HAT TIP to Richard, the brother who walked into the midst of the riot with only a candle
This is his story:
.....A Narrative With More Heart And Truth, And Less Racist Sensationalism.....
Wednesday, Jan 7th. Oscar Grant Protest/Riots, Downtown Oakland
The news about how Oscar Grant was killed by the police weighed heavily on me, and the video footage looped in my head.
after wheeling my records home from my gig, i wash my face and call a taxi. i walk outside to wait, and the sky is buzzing with helicopters. (at 10:33pm, it still is... i can see searchlights crawl over the Tribune building) my head is turned skyward, approximating the helicopters to be somewhere by the lake. maybe by International.
an older black man stops and says
"They protestin' Oscar Grant you know."
i tell him that's where i want to go.
"This ain't nothin new you know, cops killing black people.
They usually say that the man was resisting arrest or sumpn.
This one just got caught."
I nod in agreement.
The taxi pulls up, i recognize the driver from lifts to dj gigs. i greet him and smile, and then look upwards. looking back at him, i say "could you follow the helicopters?"
and we're off.
for a moment i enjoy the fact that i just asked a taxi to follow helicopters.
we talk, he shares his outrage, shakes his head in grief. soon, we are at a police blockade, and i can see the crowd swelling behind them. we pull over, i pay and tip the driver.
he looks me in the eyes.
"Thank you. Be safe."
I walk past the blockade without interference.
i approach the crowd
they are chanting
i join in.
and i light my white seven day candle
in its glass sleeve.
soon, i see people i know.
there are smiles and hugs,
and also shaking of heads.
There are Korean drummers beating out poongmul rhythms, lots of bicyclists, huge banners indicting killer cops, bullhorns shouting chants of No Justice, No Peace.
i notice that the crowd is mixed, but with a lot of white folks.
some young white kids are in full black with hoodies and bandanas covering their faces.
One is carrying a black flag.
Black Bloc. "Anarchists."
They keep trying to set fire to stuff, and others keep trying to put em out.
i feel anger because i know that the media will racialize the unrest to **not** look like these suburbanites who use protests as an excuse to smash stuff. Not very radical seeming to me.
We converge on the BART Police station.
A police car is in the middle of the road.
The chants turn into
No Justice No Peace, Fuck The Police!
Some of us look at each other, not chanting.
Then the rocks started being thrown.
And then someone was jumping on the police car.
And then a dumpster was on fire.
And then the dumpster was pushed towards the now rocking police car, as people attempted to turn it over.
I am starting to buzz with adrenaline. I reach for my face towel, awaiting what had to be inevitable. I looked around to see if i could see them-
There they were. Riot cops blocking off one street walking towards the intersection.
I started backing away, and seconds later came the tear gas.
I only smelled a little of it thanks to my towel, and i was far enough for it not to get in my eyes.
I am still holding my candle.
I am the only one holding a candle.
I feel strangely out of place
and also that this is the most important place for me to be
with a lone candle.
even police have been smiling and nodding at me.
somehow, this candle has transformed me from being
a racially profiled target
into the one person that maybe they aren't so worried about.
more kids show up, i am also no longer sure who is genuinely angry, and who is just ready to wreck shit.
trash cans are pulled into the road, cars are now being walked and stomped on.
as a protestor, and not a rioter, i figure its now time to go home.
i text friends letting them know they can come over if things get hectic. I text other friends to let them know that Downtown Oakland is going crazy.
i am stopped by an older black man on the way home. His name is Charles DuBois. We talk about grassroots movements, Obama, and politicization of youth, his amber brown eyes lit by my candle. People walk by, smile and salute us.
When i get home, i am on edge. I can't sit still. The outside sounds of copters, sirens and breaking glass permeate my apartment. I feel stir crazy, unsettled, unfinished. I have to get out again. In my head I imagine friends and family thinking I am crazy. I drink water, and text Mahfam and Kendal to let them know that i am heading out again.
I pick my candle back up and head into the night.
There are police blockades everywhere now.
i try to meet up with folks, but things are looking hectic. My candle still seems to encase me in a cocoon of light that police and others smile at.
a sista around my age stops me, says she recognizes me from earlier on in the protest. she thanks me for walking with a candle, and keeping alive what this should really be about. I thank her as well.
I head down 14th street towards Webster... and that's as far as i get. A couple blocks further down, the crowd looms, and its a riot crowd. i can smell something burning, and Broadway is obscured with smoke that could be the source of the smell, or tear gas. A metal hulk slowly rolls out of a backlit cloud of smoke. it is a paramilitary tank with a mounted water cannon. Is this my neighborhood?
I rest my back against a corner streetlight, and watch, the candle flame flickering slightly under my face. neighbors from my building join me, we stand there and take in the mayhem that our block has become.
there are more people of color now. young kids of various backgrounds are smashing cars, and at least one car is burning. Store windows are getting smashed now too. At first i thought black kids were targeting Korean stores, but then an African hair braiding store got smashed. Later, friends would tell me that they saw the immigrant African family in the store, asking why, why, why? Another friend said that an older Asian man-- on crutches no less-- pleaded with rioting youth not to smash his car up. But they did. Right in front of him. And i saw a middle aged Asian woman running, screaming because her bag had been snatched. I shouted for people to leave her alone, but i had no idea where her assailants were.
This was officially out of control.
Then the crowd started running full tilt up the street towards me. Some people look terrified, but most actually were smiling, looking at each other like "awww shit! hee!" I know you aren't supposed to run in situations like this, but i really didn't feel like getting hosed, gassed or rubber bulleted. Or hanging out with rioters. So i kept close to the buildings, and jogged back towards my house. A thrown bottle broke on the wall near my knee.
I get to my stoop, and see other neighbors. One woman, a mother of two, comes out in her pajamas, asking what is going on. The tank rolls by. she is incredulous. I ask if she knew about Oscar Grant. She didn't. I tell her that an unarmed black man was handcuffed, put on his stomach, and then was shot in the back and killed by a cop. Her eyes widen, her jaw drops in horror. She says with a Philippine trill on her tongue, "No wonder they are so angry!"
The helicopters are everywhere, their buzzing drone bouncing off buildings and rolling down the canyons of streets. searchlights lit up windows and intersections.
Somebody walks by my stoop, looks at us and says what sounds like "The mayor is coming around the corner."
It seems that the crowd and riot cops have moved on, so i walk from my stoop to Harrison and 14th, and lean against that lightpost.
Coming up 14th, is indeed Mayor Dellums. He is surrounded by an anxious looking suited entourage and media. He himself looks distraught. He sees me. He looks at my candle. And he simply reaches out and holds my arm for a second, and then he and the entourage keep moving.
It occurs to me that cops are probably not going to tear gas, hose, or rubber bullet the mayor. And now i run into Newman, who is also curious to see where this mayoral train is heading. We fall in step behind the entourage.
The mayor stops on 14th and Madison and starts talking to people and press. Madison is absolutely lit up with rotating police lights. I can't hear what Dellums is saying, but he seems to be unintentionally pissing people off.
"Be patient?? Be patient?? Be patient while they keep killing us??" One sista shouts.
At some point, we are completely encircled by riot cops, but they are a decent distance away from us. Everyone is ignoring them, and focusing on the mayor. A paramilitary tank rolls up. A brotha shouts "Oh look, democracy has arrived!"
The mayor breaks the circle, walking towards the tank. Riot police scurry and reposition themselves. Dellums talks to an officer. Moments later, the tank and riot police dissolve back into the troubled night. Dellums announces on a bullhorn that he has asked them to leave. He is drowned out by people demanding the release of arrested supporters, reform of Oakland police, and streams of curses that basically refer to him as an @%#* Uncle Tom and worse. Whew. Though I must say, I am curious as to what he is going to do and say besides wave some cops away.
So yeah, at this point I think i'm about ready to head back home now. I see friends Bea and Inez, and tell them that I have seen enough for tonight, and that i'm going home. A young sista overhears me, and says with a half joking voice "you should give me your candle then." I turn and look at her.
"Do you really want my candle?" I can see that she has been crying all night.
"Blessings." I reach out and give it to her, and she looks into my eyes and smiles in a way that warmed my whole soul.
I watch her walk away, see how she now looks transformed, serene and angelic in that candlelight. I understand a bit more why people smiled at me. She and the flickering candle disappear in the crowd.
I walk home, the idea of the candle continuing on in the streets touching me deeply.
When i get inside, I don't feel unsettled anymore.
Just the need to write.
This just in:
Rally for Justice for Oscar Grant
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
4:00pm - 7:00pm
Oakland City Hall
1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza
Sick of Distortions and Disinformation! The Truth Must Come Out!
An Eyewitness Account
Saturday Jan 10th, 2009 8:21 AM
I'm sick and tired of the lies and misinformation emanating from both the corporate-whore media and the "anarchist" apologists on Indymedia--who are both distorting what happened in downtown Oakland Wednesday evening, each for their own particular reasons. It's time the truth came out. It's time to break the silence.
I was at the Fruitvale BART rally Wednesday afternoon, on the march Wednesday night, and downtown (at 14th & Broadway, then down 14th to Madison, then down Madison to the Lake) until after 10PM. I personally witnessed what happened with my own eyes.
When the masked young people (who, in their great majority, were white kids) started burning the first garbage dumpster near Laney College, about half the Black folks in the crowd said, "Aw fuck this! I'm outta here! I ain't getting caught up in the middle of that, those cops'll be shooting soon!" and left.
Then later at 14th and Broadway, many Black youths joined in the demonstration. They were chanting slogans like "We're all Oscar Grant!" These Black youth were very militant, they were facing down the riot cops and defiantly raising their fists in anger and solidarity.
Meanwhile, behind them on 14th St., east of Broadway, masked white punks proceeded to smash car windows, shop windows, etc.
After a couple of trashcans were turned over and lit on fire on the northeast and southeast corners of 14th and Broadway, the police began pushing the crowd down 14th. More cars were smashed, one SUV was set ablaze, and I clearly saw a small group of masked white kids smashing the windows of the three storefronts on the southeast corner of 14th and Webster.
All the way down 14th to Madison, Black youth continued to face down the police, legitimately but militantly protesting, exercising their First Amendment rights. And the white punks continued to break shit.
The riot police forced the crowd to turn north on Madison. Masked white punks torched a car just outside of the Islamic Center of Northern California, while Middle Eastern Muslims inside were holding some sort of event. Several elderly Muslims came out of their mosque in their religious garb, looks of utter confusion and horror on their faces. Here was a persecuted minority being terrorized by the "anarchists", self-professed friends of the oppressed and marginalized.
All the way down Madison, white punks smashed the cars of working-class Black folks in their own residential neighborhood. I was there, I saw. In the aftermath of the white hooligans' onslaught, I spoke to many Black neighbors who came out of their apartment houses demanding to know what was going on, what was this all about.
I apologized to them, explaining that this was a riot that grew out of a march to protest the police murder of Oscar Grant on New Year's in the Fruitvale BART station. I told them things had got out of hand and that the march organizers had lost control.
I told them that I had been on the march but that I was appalled by what was now happening. I explained that there was a police perimeter of about 3 blocks in any direction, and that I was now trying to find a way out of it to get safely back home.
Many people offered me glasses of water, and some even invited me into their homes to wait out the chaos. All expressed sympathy and support for the cause we had marched for, saying that we were right to try and force the powers that be to hold the cops accountable.
But these Black residents of Madison St. also expressed outrage at having been targeted and having their cars destroyed. One brother stated that his car was totaled and he would now lose his job because he works in Fremont, and the insurance won't cover the damages because he cannot afford the premiums for anything better than basic liability coverage. He was close to tears, and he was saying, "You go back to your people, your protesters, and tell them what they have done to me!"
Meanwhile, by the time I had this conversation, along 14th St. and down Madison, the cops had violently, brutally begun arresting the Black youth who were still militantly confronting the police, but who had not been smashing cars, windows, etc. Watching from the sidewalk, I had personally witnessed at least six arrests that night. Each were of young African American men, who were doing nothing more than defiantly staring down the police, yelling slogans, raising their fists and exhibiting other militant gestures, all within their First Amendment rights.
These arrests went like this: The riot cops would advance in their line. Then they would halt in line and within a few minutes without warning 6 or 8 of them would break ranks in a wedge-formation, brutally tackle or beat down a young Black brother, usually tazing him in the bargain, handcuff him behind his back, place him in a painful, arm-twisting restraint hold and, then, with two cops roughly handling him, he would be violently thrown into a vehicle.
I did not, for as long as I was on the streets that night, see the cops apprehend even one of the white vandals who were breaking shop windows, or smashing cars. The police were allowing these activities to continue unimpeded.
To me, in retrospect, this Wednesday night riot was a virtual Kristallnacht by white hooligans against the Black community of Oakland. Like in the original, German Nazi Kristallnacht of November 1938, the police essentially looked the other way when it came to the roving bands of perpetrators and took out any frustrations and aggression they harbored upon innocent young Black men, just as the Nazi cops had done to Jews who displayed the temerity to protest their awful treatment.
I eventually found my way out of the hell that downtown Oakland had become by walking for miles until I found a hole in the police cordon and finally catching a bus back to the Fruitvale district, where my car was parked, and then driving home.
Upon arrival at my house, after a stop to pick up a six pack of beer to calm my nerves, I turned on the 11 o'clock news. What I witnessed disturbed me even more.
After shots of broken glass, smashed and burning cars, etc., they switched to clips of young Black men being arrested by riot cops.
This gave the clear impression to the viewing public that Black youth were responsible for all the damage. "There 'they' go, they're rioting, burning down their own neighborhoods" is the cliched stereotype that must have resulted in the minds of multitudes of average news watchers who had not personally witnessed the events that had unfolded before me that night.
Malcolm X characterized this type of media coverage very accurately, when he said, in February 1965 after his own home was bombed, "With skillful manipulating of the press they're able to make the victim look like the criminal and the criminal look like the victim…" (To read the speech in its entirety, see http://www.malcolm-x.org/speeches/spc_021465.htm)
I have a degree of respect for the working-class political philosophy known as anarchism. For this reason, I refuse to dignify these white punks, thugs and hooligans with the title of "anarchists".
These masked white kids are no anarchists, they are opportunists, they are poachers on the Oscar Grant Justice Movement. They are white destroyers invading in the Black community.
They are no anarchists, because they are acting on behalf of the police state, doing part of the cops' job for them. They are being used to discredit the Oscar Grant Justice Movement, to frighten Black folks from protesting against the murder, to divide the community against itself. They are being used by the state to justify the next wave of repression against progressive elements of society in general and the Black community in particular.
I guess COINTELPRO activities are now being sub-contracted out to a wing of the "anarchist" movement. How clever.
These idiots don't care about Black people, Oscar Grant, police terrorism towards people of color, or anything like that. If they did, they would not be doing the things they are doing the way they are doing them. They are using Oscar Grant's tragic murder as an excuse.
They can justify destroying Black workers' cars because, as we all know, automobiles are evil polluters destroying the planet. This is the logic, I suppose.
So, I'm not concerned about assisting all the arrestees without qualification. I'm interested in helping the folks who were legitimately protesting but got arrested anyway (the Black youth), while (as far as I could tell) the perpetrators of the vandalism, arson and general mayhem were largely allowed to get away with it. These criminals posing as anarchists can rot for all I care, they've brought on themselves anything they get. I hope they are all charged with multiple felonies and are forced to pay restitution to all the good African Americans whose hard-earned property they have ruined.
Can you imagine what would happen if a white boy had been shot by police, and the family and other concerned citizens had organized a peaceful rally in Piedmont (let's say), and a gang of Black youth had used the excitement as an opportunity to come into the white neighborhood and bust the glass out of people's cars? Why, you know, they'd have all been shot on the spot. No further commotion.
Let me be absolutely clear about one thing: I was present in Seattle for the WTO protests in 1999. The anarchists of the Black Bloc broke windows there. Liberals and pathological pacifists condemned them for their "violence". But I defended their tactics.
In Seattle, the police were violently, viciously attacking peaceful protesters--pregnant women, elderly folks, it didn't matter--who were trying to hold intersections to keep the WTO delegates out of the Convention Center. At moments of the greatest peril from the police, the Black Bloc would march in to the rescue in a kind of brigade, seemingly out of nowhere, using their hammers to smash the plate glass windows out of corporate monstrosities such as Niketown. By so doing, they created a diversion and protected the peaceful demonstrators. The cops would chase after the anarchists and leave the peaceful demonstrators alone to hold their intersection. And then the younger, more agile Black Bloc would seemingly vanish into the woodwork of the city, only to return as if by magic when a situation became dangerous again.
The Black Bloc were the people's heroes precisely because they attacked CORPORATE property, and they did so TACTICALLY. They likely saved many from the disfiguring blows of police batons, and their actions contributed mightily to the famous victory of the people and the momentary defeat of the capitalist globalizers.
But what happened in Oakland Wednesday night was of another species entirely. Innocent Black, Muslim, Latino and Asian Oaklanders, none of them rich, none of them deserving of such treatment, took most of the blows and suffered the greatest extent of damage at the hands of masked white hooligans. To me, this situation bears a closer resemblance to what occurred in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 (if you don't know, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsa_Race_Riot) than to the Seattle events of 1999.
To all bona fide anarchists: Act now to stop these white thugs from continuing to do what they've been doing! Respect the self-determination of the Black community! Don't allow these idiots and criminals to usurp the name and reputation of the venerable working-class social philosophy of Lucy Parsons, Emma Goldman and Vincent St. John! Take direct action against this irresponsible element tarnishing your movement's legacy, now!