one piece of metal. . .
I am often in awe at the way in which society values one life over another. I am often silenced that our country can lead a man hunt for a lost white womyn in a South American country and yet barely give a 7 year old Black girl killed by invading pigs more than five minutes on the evening news. I am stunned that a White transit officer, caught on film shooting an unarmed Black man in the back as he lies face down on a platform, will most likely serve under six years in the prisons of Amerikkka. I understand that the system is set up this way. I should by now because these things happen daily. Lives are lost and names are never given the chance to be forgotten daily. But, if I weren’t affected, I believe that would be a bigger issue.
The murder of Oscar Grant, an Oakland youth, by White transit officer Johannes Mehserle on the morning of Jan 1, 2009 served as a wake up call for me. It took me out of the Obama induced haze that I was in and cemented me back into the real world. It brought things back into perspective for me tenfold and I heard the a voice in my head speak loud and clear “Having the President of the United States change color means little to nothing.”
We know that the United States sits at the head of a capitalist, racist, sexist, homophobic society that expresses itself mostly through violence and oppression. Thus, changing the color of the president is like sweeping leaves on a windy day, you ain’t accomplishing shit. True change comes through revolution, through the revolutionary restructuring of this society so that it works for all and not just the few, the bourgeoisie.
Grant, like many Black youth represented a thorn in the side of the White Capitalist power structure. The working class Black population in this country, due to it’s historical developing, represents a giant surplus in the labor needed to make the system function, and is thus more profitable in the eyes of the capitalist in the prison industrial complex and the military. This means their is a vast amount of this population that Capitalism in this country has no where to place in the work force. Many who opt out of those two options and choose to resist and rebel may as well paint targets on their backs. Because we exist in a system that has almost little to no place for Blacks in this country it thus becomes necessary to police the community because the contradictions of this decadent society are more apparent to them, meaning the line between the haves and the have nots is more clear in the eyes of many Black people in this country. Although, in many cases Black people have not yet chosen to abandon all hope in this system for various reasons, but the nature of this system, I would still wager, is very clear in the mind of most Black people. This means that the potential to organize and develop resistence then becomes greater in these communities and they represent a real threat to the State and to the White Capitalist power structure. It now becomes necessary for the State to rain down with extreme force. This is why we see the extreme numbers of Blacks incarcerated, many of which for trumped up charges or non violent drug offences (using drugs that were implanted into the communities in the first place mind you.). This is why you see the occupation of the ghetto by the police reach terrifying heights. The State must control the population and it does this primarily through a police force armed with racist ideology.
The State, under Capitalism, cannot function, without the ills of racism, sexism and the like. It would be impossible, for if it weren’t for these forces the working people would rise and take the means of production and make the system run for them, they would in effect overthrow Capitalism. Police, the foot soldiers of the State, are usually for a similar social economic background, they are usually white and middle class. Meaning those who’s position in society makes them more prone to the ills of racism, are usually those who serve as officers. The hit the community armed with guns and racism, and we see this in the harassment and murder of Blacks. We see this in the murder of Sean Bell, the Black New Yorker shot with over 20 times by the fascist pigs of the NYPD. We see this in the the murder of Ayana Jones, the 7 year old Black girl, shot in the throat by Detroit pigs storming her house guns blazing. And we see this in the murder of Oscar Grant, the Oakland youth pinned down and executed by a BART transit officer. The Pigs, under the guidance of the State, suppress Blacks through any means necessary and they do so in many instances acting on racist ideals. They do so in many instances acting on the fear and disdain of Black people society has embedded in them. They do so in many instances acting on the disregard society has taught them to have for the Black community and Black lives. They do so in many instances acting on the superiority complex given to them by the badge. The cycle of murder is vicious and seems never ending and most assuredly will be under this system and in the absence of serious revolutionary organizing by the Left in general and the Black Left specifically.
The Grant case, however, is unique in the fact that it was caught on film. The film sparked more outrage than a mere word of mouth ever would. People, wherever they were, could tune into the brutality and this served as a catalyst for outrage, and in the early weeks of January people rioted in downtown Oakland. Though not on the same scale as the sometimes romanticized riots of the 60’s, the outrage was still evident, the message clear. People are tired of this blatant disregard for what is preached but never practiced by this heartless system; common humanity and dignity. This outrage was what pushed the State to put Mehserle, the transit officer, on trial.
Months later, days before this post, a jury in LA (without a single Black on it) decided that Mehserle was guilty of involuntary manslaughter, effectively slapping the murderous transit pig on the wrist. That night, with the anticipation of riot in the air, non profit organizations in Oakland held a peaceful rally. Throughout this rally, which was surrounded by riot police, the non profits encouraged people to speak but continued to spread the State sponsored message of pacification, urging people not to riot. Never once in this rhetoric were the more serious issues of State violence addressed, instead the destruction of property owned by outside companies that help to gentrify and exploit the working people of Oakland was shunned as a means of expressing anger at the verdict. Property destruction cannot be and should never be equated the murder of Oscar Grant the way it was during this rally. Nonetheless, the rally continued without addressing any issues relevant to further organization beyond Grant. It astounds me that never once was the presence of the riot police at a peaceful assembly addressed, nor were the issues of extreme poverty, police brutality, environmental racism, red lining, inadequate schools, housing and food (which are the real ways in which the State violence manifest daily in the lives of Oaklanders). During one speech it was almost implied that the murder of Grant was justified by saying that Blacks invite police violence by being violent towards one another.
Two things became strikingly clear to me during this rally. The first being the true role of the non profit in this society. The non profits serve as the right hand of the State in many ways. They provide services that should be provided by the Government and thus gain community support and reduce the pressure from below on the State and when events like this happen they use that community support to pacify and demobilize the community by channelling righteous energy into the wrong channels. Legislation has rarely brought about the change needed by the oppressed in this society, because to change society in a way that benefitted all would be a revolution, meaning the overthrow of the racist capitalist bourgeois state. The non-profits also, in these moments, seek to insult and vilify the youth and working class of Oakland by claiming that those who riot are committing an assault against the community and must be guided by outside forces (in this case it is usually White anarchist who are blamed). The second thing made clear to me was the need for serious organizing in the Black community independent of the non profits. It is clear that the bodies present in the political scene are not adequate, and haven’t been in a long time, for challenging the rhetoric of the non profit State puppets. The people of this country in general, and the Black people in specific, are in need of new revolutionary bodies that can work in conjunction with them to develop strategies that can win under the pressure of the capitalist state.
The riot that broke out was much larger than the ones that occurred originally. One of the popular events of the riot has been the looting of the downtown Footlocker. Despite seeking to vilify and take away all agency from the youth that were involved in the riot, the media also, as in previous incidents, has sought to take the political content out of the rioting and portray it merely as a giant playground for criminals. The rioting and looting of Footlocker represents more than just youth wanting to gain a new pair of Jordans. It represents the youth of Oakland striking out against a symbol of the companies the exploit and gentrify the working class Oakland community. The riot expanding hitting other stores such as Sears and Tullys coffee and like all riots it was eventually ended, which begs the question; “What’s next?”
If we want the murder of Oscar Grant to not be in vain and meaningless, we must use it as a point of further mobilization. As the economic crisis deepens, the crisis in the Gulf heightens, and global political struggle rises we will see more acts like Arizona’s racist SB1070 law and more Oscar Grants. Reaction racism always accompanies crisis, usually it is used by the Right to rally the working class white population in this country (as we can see with the Tea Party and the “take America back” rhetoric). So if we are to mobilize around this, and not let Oscar Grant become another in a long list of those killed by the State without critical fight back we need to organize. It is clear that the non-profits and the majority of groups in play cannot properly address the coming crisis and the struggle that will follow. It is time for new revolutionary pedagogy, which includes working with the working class and not speaking to it from an empty high ground. Their needs to be a real effort to work with the communities of people effected by this crisis and to organize not only along the lines of single issues but to raise questions about the system as a totality, to bring up how we can strike a blow to the system in a real way. The gauge of success in struggle is always, in my opinion, the number of people that come out of the struggle politicized and connected. So far the majority of organizing bodies have not been able to connect in a real way to the communities they claim to fight for and thus have this paternal position in relation to them. This stands in direct contrast to what needs to happen, organizers creating more organizers through horizontal community building and consciousness raising. As things deepen and working people are pressured more and more we may see more resistance from working people in the form of strikes. Connecting the two seemingly different struggles, strikes that come in solidarity oppressed communities or strikes led by people of those communities, people who are close to the means of production and are responsible for making the gears of society turn, are a start. In a system dominated by capital, fighting back means attacking the flow of capital, which working people control. It’s time that we use the disgust we have and channel it in the direction of a strategy that can win. For Oscar, For Ayana. For Sean. And for all oppressed people.