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[Organizing] [Oscar Grant]
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Weak Verdict, Stronger Movement

Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Oakland to mourn Oscar Grant and express outrage at the light sentence given to his murderer, Johannes Mehserle. Mehserle shot Grant in the back while he lay face down on the ground. For this execution-style murder, he got 2 years in prison with credit for time served on an involuntary manslaughter charge. The judge gave the jury incorrect instructions for how to apply the gun enhancement, and decided to just drop it, thus lowering Mehserle's maximum possible sentence to 4 instead of 14 years, rather than retry the case. According to those inside the courthouse at the time of sentencing, the judge openly blamed Grant and his friends for the murder.

We didn't expect justice from the system, but the whole struggle did bring advances in revolutionary organizing in the region. The November 5 demonstration looked like others from the movement for justice for Oscar Grant, but missing were the non-profits trying to run the show and divide the protesters. It was refreshing to hear consistent messages that encouraged people to get organized, stressed the need for nation-based organizing (while uniting Black and Brown), refused to work with the government and denounced the outside agitator line.

The city-sanctioned demo ended with a live performance of "Operation Verdict (Fuck Dat)" by local artists Unity, Sinista Z, & Ras Ceylon. Here's the last verse:


Revolutionaries speak with clarity
and overstand
an injury to one affects us all
like Oscar Grant.
Cuz I am we
and we are he
So you will see us in the streets
Yellin "Fuck da Police!"
No justice, no peace
these non-profits is weak
tryin' to water down the movement
and cut off free speech
gettin paid by the beast
to calm the rage of our seeds
that are sick of the oppression that
they daily gotta see
and live with.
You idiot
ain't no outside agitators
'cept these murderous pigs
with the gun, badge and a taser
so see ya later
if you tryin to claim that leadership
you ain't nothing but a snitch
and a politician's bitch
Fuck dat!
Police out here knockin brothers down
Fuck dat!
Trying to move the cats to somewhere out of town
Fuck dat!
You know the state wanna water this shit down
Fuck dat!


Related Articles:This article referenced in:
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[Police Brutality] [Organizing] [Oscar Grant] [California] [ULK Issue 15]
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Pig Gets Off for Murder

On July 9 at around 2:30 p.m. the announcement was made that the official verdict on the trial of Johannes Mehserle, the transit pig who shot Oscar Grant in the back and killed him, would be released that day, and immediately people started gathering at the major intersection of 14th and Broadway in downtown Oakland, California. At about 4:15 p.m., the verdict of involuntary manslaughter was released. This is the lowest charge that the jury could have chosen to give Mehserle, and as expected, the people of Oakland were pissed. Our comrades attended the protest, equipped with fliers emphasizing that the movement needs to be elevated from rioting into conscious revolutionary struggle generally, and national liberation struggles specifically, if people want to stop the murders of more Oscar Grants. The flier suggested Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth and Black Panther Party original documents as good starting points for a successful transition into a movement to truly end police brutality.

Government employees in the downtown area were under a mandatory evacuation, and business people were high-tailing it out of there as fast as the freeways could take them. The state and the media had hyped it up to be L.A. in 1992. That was far from the case. Still many large buildings were boarded up 20 feet high for days; others were frantically drilling in plywood as protesters converged. The hype was so extreme that even one discount grocery store located a mile from the epicenter of the protest boarded its windows as soon as the jury went into deliberation - as if a crazed mob would travel so far to loot their expired yogurt.

The City of Oakland set up a sound system in front of Town Hall that was supposed to serve as a speak-out, but was just playing funk for a few casual dancers, sometimes so loud that it seemed like they were attempting to drown out the actual protest. The rest of the 1000 people were gathered around a much smaller sound system in the adjacent intersection, having their own speak-out. The soap box ran from about 5-8 p.m., and the "don't tear up Oakland" position that was emphasized so strongly at past protests seemed to have taken a back seat on the collective agenda of the group. Most messages were that this verdict is bullshit, the system isn't going to give justice for Oscar Grant, and we need to organize. There was also a strong recognition that Black people were the targets of this violence and of the need for Black nationalism.

The typical divisive tactics that we had reported on at previous at Oscar Grant movement events was also present. One man insisted on addressing "just the Oaklanders" and advised the Black youth to not get "pimped" by "outside agitators." The response from the crowd was cold. The next speaker said he was also asked to speak on "outside agitators" and went on to point out that Martin Luther King, Jr. was called an "outside agitator" everywhere he went in the South. He said that no one is "outside" the struggle for justice, and went on to point out that the only people who are coming from outside the movement to cause problems were the pigs. This brother received enthusiastic cheers.

This theme was one that had been playing out for weeks within the organizations preparing for the verdict. Reportedly, non-profit leaders and those working with the City government were spearheading the line that the Black youth of Oakland couldn't rebel without white people from the suburbs telling them what to do. This racist bullshit had already been struggled against for weeks leading up to the verdict. While some in the crowd were dismissive of white speakers, telling them to get down, ultimately it was the content of what was being said that the protesters recognized. While there was a strong contingent of self-proclaimed locals saying "be cool" and using the local slang to attempt to create divisions, their effect seemed minimal.

During the speak out, pigs were lined up several blocks from the protest, controlling foot traffic and warning "unsuspecting" bicyclists of the "danger" ahead. At 8 p.m. the soap box was shut down by the City and everyone was hanging out in the streets, occupying several blocks of Broadway. After about thirty minutes, a trash can was lit on fire but protesters put it out within a minute. Occasional bottles were thrown at the pigs, and when any excuse was given to the pigs to attack, many of the protesters would run like hell. The pigs were surprisingly non-reactive, however, and would just occasionally change positions, pushing the protest north on Broadway. This didn't prevent "Fuck the Police" from being the most popular chant of the night.

A Foot Locker was looted, and many people made out with fresh kicks and jerseys. A group of three to four protesters started guarding the Foot Locker and tried to appeal to the protesters to not loot, which they said would prove that they are just ignorant Black people and would prove "them" right ("them" presumably being the white legislators and City officials who they hope to ask for justice). On the other hand, the guards correctly emphasized that there are Black organizations to get involved in to deal with these issues, and that looting the shoe store won't stop killings. If there was a strong Black vanguard in the area, MIM(Prisons) would have worked with them at this event rather than promoting study and building of new cadre groups. That's not to say there aren't a number of small, semi-underground formations that are worth working with, but none of them wield the power or influence to have led the rebellion.

The Black Panther Party asserted the need for a vanguard to organize and lead the masses down the most effective path to power in The Correct Handling of a Revolution, following the uprisings in 1968 across the country. It states, "There are basically three ways one can learn: through study, through observation, and through actual experience." They go on to say that the Black community generally learns through observation and participation. Unfortunately, the lessons put forth in this article were not observable at the demonstrations this year or last, indicating that study is needed. While the fires, graffiti and smashed windows grab our immediate attention, it is the serious organizing efforts that will allow the Oscar Grant movement to have a lasting effect. While it is hard to quantify these efforts now, the mood of the speakers indicate that despite the lack of a vanguard organization leading the rebellions, many are thinking and moving in this direction.

Over the next few hours the crowd gradually dwindled, smoke bombs and fire crackers were set off, windows broken, over a dozen dumpsters and trash cans lit up, graffiti was sprayed, garbage cans tossed into the transit stations, as the crowd was constantly pushed north, sectioned off, and divided by the pigs. At one point the street lights went out and three gun shots were fired from an unknown source, but apparently nobody was hit. Unlike the usual large demonstrations in the Bay Area, many protesters tonight were armed, but attacks on police were limited to rocks, bottles and, according to police, a few molotov cocktails. By 11 p.m., the protest had reduced to small groups launching hit-and-run tactics on stores. Their movement seemed guided by the police, who vastly outnumbered them. At the end of the day, there were 78 arrests.

Although our comrades were not on the front lines for the whole showdown, a tazer was only heard once, and while there were regular explosions heard, no reports are claiming that they were caused by the kkkops. Overall it seemed like the pigs were on their best behavior (for being stinking fucking pigs, anyway). This was clearly unexpected behavior by most protesters, who were constantly running at the slightest sign of action, only to return a few minutes later when they realized the tear gas and rubber bullets had yet to arrive. Activists were expecting the worst, including the use of the a $675,000 long-range acoustic device (a machine that produces sound waves that can cause permanent damage) that the Oakland Police Department recently purchased. Again, it never showed up.

The pigs outnumbered and outlasted the protesters. When the rebels had been reduced to a couple hundred, the pigs still had reinforcements coming in and surely more on standby. The fact that there was no need to resort to severe repression demonstrated their control over the situation. Evidently, they were willing to sacrifice a few downtown businesses as a pressure release. The next morning, the Oakland police chief was celebratory about their ability to control and contain the rebellions.

Mehserle's sentence is due out in November, and could range from 14 years in prison to probation. We expect the day of sentencing to re-ignite these protests all over the state.

Notes: Prisoners write us for a copy of "Oscar Grant: organization, line and strategy" printed on the anniversary of the initial rebellions following Grant's murder.

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[Organizing] [Oscar Grant]
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Oscar Grant: organization, line and strategy

Mehserle shoots Oscar Grant
Mehserle shoots Oscar Grant in the back on BART platform

As we marked the anniversary of the uprisings in Oakland that were sparked by the murder of unarmed Oscar Grant while face down on the ground by BART(local transit) police, no justice has been served. An anniversary vigil was held on New Year's 2010, but the crowds and energy had dissipated from a year ago. This may have been a result of weed and video games, but we think it may have been the left wing of white nationalism who did the most to defuse the resistance.

Anniversary Vigil

The vigil was held at the Fruitvale BART station where Oscar Grant was shot on New Year's 2009. Upon my arrival I saw police surveiling the vigil. I also saw news organizations with their cameras video taping. I had a rag covering my face partially to keep from being taped by pigs. The head of security, which was being run by the Nation of Islam (NOI), approached me and gave me a little trouble. Apparently they thought the rag on my face symbolized the acts of rebellion that took place last year in response to the murder and they didn't want a repeat. If they were concerned with the security of protesters and not property they would not facilitate the pigs surveillance efforts.

Later, people met up at the Humanist Hall to continue the vigil for Oscar Grant. The pigs came sure enough, but what was interesting is that the same NOI persyn that approached me was hugging the pig "Negotiators" (which was written in big letters on their jackets) who showed up. This seemed to indicate a higher level of collusion between event "security" and the pigs than we saw last year with CAPE running around trying to keep people from confronting police or any other symbol of wealth and power. How are people supposed to organize safely in a space openly infiltrated by police? The same people who shot Oscar Grant in the back!? If groups like NOI and CAPE don't keep the pigs out then all they are doing is serving to pacify the people, not secure them.

The first speaker spoke what I feel to be a criticism of the people there. A divide and conquer tactic straight out of the government play book saying that people there had different agendas, as if we weren't there to support Oscar Grant and work for change. She criticized others "agendas" while preaching a pacifist line, and insisting that we be led by the Oscar Grant family in the fight for justice. By labeling others lines as "agendas" she tried to delegitimize lines opposed to pacifism, while pretending her agenda didn't exist. History has shown that the oppressor will not loosen their grip without the oppressed rising up in arms. This was the only significant event we know of to mark the anniversary and it was dominated by those who saw no need for fundamental change.

After that, the NOI ministers got up and preached a revolutionary gospel. One NOI minister made the point that its the gangster or thug that needs to be organized for revolution and that they will be the ones to fight and win freedom. On the surface this was the speech that resonated most with the MIM(Prisons) line, but the NOI and their offshoots like the New Black Panther Party have been consistently petty bourgeois in their practice and line since the murder of Malcolm X, despite rhetoric to attract the lumpen to their ranks.

The rcp=u$a got up and talked about communism and atheism bringing a pseudo-anti-religious perspective to the debate. They said something very interesting. They said that we shouldn't criticize the movements but just get in there and lead the movement. This makes no sense. Criticism and self-criticism is at the root of dialectical materialism. Which is why the rcp=u$a continues to fail to be seen as a viable vehicle for revolution.

The latest on the case are that the shooter, Johannes Mehserle, has been charged with murder, but the case has been moved from Oakland to Los Angeles. Mehserle is out on bail with the support of police unions that are backing his defense. So far there has been much to see as the case develops that has exposed the vast injustices of the system, but the battle to convict Mehserle itself is not so strategically important for us. The state has much more invested in the outcome of the case. A conviction would be the first murder conviction against a cop in the united $tates. A failure to convict could prove problematic for them, and the reverberations will likely now be in both Oakland and Los Angeles.

We encourage strategic legal battles as a form of struggle in order to expose the system and create room for the oppressed to live and organize. Simultaneously, we are clear that the injustice system is not fast nor even effective.

Organizational Lessons

What is more important is learning organizing lessons from what happened around the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant. Two detailed papers have been well-distributed on the topic. One is by a group of anonymous anarchist writers, another is by a self-proclaimed "Marxist" group called Advance the Struggle(A/S), that is focused on uniting the "working" class. Comically, the rcp=u$a who got up to condemn analysis and criticism of the movement are outdone here by a group of self-proclaimed anarchists. Let us begin with the anarchist discussion, as we largely addressed their line in our original article on the riots.

The anarchist piece is mostly a story, and probably the most complete documentation of what went on those days in January 2009. Both papers did a thorough critique of the non-profit/reformist coalition turned police that we touched on last year. The Coalition Against Police Execution (CAPE) imposed it's "security" on a large spontaneous movement. While this was an inappropriate role for them to assume, it should be noted that CAPE's organization gave it an advantage over the disorganized angry crowd. And while the anarchists recognized CAPE members as their friends in social life and A/S sees them as workers duped by non-profits funded by imperialism, they were really representing a clear class position of the petty bourgeoisie. They served to protect businesses and prevent conflicts with the police as a matter of principle not a strategy of struggle.

As the anarchists pointed out, riots (can) work. We can't get free by rioting, and in many cases riots end in more repression and no gains. They are not a strategy to be promoted as the anarchists do. But in this case they put more pressure on the state than hugging pigs, holding vigils and asking for "police oversight." What those nights represented was a budding system of justice outside of the established imperialist order. Meanwhile, the non-profit/reformist movement did much to pressure the existing institutions to prosecute Meserhle and reform the policing system to defuse independent justice. But if we want to stop the killing, what the oppressed need are their own institutions. An institution is something that is consistent that we can rely on. Not something we pray for every day and emerges in an eruption of undisciplined energy once every 5 years.

The anarchist authors are avowed focoists, claiming that "our actions create a contagious fever." But as we said at the time, "nights of Black youth roving the streets among groups of riot cops, being videotaped and snatched to prison cannot continue much longer." And to the anarchists disappointment, it did not. Power must be built and fought for, it is not something we can just reach out and grab. We promote a strategy that depends on deep political understanding among as broad a population as is sympathetic to revolutionary change. Advance the Struggle agrees with this, but their assessment of who is sympathetic is stuck in outdated dogma.

A/S opens their paper, "Justice for Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity?" claiming that the "working class people of Oakland... found an inadequate set of organizational tools at their disposal." Who are they talking about? It's not "workers" who are being murdered by pigs, it's oppressed nation youth. The anarchists at times also fall into this dogmatic analysis by talking of "those of us who toil in Oakland." Just because Oscar Grant had a job doesn't mean this is a battle between the workers and the bosses.

The most interesting critique in the A/S piece that we have not seen elsewhere is regarding the so-called "Revolutionary Communist Party - USA" (rcp=u$a). Again the main point of A/S is that there was no vanguard in place to lead the movement for justice for Oscar Grant. Here they address the rcp=u$a's lame attempts to play this role. They correctly criticize the rcp=u$a for setting up the students they organized to fail, which had the effect of diffusing further militant organizing among oppressed nation youth because their leaders were in jail. Their vague, nonexistent, and false political line and failure to correctly organize for revolution plays an integral part in the imperialist plan to keep the people disorganized and divided.

As we mentioned last year, the Panthers were a common topic of discussion as the budding movement faced a leadership void. A/S made some correct analysis about the way the Panther legacy has been transformed into a justification for non-profit/charity type organizing. This is reinforced by founding and leading members who still get a lot of respect in the Bay Area. The anarchists also provide an elementary discussion of the Panthers in their paper.

While both groups of authors turn around and condemn nationalism, this experience demonstrates the need for it. Everyone lamented the lack of the BPP, the Maoist, Black nationalist vanguard of the late 1960's. Today we have the Nation of Islam dominating the role of Black nationalism. Nationalism is relevant because it is the oppressed nations that are targeted by police terrorism and concentration camps. Nation-based organizing is the best path to get us away from the non-profiteering and the dogmatic "worker"ism that has so clearly muddied the waters in this period of struggle. The experiences in Oakland reinforce the Maoist class analysis and the importance for having one. The petty bourgeoisie has dominated the movement for justice for Oscar Grant, while white nationalist revolutionaries vie for influence from the sidelines.

notes:
Justice for Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity? by Advance the Struggle. 2009.
Unfinished Acts: January Rebellions. Oakland, California 2009.

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[Police Brutality] [Oscar Grant] [California] [ULK Issue 6]
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Oakland Stands Up

At night I see your light through my bedroom window
But I ain't got shit but the pad and pencil
I can't wait till I hear you say, " I'm going down, mayday, mayday"
I'm gonna clown 'cause every time that the pigs have got me
—from Ghetto Bird by Ice Cube

Oakland, California is not quite like Los Angeles. Having to fall asleep to the sound of helicopters overhead night after night is not routine. But in the last week that changed with three nights of uprisings and demonstrations in response to the murder of Oscar Grant, a 22 year old Black man who was shot in the back by a cop while face down on the ground.

Chemical warfare, tasers, armored vehicles with mounted guns and numerous helicopters were used by the city of Oakland against its residents the first night of the uprising. Over 100 people were arrested for various trumped up charges. Those who were not bailed out have already been given hearings where 21 of 24 people had their charges dismissed. One of the 3 remaining charges is a felony arson charge against JR, the Minister of Information for the Prisoners of Conscience Committee, indicating clear political motivations behind these arrests. Last night another couple dozen people were arrested. It took 2 weeks to arrest someone who shot a man in the back, but the OPD saw it as appropriate to jail over 130 people, most, if not all, of whom have no substantiated charges.

Just as they tried to do the night of the murder, Oakland pigs confiscated all cameras and cell phones from those arrested. Some who were arrested have not got their cameras back and others have gotten theirs back with the material erased from them. Numerous people videotaped the shooting of Oscar Grant on New Year's Eve, leading pigs to go around seizing peoples' cell phones in an attempt to destroy evidence.

JR is one of many who reported being rushed and tackled by police while merely standing on a downtown street during the demonstrations. In another instance, a group of pigs marched across the street towards a group of protestors when one of the thugs approached a Black youth and shoved him in the chest. The pigs waited for a response and then seized the kid, leading to a scuffle between the two groups followed by the youth running away.

After the roundups the first night, JR reported, "Behind enemy lines, the inmates at Santa Rita put their fists in the air, smiled, cheered and gave us dap when we told them that we were being held captive because we were in the streets during the rebellion. Mexicans were congratulating Blacks, Blacks were congratulating whites, NorteƱos (a Latino street organization) were congratulating Bloods (a Southern Cali street organization), who are their rivals, for their participation in fighting the police and the city for justice against police terrorism."(1) In our next issue of Under Lock & Key we will focus on the question of peace between lumpen organizations. Practice demonstrates that great injustice is often the only thing that can undo the work the pigs do to keep oppressed youth at each others' throats.

As many have pointed out, this case has gotten so much attention because it was so blatant and it was videotaped by numerous people. The sick part is that many people are still saying things like, "you don't know what you'd do in a high pressure situation like that" and that the cop "has already suffered enough." The guy shot an unarmed persyn in the back while he was on the ground!

The only way to do justice to Oscar Grant is to prevent incidents like this again in the future, which requires eliminating the biggest and deadliest gang plaguing the streets of cities across the united $tates - the pigs. While this was going on in Oakland, comrades in New York were organizing a demonstration for Justice for Imam Morales, who was killed by the NYPD on September 24th, 2008. Two other Black men were killed by the pigs on New Year's Eve, the night Oscar was shot in cold blood. We can keep adding to the list of names, or we can stop the perpetrators.

The movement for justice for Oscar Grant has demonstrated the pitfalls of coalition based organizing and the need for a vanguard organization to provide leadership.(2) There has been a lot of talk about the Panthers in the last couple weeks, and their presence is missed. Without the vanguard party, a coalition of interested parties have decided to work together. To do so requires reducing the coalition to the lowest common denominator, and in this country in this time, that's not very good. One of the leaders of the the coalition linked the recent murder charges brought against the cop who shot Oscar to the new hope that comes with a Black man in the white house. Such hopefulness ignores the real reason why the police exist, and why their presence is so strong in certain communities.

MIM(Prisons) joins in the demand for criminal prosecution of the pig who killed Oscar Grant. But we don't have to sit down with the state to make this demand. The city is clearly responding to the demonstrations in the street, first when it made a statement to quell the first uprising after a week of silence and then when it arrested the shooter the night before the last demonstration. Lesson 1: The people can exert power independent of the state.

Ain't shit changed cuz Obama in the house.
O P D had 15 murders, man
that's all we know about
cuz that's all that we heard of
all the peckerwoods better hide tonight,
cuz my city frustrated, they 'gon riot tonight.
I don't condone the riots
cuz we burnin' down our own shit.
But I ain't mad at them cop cars that they hit.
—from My Life, a tribute to Oscar Grant by Mistah F.A.B.

As all this goes down, there has been much debate in the streets about what is OK to smash and burn, if anything. The smashed windows and burning cars are only the expression of anger towards the pigs. It is out of fear and a sense of powerlessness that people cannot attack the object of their anger and lash out on inanimate objects instead. We don't condone random property destruction as a tactic for change, but if a real solution is to come of all this, it is not going to come from those who are working within the capitalist state. Anarchists want to expand the actions of the more radical sections of the demonstrations, while focusing on more "corporate" targets. But nights of Black youth roving the streets among groups of riot cops, being videotaped and snatched to prison cannot continue much longer. Lesson 2: The spontaneous youth must come together and exert their power in more meaningful ways, within the context of national liberation struggles and anti-imperialism.

They discover that the success of the struggle presupposes clear objectives, a definite methodology and above all the need for the mass of the people to realize that their unorganized efforts can only be a temporary dynamic... you'll never overthrow the terrible enemy machine, and you won't change human beings if you forget to raise the standard of consciousness of the rank-and-file. Neither stubborn courage nor fine slogans are enough.
—from Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

notes: (1) Oakland rebellion: Eyewitness report by POCC Minister of Information JR. http://www.sfbayview.com/2009/oakland-rebellion-eyewitness-report-by-pocc-minister-of-information-jr/, see sfbayview.com to donate to JR's legal defense
(2) see MIM Theory 14: United Front and What is MIM?

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