Demand justice for Oscar Grant Wednesday, Jan. 7, 3-7 p.m., Fruitvale BART Station, Oakland
By now everyone has seen the horrific videos of an Oakland BART police officer shooting an unarmed Black man, Oscar Grant, while he lay face down on the ground and was fully cooperating. The man who was killed execution style was the father of a 4-year-old girl and was considered a peacemaker. In fact moments before he was shot he was pleading with his friends who were all cuffed up to calm down and be cooperative with police. Grant was seen begging the police officers, who had pulled tasers out and pointed them at the heads of his friends, not to shoot.
For reasons unknown to us, the police officer pushed Grant to the ground. One officer kneeled on his neck while the other officer pulled out a gun and shot him point blank in the back. The bullet went through his back, hit the ground and bounced back up and pierced his lung, killing him.
The police then ran around and terrified witnesses by taking away their cell phones and video cameras for "evidence." The video, which was shot by a witness named Karina Vargas and has been seen by everyone on KTVU, was also going to be confiscated, except her train started moving as police attempted to snatch away her camera. The cops obviously did not see the other video cameras buzzing away.
What went down this New Year's morning is a very disturbing sight and it has the entire city of Oakland on edge. Adding insult to injury is the refusal of BART police to acknowledge any wrongdoing. Police Chief Gary Gee says the tapes are inconclusive and he has thus far refused to even release the name of the police officer who is now on paid leave.
We have also come to find out that the young men along with Oscar Grant were snatched off the train by BART police who did not know whether or not these young men were involved in any sort of altercation. In short, it could've been any one of us pulled off the train that night.
Following is an interview broadcast Tuesday, Jan. 6, on Hard Knock Radio on KPFA 94.1 FM:
Davey D: I was listening to a number of speeches and old news clips that went all the way back to the murder of Bobby Hutton here in the city of Oakland and was remembering the harassment and the beat-down that Tupac Shakur got and going through just this long list of Black males who have been killed unceremoniously by the police department right here in the city all the way up to last year or the year before when everybody was down on protesting for the Jena 6 - and Gary King, 20 years old, was shot and killed in the back by an Oakland officer right here on 54th and Martin Luther King.
And this is just something that is ongoing and I guess the challenge before us in the aftermath of the execution of Oscar Grant, 22-year old father who was a peacemaker trying to get everybody to calm down - his friends, the police - who was seen on videotape around the world not struggling, cooperating, who was seen on videotape around the world, his face on the ground, his hands behind his back, as an officer shot him point blank, killing him.
And then that officer who our tax dollars are supposed to make sure that he protects and serves didn't even have the courage to hold a press conference and say this is who I am and say his name. The last I heard he hadn't even been interviewed. And then shame on the other officers around the Bay Area that saw this thing.
And we have people protesting all around the country and people upset, including our guests that we are going to talk to. You didn't see any of them (other police officers) having a press conference to say, "Wow, we are appalled at the behavior of one of our own." It's something to think about.
In the studio this afternoon we have Evan Shamar, one of the individuals who was outraged enough to get a number of people to go down to the BART headquarters to protest what was going on, and on the phone line with us is another activist in the community, Dereca Blackman from Leadership Excellence. First of all welcome to the show.
Evan, I want to start off with you. What went through your mind as a young Black male when you saw this and where have things gone since you've seen this videotape and gotten word of what went down?
Evan: Just to premise my thoughts, no horror film can ever compare to the images which we saw. I want to start off by saying, a young developing human life was deemed insignificant by the ones sworn to protect and serve, to uphold justice, and the police wonder why they're forced to carry around the stigma that we correspond with corruption.
They perpetuated this stigma to our reality and now we are left with Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old father - he's just a memory now - and we're supposed to swallow the fact that it may have been an accident. Well, I'm here to tell everybody, on behalf of everybody's outrage, that we're not going to swallow it; we're not going to take it. This is not going to stop. We don't want to see this officer put on administrative leave, we don't want to see this officer terminated or fired, we will not stop until we see this police officer put on trial in an American courtroom for first degree murder.
Davey: That's real talk right there. You know, talk about the type of exchanges that took place when you all went down to headquarters.
Evan: You know, we went down there; we were very peaceful. We had a small amount of people at first; then after a while people joined in and supported our efforts. The police were actually the most combative ones there if you really want to get down to it.
Davey: Combative in what way?
Evan: In the sense that they were trying to tell us to disburse, that we couldn't be there when we even had a permit to be there. They were using physical force part of the time. I was actually a victim of one of the police officer's physical force.
Davey: What did he do, put his billy club on you or … ?
Evan: One of the police officers actually … I got approached by a group of three officers and of course I was intimidated given the circumstances of what had happened. Three of them walked up to me and told me, "Sir, you're going to have to get out of here" and one reached for his billy club and then reached for something. I don't know what he was reaching for. The other one just took his forearm and positioned it as though it was a weapon and basically rushed me and threw me into somewhat of a bush. Now I didn't fall but he rushed me.
Davey: Wow, and this is happening during the protest?
Evan: This is at the protest that we had organized that took place the day before yesterday.
Davey: Dereca Blackman, you've been an activist from Detroit all the way up here to the Bay. This movie we've seen so many times, what do you think we should do? The community that is outraged, what steps do you think they should start taking to move beyond the usual things that we've done in the past, which has been protesting and asking for some sort of redress from the mayor and government officials. That seems to not have changed, at least in our lifetimes. What do you think needs to happen next?
Dereca: Thanks again, Davey, for taking a lead on this issue and making sure that everybody has good information and thanks to Evan for putting together the rally for tomorrow. I think a lot of times when we talk about rallies and protests, people get frustrated because they don't see it as part of a long-term solution. These are short-term solutions and they're not going to solve long-term problems.
I think part of the issue is that long-term solutions require a variety of approaches and they require consistency. And we as a people have to look not just at what's happening with this particular case, we need to look at what's been a process that has continued to happen. And when you had John Burris (attorney for Oscar Grant's family) on the other day, he was talking about some of the laws that have been passed that have facilitated this problem.
So we're raising questions right now about police confiscating people's cell phones for taking picture and videos of what was happening. What's the legality behind that and how do we prompt ACLU and others to make a comment to those kinds of things happening.
What's happening with the police officers' union such that they've been able to pass measures and laws that allow them to not be interviewed so that they have time to get their story together? So now all of a sudden we're hearing that he thought he was reaching for his taser. But they had days to get that story together as opposed to being interviewed on the spot about what happened.
So these are some of the things that we have to push back against. And we have to be vigilant. I think that this is a unique moment in history because all of us, whether it was through the election of Ron Dellums as mayor of Oakland or whether the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States came with a level of hope that we might have some integrity as individuals who would hold people accountable when things like this happen.
This is the moment. I think the legacy of Mayor Dellums in this city is right here on the line right now because if he doesn't have the integrity to confront this issue - and it's not necessarily about what he has the power to control. He has influence as a statesman and a local and national leader to make this issue of police accountability and police brutality relevant and important and discussed locally and nationally. He can make that happen.
And likewise, we need to take this issue all the way to the inauguration festivities and make sure police brutality becomes a part of the national agenda. I was mad about Abner Louima. I was mad about Amadou Diallo. I was sad at Gary King. I was sad at Sean Bell. Now I'm just tired, now I'm just fed up and we have to move with certainty - not just on short-term solutions but on long-term vigilance - to watch, monitor and maintain as laws are passed to facilitate the taking away of our rights.
Davey: That's the voice of Dereca Blackman. Let me ask you, Evan, first of all before I get to my question, if you can let everybody know what is going on tomorrow, so if anybody who is listening if you could take down a piece of paper and pencil and write down this information so you can join the protests that are going on tomorrow. A lot of people have been wanting to know how they can plug in.
Evan: All right, so tomorrow we have a protest that's going to take place from 3 to 7pm. We'd like everybody to get there at 3:00 at the Fruitvale BART Station where the victim was executed by the BART police officer. That takes place at 3 p.m. at Fruitvale BART and we will be set up in front of the vigil that has been set up by the friends and family. We ask that everybody come out with ambition, with vigor and with a voice.
Davey: Bring your cell phones and video cameras since the police made it a point to try …. Well, they took a number of cell phones is the reports we're getting that might be under the auspices of having evidence. We would like everybody who comes out to the protest to be a citizen journalist …
Dereca: We just got a message, Davey, that some folks were down at Fruitvale today just to check things out and the police asked them if they had permits. So we already have an issue escalating right now that they are already blocking our rights to organize and peacefully protest. And we will be peaceful tomorrow and we want to make it clear that we do have a right to peacefully protest and we're already having a strategy session around this issue of permits. We will rally tomorrow.
Evan: I actually sat down with, I was in City Hall yesterday and today for about three hours and I was trying to get this rally permitted. And they didn't blatantly reject it but they gave me the run-around.
Davey: Let me ask you this: Here you are a young man in the city who is organizing people. You seem bright and you seem to be the type of individual that folks in power say we need more of. You know, you're not somebody who is adding to the crime rate and the statistics or any of these things.
Have you heard from the city officials? Did Mayor Dellums look and see, "Hey, that's somebody who was like me when I was a young man, trying to fight the power, so to speak"? Did you get any phone calls or encouraging conversations? Have people reached out to you to say we want to support you?
Evan: I haven't. In fact, I've just been getting what I consider just discouraging information. I've actually gone down to the Mayor's office where I was escorted out for bringing up the execution of Oscar Grant. They acted as though they didn't want to speak about it.
I mean they're not even trying to say ANYthing about what took place. This is just egregious and they're not even saying anything. I mean we're supposed to swallow that they're sorry, that the officer may have gone for his taser? This officer went to something called a police academy, (had) extensive training that trained him on how to handle himself in a stressful situation, and now he's trying to say that it was an accident?
You're trained so that accidents don't happen. We can't let accidents cost human beings their lives. This man Oscar Grant was a father of a 4-year-old child and now that child doesn't have a father to sleep with her at night. This is just ridiculous and we will not sit back and let this type of action by the ones who are sworn to protect and serve slide. We will just not sit back and let this happen. We will be on the front line.
Dereca said it best when she said this is the moment. Dereca, you are absolutely right. This IS the moment. We are on the front lines and it is time to stand our ground. We will not go quietly into the night. We are going to stand up for what is right and we will get justice for Oscar Grant.
Davey: That's very sobering remarks. I want to thank you for coming in and sharing this with us. Dereca, any last comments that you would like to make to give people marching orders, some things to consider? We ask people to bring cell phones, to make phone calls to their local representatives, congressmen, assemblymen, mayor, whoever, and invite them to this rally and show up themselves and make sure that, as the old saying goes, the whole world is watching.
Dereca: Absolutely, so I think there are a number of things that people can do: We want to stay on top of our prosecutor; we want to make sure that this case is fully prosecuted. We want to continue to contact BART and talk to them about having an interview with this officer right away. We want to make sure that there's a civilian review board. There will be a number of strategies that will be talked about at the rally tomorrow.
But I also want to say that this is not the only rally. This case has been picked up on the national media; it was on the front page of the CNN website. And I just got word that Harry Belafonte is going to be coming for another rally next week, so this is the first rally but there will be another one next Wednesday at a place to be determined.
So this is not just a rally, people. This is a movement that we're asking you to come out, sign up and be a part of this. You can be a part of this in an ongoing way. We're starting in Oakland but we're taking this all the way to the White House.
Davey: We appreciate that. Evan Shamar, I would like you to make the connection to the very real tragedies that are taking place right now halfway around the world in a place called Gaza, in the Middle East. And we have a lot of our comrades and fellow activists and friends and allies that have been protesting since the days before Christmas for almost the same type of executions that seem to be routinely taking place (here).
Many innocent people are losing their lives on behalf of our tax dollars. Do you make the connection to the types of conversations that are going on overseas with what is taking place all too often with us and the police in cities like Oakland?
Evan: Absolutely, I like to refer to what's going on overseas as just a blatant all-out massacre compared to what we have here that I consider to be a genocidal crockpot. What's taking place here is it's a slow-cook. We're being eradicated slowly, one by one.
But what's going on in Gaza is just disgusting. I can't even really speak on it because I'll get so …. It's something that instills a certain level of disgust in me. I can't talk about it all the time. But I definitely can make the correlation between the two. As I said, what we have is here is a genocidal crockpot and what's going on in Gaza right now is a pure massacre.
And we're actually going to be out on Saturday as well at the Civic Center protesting what's going on over there because the bottom line is these are human beings. The human experience is a beautiful experience, and we can't just deem it insignificant for no reason. I mean, I was talking to my buddies a few days ago about how many human beings have lived on planet Earth. There've been 120 billion human beings who have lived on planet Earth.
Let everybody have their turn. It's our turn to have this experience. Don't deem it insignificant - for your greed, for your corruption. Let us live. Let us live our lives. What's going on in Gaza, what's going on in Oakland, what's going on all over the world, we have to put our foot down. We have to put our fists in the air in unity and say, "No more!" We won't take this. It's not a Black thing. It's not a white thing. It's not a yellow thing. We need to come together and stand up for what is right. And together we can do this.