Commentary: Oscar Grant killing puts focus
on battle against injustice
By Wilson Riles
OAKLAND - The residents of Oakland are "rubbed raw" with the injustice
and tragedy of the Oscar Grant killing.
Oakland is a unique community in terms of its diversity and extensive progressive
history. There is much for Oakland residents to take pride in on top of the
City's beauty and vibrancy.
But almost every person living in this City has been faced with relatives
and friends asking, "Why do you continue to live in such a dangerous place?"
Often that question bursts from the mouths of people who know nothing about
Oakland but what they hear from racially and class biased, if-it-bleeds-it-leads,
These questioners are deaf-and-dumb to the history of struggle in Oakland
and to the fact that _ other than in parts of West Oakland or East Oakland
_ Oakland's crime statistics are better than those of most U.S. communities.
Oscar Grant was not from West or East Oakland; he lived in Hayward. Oscar
was a 22-year-old African-American father of a baby girl.
Returning from a New Years Eve party in San Francisco, he was shot in the
back as he lay face down on a BART platform on January 1.
His killing was caught on multiple cell phone cameras and, like a computer
virus, was spread around the country if not around the world. Any viewer of
those videos could not help but conclude that this was a colossal injustice
committed by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle.
Yet, the `powers that be,' the County District Attorney, the BART Board of
Directors, and many of the affluent and knee-jerk-middle-class-white-cultural-chauvinists
are finding it very difficult to hold this officer accountable for what he
Accountability is swift for poor and brown residents even when they are not
at fault.That is the sharp, painful, cutting edge of injustice that has this
community in turmoil, again.There is no established, trusted-by-all process
whereby this community could fairly work through the equities in this situation.
Representative democracy does not work when those who have the money control
the public agenda and have inordinate influence over elected representatives'
Our Green Party understands this very well. And, the criminal justice system
has bent over backwards to serve the prison industrial complex.
The situation is worse than when Rodney King was videoed being pummeled by
L.A. police who were later acquitted by a jury of Simi Valley residents _ from
the preferred neighborhood for Southern California cops.
The more recent extensive outpouring of official community sympathy and mourning
for four Oakland Police Department officers killed in the line of duty gave
those, uncomfortable with the Oscar Grant killing by their hero police, the
opportunity to full-throatily express their view of what is purely right and
who is always wrong.
Outraged by the Oscar Grant incident, various collections of community people
arose spontaneously to voice their pain and anguish.Most of these collections
of people were multicultural. Many young warriors, the frequent target for
injustices, were not able to control their rage. They have no expectation that
the "system" will ever make the fundamental changes necessary to
even approach justice for Oscar's killing or anything else that stifles their
opportunity and puts them on a slippery slide to criminality.
Being able to "voice" their pain is short term cathartic relief.
Older community members, led by prominent religious figures, expressed their
understanding of these outbursts even though they decried the property destruction
and the shift of the media attention off the Oscar Grant incident to the burning
cars in the streets.
After some "schooling" of these young rebels, it was noticed that
they interacted more positively with adults on the streets and with some of
the downtown businesses that they had trashed.
Other young experienced community organizers are working hard to keep the
community's focus where it needs to be - on justice. These young organizers
have a really tough job.
They are on the front lines of the justice movement. They know the history
of West Oakland and East Oakland. They are working to build the movement to
the place where some significant, fundamental social justice can be achieved.
These organizers still believe that it is possible; they have not given up
hope. Young people need to be listened to and meetings and events need to be
consciously shaped to allow them to be heard. We must learn to do those things
which keep young people involved.
Cross-organizational coalitions, alliances, and expressions of solidarity
need to be continually renewed. Cultural, class, generational, racial, and
language divides can be bridged. These young organizers are teaching and learning
and growing with experience. This is the precious legacy generation of Oakland.
The Green Party of Alameda County is proud of these young folks and what they
have to give to all of us.
We are Oscar Grant, Bobby Seale, Elaine Brown, Bill Wahpepah, William Wong,
and we are many more and we will not die.
(Note: Wilson Riles served on the Oakland City Council from 1979 to 1992
and ran for Mayor of Oakland in 2002.)