Revolution 161, April 12, 2009
The Battle for Justice for Oscar Grant...And the Rulers’ Counter-Attack
On January 1, 2009, Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Black man, was beaten, put face down on the platform of a rapid transit station, handcuffed, and then shot in the back by police. This cold-blooded murder was caught on cell phone videos and seen by millions. People in Oakland righteously rebelled in response. Since then, this has become a “flashpoint” struggle in this supposedly new, supposedly post-racial America. Resistance has gone on, with revolution in the mix of it—and word of this struggle has been spreading, even if not yet fast and wide enough.
Obama sent a message of condolence to the memorial for the four cops recently killed in Oakland. In this connection, some relevant questions:
Obama’s March 27 message of condolence sent to the memorial for the four cops recently killed in Oakland:
Our Nation is grateful for the men and women of law enforcement who work tirelessly to ensure the safety of our citizens and our neighborhoods. They risk their lives each day on our behalf and ask little in return. And although the danger of their work is well known, words still fail to explain the senseless violence that claims so many of them.
Sgt. Dunakin, Officer Hege, Sgt. Romans and Sgt. Sakai were taken from us far too soon, and their loss reminds us that the work to which they dedicated their lives remains undone.
As we honor their memories, I hope each of you will take comfort in knowing that their commitment to their fellow man will never be forgotten. We will always carry them in our hearts, and their legacy of service will inspire us as we work together toward a better Oakland, a better world.
Michelle and I offer our heartfelt sympathy. May their sacrifices be rewarded with eternal peace.
As part of this resistance, during the week of March 16, revolutionaries and families of victims of police murder built for the March 22 “People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Oscar Grant and the Nationwide Epidemic of Police Brutality and Murder” (see article on the Tribunal in this issue). Many copies of Revolution #159 with the article “The Cold-Blooded Murder of Oscar Grant” got into the hands of people in Oakland and Hayward, the city where Oscar had grown up. The article was also picked up and published widely on the Internet. And there were several radio shows that week where police brutality was discussed, exposed, and the Tribunal vigorously promoted. Different political organizations were actively building for protests on Monday, March 23, when the preliminary hearing for Oscar’s killer—Johannes Mehserle—was scheduled to begin.
From the beginning, the rulers—BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] officials, the local power structure, state and national politicians, police, courts, and media—have moved on many fronts to protect the ability of their police to continue to violently suppress the people, while attacking and attempting to stifle and derail the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant.
These reactionary moves took a new leap over the weekend of March 21-22. On Saturday, March 21, four police were shot and killed in East Oakland (reportedly during a routine traffic stop), allegedly by Lovelle Mixon. Mixon was a young Black man who was on parole after spending nearly his whole adult life in prison. (He was later killed, reportedly in a shoot-out with police.)
The system immediately seized on this incident to unleash a counter-offensive against the people. This counter-offensive aims to excuse and even justify the wanton murder of Oscar Grant, to discredit people’s righteous anger and resistance against this monstrous crime and the larger epidemic it’s part of, and to go after those who have been fighting for justice for Oscar Grant.
This included a deluge of media coverage and official commentary about the “fallen heroes” (echoing Bush regime rhetoric after September 11, 2001) aimed at falsely portraying the notoriously brutal and scandal-ridden Oakland Police Department (OPD) as heroic, and burying the Oscar Grant story under a deluge of coverage about the dead cops.
The week culminated in a massive memorial-tribute to the police at the Oakland Oracle Arena, attended by over 15,000 cops flown into Oakland from across the country. It was broadcast live on local TV. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Attorney General Jerry Brown, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared to eulogize the cops. And the representative of the imperialist system, Barack Obama, and his wife sent a statement of condolence. The whole military-style event ended with a flyover by 20 police helicopters.
This ugly spectacle is aimed at creating public opinion for new assaults on the people, attempting to put people fighting against injustice on the defensive, and to let killer-cop Mehserle walk free or escape with minor punishment. (The shooting was used on March 23 by Mehserle’s attorney and the presiding judge to postpone the killer-cop’s preliminary hearing for two months. See an article about this on line at revcom.us/a/161/Discrepancies-en.html).
OPD: Rotten to the Core & Shining Example of True Role of Police
Taking center stage at the Oracle arena, the acting Chief of Police summed up the occasion with a jarring platitude, “This will be their final lineup with us,” he said. “They rest in peace, we know, because they were men of peace.” Men of peace?
No amount of lies, propaganda and media extravaganzas, however, can change the reality of the violent police terror that—particularly the Black and Latino masses—live under in Oakland. This reality was powerfully conveyed by the families of victims of police terror at the People’s Tribunal.
Since 2003, Oakland has paid an average of $2,403,877 every year to settle lawsuits against the police and to keep this killing force on the streets. Oakland police killed six people in 2008 and five in 2007. The Oakland cop who shot Andrew Moppin on December 31, 2007 went on to kill Jody Woodfox in July of 2008. The cop who tased and then shot young Gary King in the back had also killed another young man and shot and paralyzed a third.
During the memorial, Captain Edward Tracey, SWAT commander, said the officers died while they were “doing what they loved best—being Oakland police officers, riding motors, kicking in doors, serving as SWAT.” So now kicking in doors and being SWAT is what constitutes “peace”?
All this—and much more that could be documented here—shows that the Oakland police are not heroes but a brutal occupying army of thugs responsible for many stolen lives. They are an army of thugs whose job is to protect a system of exploitation and oppression and violently keep people down.
Jerry Brown’s Fascistic Pronouncements
A very serious component of the system’s counter-attack on the people has been led by State Attorney General Jerry Brown (a former state governor and mayor of Oakland, now again running for governor). Right after the March 21 shootings, Brown made a series of fascistic pronouncements that vilified and attacked the masses and targeted political activists and revolutionaries, while defending the police, including the murders and brutality they carry out.
Brown declared: “The fact of the matter is...you have urban terrorists, not by the hundreds, but by the thousands, and they have to be kept under control, and parolees and probationers need extra control. And cops when they get into combat sometimes make mistakes, and people shouldn’t pile on as though they were doing something bad, when they were really doing something good.”
Stop and think about this statement. Brown is not only ignoring the state-sponsored violence and terror unleashed against the people by the police. He’s also targeting large sections of the people as “terrorists,” particularly those cast off by the workings of this system into joblessness. And yes, sometimes into crime—crimes that pale in comparison to the towering crimes—and terror—this system unleashes against people across the globe and in the U.S. on a daily basis. His words deliberately invoke the eight-year-long U.S. “war on terror,” in effect calling for military measures against the people.
Second, Brown is saying that whatever the police are doing—whether beating people, harassing people, even murdering people—it’s “good” and therefore should be excused as well-intentioned errors. And note: as Attorney General, Jerry Brown is in charge of the state’s District Attorneys—including the Alameda County DA who’s supposed to be “prosecuting” Oscar Grant’s killer. What does Brown’s statement say about how vigorous that prosecution will be?
The cold reality is that it’s the police who terrorize the people, not the other way around. It is the police who kill and brutalize the people by the hundreds and thousands. Brown’s own office lists fatal police shootings of civilians in California at about 100 per year. By contrast, the number of police killed by citizens per year in California is a handful.
Targeting Organized—And Revolutionary—Forces
Brown also went out of his way to attack the various organized forces—in particular communist revolutionaries—who have been leading the Oscar Grant battle. Speaking to MSNBC, with coded reference to the political struggle against police brutality and the groups he was targeting, Brown singled out what he called “ideological opponents” of the police. He claimed the “vast majority of people like the police” and “want their protection,” but these “ideological opponents of the police” are “so fixed in their belief that the police are the problem.” They are a “tiny group of people,” Brown said, “that I think can be kept in check.”
There is in this statement something to understand and take seriously. First, Brown’s lies to the contrary, there are thousands upon thousands of people with bitter, first-hand experience with police brutality and a deep hatred of it. (Consider, for example, the life experience of Oscar Grant and his family and friends, as testified to in the People’s Tribunal, or the documentary evidence gathered by the Stolen Lives Project. Even mainstream reports have noted the deep “chasm” between the police and people living in East Oakland.)
Second, while the politically organized forces—in particular the revolutionary communists—may be relatively small in number right now, Brown’s statement points to the underlying concerns at the highest levels of the state about the potential for growing numbers of those outraged by the actions of this system to get connected with revolutionary consciousness and organization—and become part of the movement for revolution.
Third, Brown’s vow to keep “ideological opponents in check” is a clear threat to use the violence of the state, and other means, against revolutionaries and radical opponents of the system. This should be taken extremely seriously—there is a long and bloody history of repression in California against those who unite with the people to stand up and defy the powers-that-be, and who bring forward the need for revolution, or radical change. Right now, in the course of the important battle for justice for Oscar Grant, the police, legal system and the media have targeted revolutionary communists, including members of the Revolution Club and Revolution Books in Berkeley. And now the top law enforcement official in California has added his weight to this. This is ominous. Fighting back against this and defending the revolutionaries who come under counter-revolutionary attack of various kinds is an essential part of the struggle. In particular, we urge people to read the Oakland Revolution Club statement on David.
It’s Right—And Urgent—To Continue to Fight for Justice for Oscar Grant and to Stop Police Brutality and Murder
The events of March 21 do not change the bitter reality of police brutality and murder experienced by many thousands. They do not somehow justify the cold-blooded murder of Oscar Grant—or the thousands of other lives stolen by the police. And they cannot be used as an excuse to derail, stifle, or suppress the righteous struggle for justice for Oscar Grant and an end to this nationwide epidemic of police brutality and murder.
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