Oakland’s civil war: the people vs. the police

How will we come to grips with a troubled relationship?

by Davey D

lovell-mixon-poster-at-rally-032509, Oakland’s civil war: the people vs. the police, Local News & Views By now everyone is aware of what went down in Oakland this past weekend where four officers were gunned down by a parolee named Lovelle Mixon. Not sure what to make of all this. How and why did this happen?

What I do know is that here in Austin, Texas, at the SxSW Music Festival, when word came out about the shootings, people from Philly to LA expressed feelings that suggested that some sort of justice was served. That was reflected in the loud cheers that were heard at two separate shows when it was announced what happened.

Some may find it shocking, appalling, outrageous etc. Others found it understandable and even satisfactory. In both instances the crowds were mixed racially and age wise. Why such a reaction when those who are charged with protecting and serving are gunned down? Why would people cheer for death? The answer may lie in the type of perceptions and actual day to day increasing amounts of contact and conflict people have with the police.

lovelle-mixons-cousin-dolores-darnell-pics-of-killed-family-oscar-grant-032309-by-eric-risberg-ap, Oakland’s civil war: the people vs. the police, Local News & Views For many it was hard to separate Saturday’s killings from the image of an unarmed Oscar Grant being shot by a rogue cop. The image is still ingrained in folks’ minds. Here in Austin folks still can’t separate the thoughts of unarmed Daniel Rocha, Kevin Brown, Jesse Lee Owens and Sophie King being gunned down by police. The community was outraged here when these killings happened.

Folks from Philly started naming off names of people killed in their city. Same with folks from Chicago. The New Yorkers talked about Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo and noted that they saw those vicious shootings play out in trials that left all the officers acquitted. Two unarmed men, 91 shots and no convictions. It’s left many people feeling hopeless and cynical. Justice will not come from the courts.

lovelle-mixon-march-rally-032509, Oakland’s civil war: the people vs. the police, Local News & Views We spoke with community activist and rap artist Truth Universal of New Orleans, who still has the image of Adolph Grimes being gunned down in a hail of 12 bullets the same night Oscar Grant was killed. He stated that for many he can see how they would think that justice was served. He said it’s a case of chickens coming home to roost and that the reason why so many people may have appeared gleeful is that the police have for so long looked at various communities as less than human. Eventually the people on the receiving end would see the police in the same light. It’s no coincidence that people from coast to coast all have the same distaste and distrust.

Yes, some will stop, take a moment and reflect and realize that the officers slain are sons, fathers, husbands and brothers and deserve a prayer. But the mood quickly changes when folks recall the day to day confrontations friends and family have had with the police. Many rationalize that the police have not shown any remorse for the thousand of people victimized by folks on the force. Were their flowers or cards of condolences sent to the families of Oscar Grant? Amadou Diallo? Sean Bell?

lovelle-mixon-v-opd-shootout-032109, Oakland’s civil war: the people vs. the police, Local News & Views When we spoke with Mistah FAB he noted how he raised similar questions around Oscar Grant to Oakland police officers who told him there was a lot of politics, so they had to keep quiet. He found the answer unacceptable. He noted that sort of behavior is what they tell the people in Oakland not to do. They want residents who feel unsafe to blow the whistle on wrongdoings, but they as cops won’t do the same. He also noted that it shows how far apart many are from the community they serve. How could one not speak when they see something so blatantly wrong?

KC Carter, a former ACLU lawyer who heads up the organization Hip Hop Against Police Brutality here in Austin, notes that for many it’s not the Oscar Grants and Annette Garcias (unarmed mother of three shot by police in Riverside this year). Those are the ultimate manifestations of police brutality. He said it’s the day to day humiliations and brutality that people endure – much of which goes unreported.

It might be having to sit still and grit your teeth while an officer speaks rudely while issuing a citation. It might be someone having to endure an elder parent or grand parent get a verbal lashing from a cop who is bent on showing no respect to you and your people. It’s the thousands of folks who get tasered, pushed, punched and intimidated by police, who work from a standpoint of establishing fear to maintain control.

I recall doing a radio show earlier this year in Los Angeles at the beginning of the Oscar Grant situation. During the show some soon-to-be cop called in and said if any suspect gave him lip or insulted him, he would take them out. Me and host Dominique DiPrima were dumbfounded. Here’s a guy claiming to be in the academy and this is how he’s viewing the world? How many other cops are thinking this way?

Lucky for us during the show another officer called in and said that what he heard was unacceptable and said in no uncertain terms that a police officer should never behave in that manner. That was a good thing. The concern is that dude is still in the academy. How will he get weeded out?

lovelle-mixon-v-opd-cops-swarm-hood-032109, Oakland’s civil war: the people vs. the police, Local News & Views Sadly for many, we don’t see officers standing up on the side of the citizens who feel they were unjustifiably brutalized. We don’t see those good cops, those hard working cops coming out and denouncing rogue and criminal behavior.

As word seeped out about the four police sergeants being shot in Oakland, while some expressed glee, others expressed concern that the police would be retaliating. They said the block would be hot and everybody would be subjected to a police force bent on seeking revenge.

KC Carter noted that it will be important for the police to re-establish their position where fear is a main component. In fact, he noted this shooting may have harsh effects all across the country, because police in Texas, police in New York, police in Oakland and everywhere in between do not want people in communities they patrol to get in their heads it’s OK to shoot cops with no pushback. He said expect the state to push back in Black and Brown communities where folks are likely to not be so sympathetic to these officers being gunned down in Oakland.

West Oakland artist Jern-Eye of the group Lunar Heights cautioned folks to not see the slaying of these officers as some sort of victory. He recounted the types of challenges West Oakland residents went through last time an officer was killed. He stated that everyone caught hell. He added that it would be important for the community to use this tragedy to come together and rise above the fray. He said it was important for us to build up the community and make it a safe, productive place for the youth. A tit for tat battle with the police will not be constructive in the long run.

anti-war-rally-boy-8-arrest-backpack-rocks-032109-by-umayyah-cable1, Oakland’s civil war: the people vs. the police, Local News & Views Lastly in closing a few things to keep in mind: First, none of the officers slain lived in Oakland. They all lived in the suburbs miles away from Oakland. This has long been a concern. Folks from outside the city they patrol come in and don’t show the type of respect one feels is deserved. Many feel they don’t truly understand the people. Not sure if this was the case with the officers who were slain. They were all veterans on the police force and one would hope they saw and cherished the community they served.

Second, police brutality still continues. The day of the shooting in Oakland we saw 15 Arab students across the Bay in San Francisco get beat down by police at an anti-war March as they tried to prevent police from arresting an 8-year-old child.

Third we also have police on a mission to hem up Bay Area journalist Minister of Information JR of Block Report Radio and the SF Bay View, who actually broke this story to us before the local newspapers and TV station had gotten the word out. He’s being railroaded, charged with felony arson (lighting a garbage can on fire) as he was taking pictures and covering the first Oscar Grant rally. His next court date is Friday, March 28, 9 a.m., at 661 Washington St. in Oakland.

As this case unfolds, we will watch carefully to see how both the community and police departments ultimately rise to the occasion.

Mistah FAB speaks out

In this Breakdown FM show, we talk to a number of people who explain what’s going on and in many ways capture the mood of the city. They include rap artists Truth Universal, Mistah FAB and former ACLU lawyer KC Carter, who heads up Hip Hop Against Police Brutality. We also talk to Oakland residents and members of the group Lunar Heights, who expressed a variety of emotions and opinions about how one should feel and do about the situation. I think the discussion amongst that crew of folks shows how complicated this all gets. One says “F the Police” while another one says let’s move to higher ground and beyond violence. On many levels it’s an age old debate.

The interview with Mistah FAB found halfway through this show is incredible as it breaks a lot of things down, including the type of distrust we have come to have with one another. He describes the situation in Oakland as a civil war and notes that very little has changed since the ‘60s and ‘70s when it comes to police-community relations. He notes that not all cops are bad but far too many remain silent while the bad apples cut loose and leave long lasting bad impressions with the community.

Music includes cuts from dead prez, Truth Universal, Beeda Weeda and J Stalin, Mistah FAB and Jennifer Johns. Listen to the Breakdown FM show with Mistah FAB, Truth Universal, KC Carter, Jern-Eyes and others.

Email Davey D at mrdaveyd@aol.com and visit daveyd.com. Listen to Davey on Hard Knock Radio Monday-Friday at 4 p.m. on KPFA 94.1 FM or kpfa.org.