Sunday, January 18, 2009

March for Justice for Oscar Grant II

I'd just arrived home from New Orleans last week January 7, and was too sleepy to attend the first mass action, but a week later, January 14, the first day of classes on Peralta campuses where I work, I decided to attend, to show my support for the Grant family and other families who have lost sons and brothers, sisters and daughters to police violence.

The BART policeman was arrested in Nevada, January 13, so the mood Wednesday afternoon wasn't as tense, but justice was still not guaranteed even though a win in Oakland for the people could mean a win for the people in New Orleans where Adolph Grimes III was also gunned downed by multiple police New Year's Day.

The police were doing their usual overkill: swat teams with masks on corners bordering 14th Street and Madison, Franklin, Oak, and other intersections. Either their cars blocked traffic or cops on bikes and those standing blocked the side streets between 14th Street and 13th street. Cars were diverted as helicopters circled above. One policeman didn't want to let me walk up to the rally from Alice and 13th Street where I'd parked. He kept telling me the rally was over and that the march was coming down 14th. After he saw I still planned to go to the rally, he asked me if I lived in the neighborhood.

I was like...what is your problem. That sistah nonverbal crazy look. The guy moved and let me pass.

As I walked up 14th Street, I saw lots of folks I knew. They were directing people traffic and telling the grown folks--of which I am one now that I am 50, to grab a kid and take him home after the rally and march were over. I saw former students who remembered me from Laney College, kids who told me they were on track. I was happy to hear it. I hope they weren't around later on when kids started breaking windows on businesses along Broadway near 14th Street. I no longer found them when I looked around at dusk.

Baba Greg Hodge was telling people how the march was to proceed by the time I made it. My attention was taken, however, by Mayor Dellums who was in a deep conversation on the steps of City Hall, with the parent of one of the BART victims New Year's Day, Michael Greer. He witnessed his friend, Oscar Grant III killed, as he was also detained, arrested taken to jail and later released.

Dellums said he was hopeful, and with the arrest of the BART policeman, justice would be served. He said he'd been around so long he'd seen the scenario we were facing many times, and in this moment of heartache injustice too passed. He recalled out loud the celebration just a few months ago on these same streets, in front of City Hall, maybe patrolled by many of the same police, on the occasion of Obama's victory. He said now was not the time to lose hope, that just as King hoped one day for an America where character and skills, not skin color would determine one's ability to rise to whatever station one desired, we needed to trust the system to work in the case of Oscar Grant III.

Now what I wrote is not what he said, not exactly, but it sounds good doesn't it? I even believe this interpretation might have been his intention. I’m not absolutely certain, and perhaps the video of the interview will get posted on Youtube. There were tape recorders and a camera in his face. I truly love Dellums for his public service, but I think he is tired now and completely ineffective. I'll probably never say this to his face unless asked and why would anyone ask me such a question, especially him? This is one of the reasons why I have tried to stay out of his face, just in case.

I was so stunned as he spoke, when I found myself recalling his exact statements years ago: when he spoke about the Civil Rights Movement and his social justice work at a Vanguard Public Foundation event honoring an Indian South African Activist, then later at the annual Martin King Musical Tribute, the seventh annual January 18. I heard these same words again and again at his campaign talks once he decided to run for mayor.

These sentiments were echoed at Chauncey Bailey’s funeral too, this is when the mayor decided to look to law enforcement as a model for healing the community in 2007, police--highway patrol officers enlisted to assist in solving the war on Oakland streets. Today, we are still at war, our youth the casualties of this war.

As I listened to Mayor Dellumns, I was like wow. I don't see the man for almost a year and the first time I hear him speak, it's a rerun. But I think he's sincere, even if ineffective. He is also a handsome black man. Well he is (smile).

I saw Tarika Lewis and Geoffrey Pete and Angela and Fania Davis, and Mark Cary and Joyce Gordon whose gallery has a lovely exhibit featuring the work of Ben Hazard. I ran by Marvin X and Arthur Monroe as I headed out for the courthouse--the march had left me. Donte gave me a hand up so I could stand on a wall and take pictures of the crowd at the court house. I saw a woman who borrowed a book from me last year and got her number so I can get it back.

When I returned to 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza with the marchers, dancing to the music of the brass band with my friend Arnold and just before that Tiyesha. I saw lots of people Wednesday afternoon, many I knew and when the march got back to City Hall and a new group assembled on Broadway between 16th street and 13th, I was like okay Arthur, you can walk me to my car.

It was clear the youth weren't ready for the rally to end. They had a lot of energy left and no where positive to vent it. Organizers should have anticipated this and arranged for a poetry event, a debriefing discussion to plan next-steps, a basket ball game, pool, billiards, foods, music and then rides home.

These kids are the ones affected and the strategies employed didn’t include their voices, although I'm sure this wasn't the intent. Volunteers in orange vests held hands to contain the crowd, to keep people safe from police, but when I looked down Broadway, I didn’t see many volunteers once the main stage was empty.

Even if I don't condone the actions or agree with them I understand why the kids were running after the march ended and why they milled around after the "official" assembly was over.

I can imagine the rush the kids felt as the objects tossed at the large panes of glass shattered along the commercial strip. The kids weren’t concerned with consequences, just release from the anger, frustration, and fear that defines their daily lives. It didn’t matter—get shot today or tomorrow, life is that uncertain for Oakland youth.

The statistics have increased for murder of young black men, and for those who are still alive they probably figure those days are numbered if they are between the ages of 16-25.

Tracie Cooper’s son, Michael Greer, is a victim also, his life scarred by the absence of his friend Oscar Grant III. When one thinks about post traumatize stress, the impact of violence on black youth, black men, and the black community, one sees that the same type of concern or public outcry or concern is not evident when a black youth is killed.

It is as if these victims are somehow innately prepared for the environmental and psychological impact of these unexpected and tragic intrusions on their lives. The black victims are left to cope alone and fail.

Listen to New and Notes: "Helping Crime Victims Heal, Cope, And Find Justice," aired 1/16/2009


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