and trash cans and broke about 45 storefront windows – not 300 as originally reported.
Their fury was aimed at property, not people, and they looted nothing. Over a hundred were arrested, most brutally, many who were obviously doing no damage. This rebellion was televised – the world watched it happen – and I’ve heard few condemn our youth. When the property damaged was downtown and not in our own hood, we finally got some respect.
I alerted Bay View associate editor, Block Report Radio broadcaster and POCC Minister of Information JR, who had attended the rally but hadn’t joined the march. Arriving in time to question Mayor Dellums at his impromptu press conference outside City Hall, JR had just left there and was walking down the sidewalk looking at the pictures he’d taken, when two cops tackled him, nearly breaking his leg.
They must have known JR was a journalist – in fact, I’m sure they knew that this journalist, of all the journalists in the Bay Area and probably in the country, has covered police violence with by far the most honesty and courage. In his political work with the POCC (Prisoners of Conscience Committee), called “a recreation of the Black Panther Party” by Berkeley Daily Planet columnist Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor, he is the pride of the heroes of past Black Liberation struggles and especially of the political prisoners who survived police terrorism decades ago but remain behind enemy lines. In his journalism – you’ve read his stories in the Bay View for years – he is true to the tradition of Ida B. Wells, who almost single-handedly brought an end to decades of lynching.
The police charged – framed – JR with felony arson, though they knew he’d lit no fire and found on him no lighter or matches – only a camera, the tool of his trade that he needs to support his family, which they still refuse to return. He’s one of only four protesters charged with felonies of the more than 100 arrested. Now known on the street as the Oakland 100, all of them deserve our support and our demand in the strongest possible terms that all charges be dropped.
A week later, on Jan. 14, a huge crowd gathered in the plaza at City Hall. Though some estimates put the number at 1,500, I was there and, having also attended the 2007 St. Patrick’s Day rally for Barack Obama in the same plaza, when the crowd was officially estimated at 12,000, I’d say 5,000 angry people were there with me.
The arrest the previous day of Johannes Mehserle, the BART cop who shot Oscar Grant, the DA having finally charged him with murder, had only whetted their appetite for justice. Not satisfied with platitudes from the mayor, the police chief – who has since resigned – and the sellouts doing damage control, and given no opportunity to speak their minds, some reminded the authorities of their rage by breaking a few more windows, targeting corporate giants like Wells Fargo Bank, one of the most virulent enemies of Black economic development, home ownership and self-sufficiency with its atrocious record of redlining and predatory lending.
These demonstrations of the power of the people – like the revolutionary shot heard ‘round the world that birthed this nation – prove that we can fight for freedom and win. While we intensify the fight for justice for Oscar Grant and all victims of police terrorism, we can and we must also exert our power to stop economic discrimination in jobs, contracts and bank lending.
We elders must teach our youth that they have the right to a fair share of the jobs and other benefits lavished on the rich by local, state and federal governments and train them to fight for that right, starting with President Obama’s economic stimulus package. We will never get respect from the police, the politicians or the corporate power-mongers until we make that demand.
If we are afraid to challenge the evil alliance of corporate and government power that locks us out of the lawful economy, forcing us into the underground economy to feed our families, then takes our tax dollars to profile, beat, murder and imprison us, we are condemning our children to a life of slavery or an early death.
Let us up the ante in our struggle for economic parity! No one but us will save us from the slave mentality of the rich and powerful. Yes, we can change our status in our country but only if we generate winds of change so strong that they blow down those who invade our communities and disrespect our dignity.
I’ll be at the next BART board meeting, on Thursday, Feb. 12, 9 a.m., at the Kaiser Center 20th Street Mall, 344 20th St., Third Floor, Oakland, and I invite you to join me. There the struggle for jobs and justice comes together. The BART board can order that justice be done for Oscar Grant and that we get a fair share of jobs and contracts they create with the hundreds of millions they spend on construction. No jobs, no justice, no peace!
Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff can be reached at (415) 671-0789 or firstname.lastname@example.org.