"Oakland is Closed!"
Arrest and Containment Fail to Blunt Anger in the Streets
Nonviolence is an attempt to settle the colonial problem around the negotiating table before the irreparable is done... But the masses, without waiting for the chairs to be placed around the negotiating table, listen to their own voice and begin committing outrages and setting fire to buildings...
Of course, between colonial
"An Intentional Act"
The rebellion which shook the streets of
It would seem that all was well in
"Listening to George Jackson"
But it is this most basic of truths that protest organizers from the newly-formed Coalition Against Police Executions (CAPE) have insistently ignored. After the events of last week, the ostensible organizers of the demonstration at Fruitvale BART were among the first to attack the anger expressed later that night. One organizer was brought to tears by the scenes on the television, claiming that his hard work had been "destroyed by a group of anarchists." There is a distinct irony here, as those who peddling the "outside agitators" line were almost without exception absent on Wednesday, admitting that they watched events unfold on television. The insistence that it was "anarchists" who led the youth astray that night has been thoroughly discredited by those actually present, including KPFA reporter and Prisoners of Conscience Committee (POCC) Minister of Information JR, who insists that: "I have seen many reports talking about white invaders taking over the rebellion, which is b.s." He adds:
I'm proud of
Where did the "outside agitator" sound byte, with all its paternalistic and racist implications, come from in the first place? As one might suspect, it was the police who first deployed it, the media who followed, and the unwitting organizers who followed. At a "town hall meeting" led by black clergy and community leaders,
And another truth was affirmed at that meeting, which it should be noted represented a largely middle-class segment of
A Culture of Fear
In the run-up to Wednesday's official demonstration, it became clear that those dissenting from
Things became more serious on the topic of security, which organizers deemed the "top priority." While you might have thought this meant securing the well-being of the marchers in an atmosphere of rampant police violence, this was in reality more about securing the public image of
But one error stood out above all others: the organizers' open neglect for the obvious fact that the attention paid by Mayor Dellums and D.A. Orloff to the case, the national media attention it garnered, and the subsequent arrest of Mehserle were only the result of last week's rebellion.
"I See A
The official march gathered outside City Hall in Frank Ogawa Plaza, with speakers including Mayor Ron Dellums, rapper Too $hort, and CAPE leadership, all of whom emphasized the "peaceful" nature of the gathering. Much like last Wednesday night, Dellums was greeted by a mixture of sparse applause and booing, despite being introduced by
Upon returning to City Hall, marchers were corralled by CAPE security into
But this radical message would be redirected and distorted through
As the crowd left the plaza, CAPE security cordons sought to direct people across Broadway on 14th and onward toward home, but many had not finished for the evening. As the crowd poured into the street and made clear its intention to remain, a line of riot police formed behind the security cordon. The same chants heard a week ago made an encore appearance, specifically, "No Justice, No Peace, Fuck the Police!" In an ingenious display of pageantry the security force channeled this unrest into a gesture of victory, convincing the police to stand down momentarily.
But this symbolic victory was to be short-lived. The street remained crowded with even more protestors than a week prior, and those gathered had clearly not been pacified by Mehserle's arrest. When it became clear that the crowd would not disperse voluntarily, it was announced that the police would return in 10 minutes, and that the streets needed to be cleared. And when this still didn't work, march security took it upon themselves to move the crowd, forming cordons, linking arms, and physically pushing the angry demonstrators off the streets. If Herbert Marcuse was concerned with "repressive tolerance," here was a case of repression under a scarcely tolerant veneer.
Not all of the security team agreed with these tactics. Some had even broken from the "official" security orientation in disagreement, and when the streets were being cleared, others removed their vests and refused to participate in this policing of the streets. The clear irony of the situation was this: here were representatives of those same "community leaders" who had a week prior denounced the "manipulation" of the city's youth, physically pushing those same young people off the street.
If the effort required to physically push peaceful demonstrators off the street was not proof enough that the self-appointed security apparatus did not represent the will of those angry youth present at the rally, then what happened a moment later would make this astonishingly clear. After a conflict between protestors and fundamentalist Christian provocateurs, the security force made the amateurish mistake of leaving unattended those whom they had just put so much effort into moving off the streets.
Without a minute's delay, the crowd returned to the street, this time at 13th and Broadway. A few more sweeps with security cordons proved ineffective, and seemed only to agitate some of the protestors, who entered into open conflict with the security team (with the mainstream press claiming that there was even a physical confrontation at one point). As a last-ditch effort, some security officials were seen consulting directly with police and a city councilperson, but toward what end it remains unclear. Realizing that they had clearly lost control of the situation, and in an effort to publicly wash their hands of the rebelliousness,
To be clear: the internal security team were neither infiltrators nor police (as some had suggested last week), but merely an unfortunate example of what happens when well-meaning, nonviolent organizers adopt a police mindset and step in to play the role of the oppressors in an effort to blunt popular rage. And to be even clearer: there is nothing wrong with popular security or revolutionary discipline, but when imposed on those most affected against their will, popular sentiment will either prevail or suffer repression.
After the security team withdrew, it was only a few short minutes before a young black protestor took five flying kicks at a bus stop window, thereby setting the tone for what would follow. As the first glass disintegrated onto the pavement, a crowd of youths of all colors rushed in as if on cue, venting its rage on a nearby Wells Fargo. Within seconds, a half dozen teargas canisters landed in the vicinity, and the crowd scattered. Either by design or sheer contingency, most ran into the City Center Mall, demolishing a number of storefronts, but these were not the "mom and pop" businesses that had borne the brunt a week ago, but instead mostly large chains. (The press, never above even the most ridiculous of contradictions, would later refer to the destruction of "
The best among the security volunteers had remained, encouraging the crowd to stay smart, to stay in groups, and to avoid arrest. After the police had enforced a degree of calm, heated debates broke out on the sidewalks, which clearly reflected the class cleavages that divided the majority of the marchers from those who took to the streets afterward. One man was enraged by the efforts of well-dressed black onlookers to disarm his anger: "you can't tell me shit! These motherfuckers sent me to the hospital, I had tubes coming out all over my body! We're the ones that are suffering!" Another, who identified himself as a close friend of the late Gary King, confronted an apparently middle-class black woman who attempted to restrain him. Infuriated, he singlehandedly confronted an entire line of riot cops, cursing and spitting on their visors, and was very nearly assaulted in response.
If age and class clearly distinguished those who attended the march from those who remained in the streets, then we are right to wonder which of these groups has a more acute awareness of police violence. While many in "the community" more generally certainly hoped for a peaceful response to the murder of Oscar Grant, those who voted with their feet for militant action were largely those most affected by police repression in
OPD again decided to make a tactical withdrawal, hoping a hands-off approach would defuse tensions, circling the city in cruisers with their right rear doors slightly open for easy deployment. But when the remaining protestors refused to disperse, police returned on motorcycles, one making the apocryphal loudspeaker announcement: "
"The Bullet or the Bullet"
In a written response to the murder of Oscar Grant, revolutionary Bay Area rapper Paris had the following to say on the subject of a "peaceful" response to police murder:
Hopefully we won't see the same course of events take place that always seem to happen --brutality/murder, then outrage, the protest, then acquittal, then more outrage... followed by a cooling off period and eventually back to business as usual. That's why I don't fuck with protests--the powers that be do what they want to do regardless of what the people say.
There is little that the moderate leaders fear more than "this impatient violence of the masses," and they will go out of their way, according to Fanon, to dismiss and discredit it: "The official leaders, draped in their years of experience, will pitilessly disown these ‘adventurers and anarchists'." Fanon himself was no friend of anarchists, but nor did he approve of a self-appointed leadership that would kidnap the popular will. While initially effective, those leaders promoting the strategy of moderation and conciliation would soon find themselves obsolete, outpaced by the action of the masses, who discover their own strength by using it. "The consciousness of the people rebels against any pacificiation. From now on the demagogues, the opportunists, and the magicians have a difficult task."
The events of the last week are but a warning, both to the powers that be in
George Ciccariello-Maher is a Ph.D. candidate in political theory at UC Berkeley. He lives in