Casper Banjo killed March 14 by OPD
Taken at AAMLO last year at the Black Artists of Oakland booksigning.Pictured are Duane Deterville, co-author (in hat), seated is Casper Banjo. Above him is Ted Pontiflet and at the top, another artist.
Photo credit: Wanda Sabir
When I heard that Casper Banjo had become Oakland’s latest homicide, shot to death by Oakland Police, I couldn’t believe it. I asked Orlonda Uffre, who was the bearer of the sad news Monday evening, why would OPD shoot to kill a 71 year old man? Obviously, no black man is safe from assassin’s bullets, not even old black men.
I immediately thought about the film, “Reign Over Me” (2006) with actors, Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler where Sandler’s character is traumatized with grief over the loss of his entire family in a 9/11 plane crash, so he designs new kitchens for his dead family who will never return until one day he snaps—takes his gun and in the center of New York traffic waving it and as he dares the police to shoot him and put him out of his misery. But the police are surprisingly sympathetic. Suicide by police doesn’t work if you’re a white man with a real gun on film, but let the person be a black man in East Oakland, in front of the Eastmont Station and even in the movies he’d get killed, never mind that in real life it’s a toy gun—the news article called it a “replica.” The police don’t try to negotiate when they see that you’re an old black man. They don’t use kindness and if that doesn’t work, shoot the gun out of your hand—no, they kill you. At 7 p.m. on Friday evening at Eastmont Town Center, not far from where Casper lived, it’s almost a ghost town. Not many people are around at that time.
Know for his brick print designs, I recall how supportive Casper was of other artists, especially younger artists. He studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts and at the Art Institute and taught at Laney College in the 1950s. The article I read said he was a transplant from Memphis, he and four siblings.
One time when my daughter was in art school, he took the bus to San Francisco and then walked over to the California College of Arts and Crafts for her show. I remember asking TaSin’s father to give him a ride home after they dropped me at BART. I’d see him all the time on the 62 bus when I rode public transportation for a year.
Friday evening, as I rode BART to San Francisco last week after leaving James Gayles’ “Jazz Masters” preview reception at Swarm Gallery, Casper was being gunned down. I don’t live far from 73rd Avenue. Last month there was a drive by across the street from my house that is as of yet, unsolved. My neighbor whose house guests were injured said the police haven’t said anything about suspects. Oakland police are working longer shifts now too, wired on caffeine, trigger fingers might be a bit more jumpy than usual.
I’ll certainly miss Casper. He survived heart surgery, but couldn’t survive Oakland PD. I spoke to his neice who said the funeral is Wednesday, March 26, 11 a.m. at the Baker Williams Funeral Home, 980 8th Street, Oakland, CA, (510) 836-3436. Casper didn’t have insurance and his neice spent the money to claim his body from the corners. Donations can be sent to Akili Banjo at P. O. Box 2493, Berkeley CA 94707. Checks can be made out to her. Casper is a former Marine, so they will transport his body to Dixon, 23 miles from Sacramento, to one of their cemetaries where he will be interned. The repast follows immediately, about 1:30 p.m., at the Prescott Joseph Center in West Oakland at 920 Peralta Street.
We need to take care of out elders—accompany them at night on errands, give them a ride and make sure they are not worried about shelter and food, the basic necessities everyone should have, especially those who are responsible for paving the road for us today like Casper Banjo. I missed him at the Jazz Masters preview. He certainly would have been at the Thursday, March 20 reception. We will miss him dearly; he was one of Oakland’s treasures.