Thursday, May 24, 2012

For All Who May Be Next

Special guest post by Lauren Riot (@laurenriot)

Somewhere in Oakland right now, the next Alan Blueford is doing something innocuous. Maybe he's getting ready for a date or brushing his teeth or watching TV. He has no idea that one day the Oakland Police will murder him. Let's be real, young black men in Oakland live under threat of death from the police every day. Even though the next Raheim Brown, Gary King, Rashan Hill, Joshua Russell, or Terrance Mearis doesn't know he will die, chances are good that he is well aware of the threat looming.

There is a well established pattern by the police when they kill a young black man: shoot, deny medical treatment, then vilify him in the media. "I thought he was reaching for his waistband," is a common refrain. "He has been linked to a sexual assault," is another, which conjures up a history of false accusations of sexual assault against black men to justify lynchings, as if the police have ever cared about sexual violence. "EMS could not enter the scene to render medical aid until we deemed the area secure," is the common excuse for allowing young men to bleed to death in agony, alone on the concrete. This formula is repeated so often, we can practically mouth these words along with the news the very first time the shooting is reported.

Another formula that we see is a grieving family, thrust into the spotlight, simultaneously processing grief and made de facto (if temporary) leaders of a socio-political movement. The media often provokes them with pointed, manipulative questions to get dramatic emotional outbursts for the evening news. Many times the family feels compelled to talk about what a great person their child was, how they went to church or got good grades or fed the homeless. Of course families want to humanize their loved ones to the world, they are likely all too aware of what happens in the comments section on news websites and can rightly guess what's on the minds of a smug and racist white, suburban America, (though of course being an atheist, 'C' student or even criminal does not make a person deserving of execution). The parents of police murder victims often speak at rallies and small marches and demand justice through the traditional legal system for the cop or cops who killed their child. They may meet with the Mayor or City Council or even police chief and demand an investigation or arrest. Quite often, they admonish those agitating for resistance to remain peaceful, respectful of police, to work within the system. In some cases, they are threatened by the Oakland Police Department; if they encourage uprising or don't speak out against violence and property destruction, measures will be taken against them.

The parents of those killed by police are experiencing this loss for the first time. They have every right to experience it in their own way and organize in their own way. There is no doubt that they can and should make whatever demands they want of the police and criminal justice system. They should be respected by the community at all times and the parameters that they set for the actions they organize should be honored. However, the loss of their child is not the first loss Oakland and the Bay Area have experienced, nor will it be the last. When police murder young men in the streets, these are not isolated incidents. They are aspects of a system of terrorizing the community into submission. It isn't just the murders of young black men we rail against, it's public strip searches, beatings, sexual assaults, constant degrading verbal harassment, trumped up charges, planted evidence, denial of medical treatment in police custody, gang injunctions, inflated sentencing, and the smug satisfaction on the face of the police as they exact their violence with impunity.

Whenever the police murder a person and the community responds by organizing actions, they are met by some with an accusation that they are "capitalizing" on the death of someone. First of all, the use of the concepts of profit and capital are incredibly ironic here, given the fact that capitalism is dependent on the repression of people of color through violence or threat of violence. Organizers, agitators, rabble rousers, shit disturbers, whatever you may call them, do not "profit" or gain political "capital" through the deaths of others. By the logic of "capitalizing" on people's deaths to give steam to uprising, people in the community could never respond to any abuse or injustice and remain ethical. This is why people say these things- to neutralize our resistance. Furthermore, this mentality creates a division between the community and the family. If the prevailing viewpoint is that agitators are just using their tragedy to further political aims, the family is being further victimized and those acting outside their parameters are now negative figures and much easier to speak out against in the press. In turn, this stifles momentum and makes the likelihood of public outrage over police repression of uprisings lower. Accusations of "profiting" on the loss of community members are false and work against both acts of solidarity with the family and any popular social rebellion against police violence.

The community of Oakland and the Bay Area can and will rise up to resist police violence, and when they do, they will organize their own actions which probably won't involve working with the system or eliminating swear words from chants. They may organize direct actions against the police, police headquarters or City Hall; there may be riots and looting in the streets; people may organize citywide graffiti campaigns; community patrols may be set up to defend against the police. The point is, the community response to police murders won't necessarily look like the actions the family of the victim plans, and that's okay.

It is not disrespectful to the families of police murder victims for the community to go against their wishes in resistance to police violence. Their child's death alone is worth setting things ablaze for, but their child's death alone is not the reason people respond with the passion they do. Oakland weeps and rages for Alan Blueford and also for every other police murder victim, everyone living under threat of police brutality, for unnamed victims, and for those who die when EMS doesn't come. When Oscar Grant was murdered, we rose up not just because of the injustice of his death, but because we know that this happens all the time, all over America whether there are cameras recording or not, and we know that cops will continue to kill because they know they'll get away with it-- that is, until there is some compelling societal change that forces them to stop. We know it won't come from our appeals to the courts and we know it won't come from our appeals to the government.

There is nothing wrong with families framing their struggle solely in terms of their child who was killed; similarly, there is nothing wrong with the community framing their uprising within the context of police murder after police murder with nothing but an increasingly armed and hostile police force killing more young black men on the horizon. It is possible to honor and support family survivors of police murder without losing sight of the war that is being waged by the police against the community. Families can and should seek justice for the incident of violence against their loved one, and in the way they see fit. However, while they are unlikely to experience another act of violence like this, it is only a matter of time before another young man is bleeding to death on the streets of Oakland at the hands of the police.

There are two distinct and valid struggles here: the family's cry for justice and recompense (such as it may be) and the screams from the community to demand OPD stop killing people. The family's work towards justice as they define it belongs solely to them. The fight against police murders and brutality belongs to all who may be next and all who love them.


  1. Lauren, this is so timely...the dynamic that you write about between bereaved families seeking justice and outraged community members seeking the same thing was in full play yesterday at the town hall meeting for Alan Blueford. It took two years before the Riveras sought the help of OO. Their radicalization was a process of repression...of being refused the dignity of having their son's property returned to them...I'm not even sure they have a copy of the police report yet, but the last time we were in Stockton there was a fierce synergy between the struggle of the family and the struggle of the community. I'm hoping this will also happen with the Blueford family.

    1. James Rivera's family was fighting back from day one in June of 2010 before there ever was OO! Respect!! Fight back has been going on ever since the first African was killed by a European!! The Oscar Grant Committee and Modesto Copwatch as well as many others have been in steadfast solidarity with James Rivera's family since the beginning. OO just got on board in April!

  2. Lauren right on point, as usual.

  3. EXCELLENT ANALYSIS. ALL POWER to ALL the 99% who stand in solidarity against police state repression and execution.

  4.! Thanks for putting in words my feelings on the confusion over how to honor victims families and stopping future OPD murders of young folks in my community. I watched "4 Little Girls" doc. film by Spike Lee on the bombing of the church in Birmingham killing the four young black girls and was trying to figure out the connections between the killings then by the KKK (incl support by FBI) and the killings today by both people like Zimmerman and the police dept. and how we are supposed to stand up to this shit today.

    The dilemma of my confusion between respecting the murder victim's family and preventing the next murder is now resolved. Thanks.

  5. I see the dynamic that this writer attempts to draw out but not sure the argument that favors activists doing as they see fit with or without the family is fully developed here. The author contradicts themselves when they claim "this mentality creates a division between the community and the family" regarding those who ask for respect of the families wishes but then later: "The point is, the community response to police murders won't necessarily look like the actions the family of the victim plans..." Most of us from the bay know all too well the dangers of being black and walking down the street when any police are around and have a great deal of rage due to everyday violence handed down to our children by the state. As the author states: "capitalism is dependent on the repression of people of color through violence or threat of violence." The question that this article doesn't dig into is whether or not the murder of another black boy in Oakland should or will be the impetus for a popular uprising and why the daily violence and repression against people of color is not enough to incite rageful action.

  6. Im making revisions to this article to print it in a zine, so I came back to address any criticisms in the revisions, but I dont think there is a contradiction there. In the paragraph about accusations of capitalizing on the struggle, the attempt to divide the family and the community is clearly placed in the context of an attempt to discredit and deligitimize both struggles- the family's immediate struggle, and the community's larger response. Later,the sentence about actions looking different is to address that two different actions for two separate issues won't look the same. I don't see how they contradict each other.

    The question of why the death of another black boy hasn't pushed us to bring the city to its knees is a different question for a different day and has to do with many things. For example, the lack of video of the shooting, the fact that the coroner's report was not released, so the evidence of extreme misconduct like letting a boy bleed to death with no medical help is not verified. (Why do you think they won't release it?) The burnout that has come after the Oscar Grant uprisings and OO and the amount of cointelpro type baiting and conflict that arose from both. The counter insurgency is alive and well, and should be written about, but that was not the topic of this particular article.

  7. Yes, capitalism needs an unemployed, underemployed stratum to keep wages low and profits high but it doesn't have to be based on color. Any group can serve that purpose. Maybe the police are just practicing on people of color. Once they get it down and we don't protest anymore any group of white people could be next. White people shouldn't think for a minute it can't happen to them.