by Laura Savage
Perhaps you’ve heard or read the name Raheim Brown Jr. He’s the 20-year-old Black man who was beaten then shot and killed by Oakland School Police Department Sgt. Bhatt.
In January 2011 Brown and a female companion were parked in a vehicle in the Oakland Hills when they were approached by officers Barhin Bhatt and Jonathan Bellusa, who were working as hired security guards for an Oakland School District dance being held at Skyline High School.
The officers reported that they first approached the vehicle, which was not parked at the school or on campus, because the hazard lights were flashing. Brown and his friend didn’t need help. As a justification for questioning them, the officers claimed they smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle after approaching it. Other reports have claimed the officers thought the car was stolen. The officers also reported Brown threatened to stab Barhin with a screwdriver that he had in the car.
As Brown and his companion sat, buckled-up, in the car, the officers began beating them both.
What exactly happened next, no one is certain because the requests for the full reports of the shooting by Lori Davis, mother of Raheim Brown, and her attorney, John Burris, have yet to be fulfilled by the Oakland Unified School District.
What is known is that Bellusa, who was outside the car on the passenger side where Brown was sitting, ordered a first round of shots. The shots were fired by Bhatt, who was outside the car on the driver side near the female driver. Bhatt fired at Brown across the driver multiple times, but Brown remained living at this time. Bhatt’s gun jammed. He cleared it, then a second round of shots was fired, killing Brown.
Davis filed a wrongful death suit against OUSD, which operates and employs the district police officers who shot and killed Brown.
Breaking ‘Code Blue’
This case is highly suspicious for many reasons: 1) A complete report containing all the details has yet to be made available to the public, Ms. Davis or her attorney; 2) there was definite mismanagement on the part of OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith directly following the shooting, as well as by OSPD Chief Williams; 3) an Oakland School Police Department officer is calling foul against his own department.
Bellusa filed a federal complaint against the OSPD claiming retaliation for his refusal to lie about the second round of shots that killed Brown. In his complaint, Bellusa claims that the second round of shots weren’t necessary because Brown was no longer a threat, after being shot with the first round.
According to Davis, who cited testimony by former Sgt. Bellusa of OSPD, Superintendent Tony Smith was accompanied by some Oakland School Board members at the crime scene – directly following the shooting.
“Based on Bellusa’s testimony in his deposition,” said Davis, “Tony Smith came down there and tried to get him to do witness tampering. He tried to get their (Bhatt and Bellusa’s) stories together.”
Bellusa, who is now on paid administrative leave is accusing the OSPD of a pattern of corruption.
For the Davis wrongful-death case, the Bellusa complaint and the federal investigation underway bring light to the issue of a cover-up by the OSPD.
“You don’t get one officer to lie for the other one,” said Davis.
Problems with guns
Incidents like the Raheim Brown killing highlight a huge debate going on in America right now about the necessity of armed district staff in schools. This comes after the terrible December 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children, six teachers, the shooter and his mother were shot and killed.
For people of color, the issue may be more of a concern regarding security officers being armed when working at schools with large numbers of students of color. Communities of color are extremely reluctant to put guns in the hands of those who terrorize Black children and youth the most: the police. To whites, police officers are there to protect civilians.
The rate of officer involved shootings seems to be increasing.
In an update, posted July 16, 2012, to a report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement that was originally released April 6, 2012, MXGM wrote:
“Invasive policing is only one aspect of the U.S. states’ comprehensive containment strategies to exploit Black people and to smother resistance … The U.S. state maintains and reinforces these economic injustices with the militarized occupation of Black communities by the police and a web of racist legislation like the ‘war on drugs,’ discriminatory policies like ‘three strikes’ and ‘mandatory minimum’ sentencing. The result is a social system that mandates the prison warehousing of millions of Black people and extrajudicial killings where the killers act with impunity and more often than not are rewarded and promoted for murder.”
These views are backed by data tracking police killings, or “extrajudicial killings,” over many months. The latest data collected by MXGM shows that a Black person in the U.S. is killed every 28 hours by law enforcement.
The nearby Oakland Police Department is so plagued that it has been appointed a court monitor, former Baltimore commissioner Thomas Frazier, by U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson to oversee mandated changes to the department.
What post-racial America?
What does this mean? It means that as the Black community and its organizers and leaders have justly claimed and proven, a post-racial society DOES NOT exist in America.
Blacks are still falling victim to racist law enforcement organizations intent on sending them to prison if not to the graveyard. Why is it that our Black youth must endure officers at their presumed “educational safe havens” or when they are merely enjoying some leisure?
What real justification can there be for officers – who were hired to secure a school dance on a school campus – to venture from their assigned duty posts and beat, shoot and kill innocent youth? Furthermore, what justification does Tony Smith have for not releasing the details of the incident as reported by his staff?
When Smith started as superintendent he was quoted in an Oakland North article as saying, “For me, you have to examine the effects of institutional racism, institutional classism, institutional bias, language bias and say, ‘At this point, the system that we have – even if we do it really, really well – isn’t going to close and transform that gap.’”
Apparently that was only talk and didn’t extend to his school police department. Not only has Smith championed school closures, he hasn’t brought in valuable resources such as librarians, music programs etc. In the same interview he said:
“I’m incredibly committed to thinking about new kinds of relationships with local communities. We have to become beacons and be able to infuse into those neighborhoods expectations and ways of being. That takes partnership and leadership and expectations and being honest about how hard it is.”
It is safe to say that the beacon light is out when it comes to Tony Smith and the Oakland Unified School District. His failure to demonstrate unwavering, transparent leadership has continued to damage Oakland schools and district departments – as evidenced with the OSPD.
Smith has only been in Oakland four years and he conveniently is moving to Chicago, just as a wrongful death suit surfaces and a federal investigation is taking place, with him as lead culprit.
In his letter to the Oakland School Board, he cited family illness as the reason for the move. That very well may be true.
What is also true is that, on Smith’s watch in Oakland, we have lost another young Black life.
Laura Savage is a graduating senior in journalism at San Francisco State University and is interning with the SF Bay View this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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