If the Montreal Police Brotherhood get their way, reading the title of this post aloud may become a ticketable offense in Montreal.
At least, that's what today's news portends. It would seem that the Brotherhood is planning to get a bylaw passed that will allow police to fine people who insult them. Who defines what is insulting, and what contexts this law will be applied it, remain to be seen.
"La police au service des riches et des fascistes" is certainly in the running. [A popular Montreal slogan at Montreal demos: "the police work for the rich and the fascists."]
This latest move by the Brotherhood comes on the heels of the new anti-mask law, which we all learned about for the first time a week ago, and which is set to be passed by the City Council tonight. The anti-mask law will make it a ticketable offense to wear a mask at a demonstration - though the police have magnaminously allowed that it would not be imposed on people wearing face coverings for religious reasons or to protect themselves against the weather.
Only against those of is who might dare to protect ourselves aand our friends from the police.
The Montreal Police Brotherhood - the cops' union - is, like most police unions, an aggressive opponent of oppressed people and the left. Indeed, it is an oppressor in its own right. The Brotherhood's officials routinely speak up in support of killer cops in the media, and often take things further - for instance they are set to appear in court this week to demand a halt to a coroner's inquiry into the 2005 police killing of Mohamed Anas Bennis. That's right: Quebec's Chief Coroner is to be gagged, told that she is not allowed to investigate this police killing. (Court solidarity and a demo against this attempt at censorship is scheduled this Thursday: see here!)
Think this is just hubris on their part, and unlikely to work? Think again: last year a similar coroner's inquest was successfully put on ice by the Brotherhood, using similar legal bullying tactics. In 2003 Michel Berniquez was arrested by a pack of six cops, he had his head slammed into the pavement, and was held face down on the ground for half an hour. Later that night, while in lock-up, he died. While this information came out in an initial coroner's report, a more fullblown inquiry which was planned was blocked by the Police Brotherhood's court action last June.
So why these recent moves by the Brotherhood?
Well partly, it's just doing what it is "supposed to" do - defending the police, who themselves are charged with defending this rotten capitalist order.
But partly the latest moves to invent bylaws to criminalize traditional protest culture - masks, insults - as well as the City Council's seeming willingness to rubber stamp these new rules - should perhaps be seen in light of the new cycle of struggle which we hope to see emerge from capitalism's latest crisis.
The recession is already swelling the ranks of the discontented. Not just sections of the unionized labor aristocracy who are being pushed down, but more importantly the working class, including most especially in Montreal the immigrant working class which already reminded folks of its potential in the rebellion following Fredy Villanueva's murder last summer.
While in the united states a lot of this discontent may be chanelled into support for the "progressive Obama administration" - at least for fifteen minutes or so - there is no similar carrot being waved here in Quebec, where a (neo-)Liberal provincial government rules alongside the Conservative federal one.
i think it's well likely that the Police Brotherhood's latest moves amount to their upping the ante before we can, giving themselves some of the tools they will need to clamp down on what might be promising times ahead.
& remember: other cops in other cities will be watching, and if they succeed in doing this here, they'll be sure to do it elsewhere too...
Monday, January 26, 2009
If the Montreal Police Brotherhood get their way, reading the title of this post aloud may become a ticketable offense in Montreal.
12:00 (noon), Thursday, January 29, 2009
Palais de Justice, 1 Notre-Dame East
Family-friendly rally!! Bring your placards and banners!!
Join us in denouncing the proceedings filed by the Montreal Police Brotherhood that seeks to prevent the coroner's inquest into the death of Anas from taking place!
IMPORTANT UPDATE (27-1-09):
Dear friends and supporters of the Justice for Anas Coalition:
We have just learned, via the Bennis family lawyer, that the hearing of the legal proceedings filed by the Montreal Police Brotherhood to prevent the coroner's inquest from taking place has been postponed. In light of this news, we are calling off our call for courtroom solidarity this Thursday, January 29. However, we will continue with our plans to have a lunchtime rally (see above) to oppose the Montreal Police Brotherhood's attempts to cancel the coroner's inquiry from taking place and to share our perspectives on why the hearing has been postponed.
Please note that we will make sure to mobilize again to ensure that there is a strong presence in court for whenever the postponed hearing ends up taking place, which we anticipate will be in the coming months.
Justice for Anas Coalition
BACKGROUNDEREarly in the morning of December 1, 2005, Mohamed Anas Bennis, a 25-year old Canadian of Moroccan origin, was on his way home following morning prayers in a nearby mosque in his neighbourhood of Côte-des-Neiges when he was shot twice by Montreal police officer Yannick Bernier who was working with officer Jonathan Roy. Anas was pronounced dead on arrival to the hospital.
Now, over three years later, the Bennis family and the public are hardly any closer to understanding exactly why Anas, who was described as a mild-mannered and sensitive person, was killed by the Montreal police that morning. The Bennis family has been met with disrespect and disdain on the part of government bodies in its multiple attempts to ascertain very basic truths. A troubling veil of secrecy continues to cloud the circumstances surrounding Anas' death. For two years now, the Bennis family, along with the Justice for Anas Coalition, has been demanding a full, public and independent inquiry on Anas' death.
In June 2008, Quebec's chief coroner, Louise Nolet, announced that she had ordered a coroner's inquiry into Anas' death. Although this was not a full and independent inquiry as the Justice for Anas Coalition had been demanding since its formation in January 2007, it was nevertheless an important, albeit partial, victory. The decision to order the coroner's inquiry surely came as a result of the public pressure campaign led by the Justice for Anas Coalition, whose three demands have been endorsed by more than 30 organisations, over the past 2 years.
However, in August 2008, the Montreal Police Brotherhood filed proceedings against Louise Nolet and coroner Catherine Rudel-Tessier – who was to preside over the coroner's inquiry – with the goal of having the coroner's inquiry cancelled. The Brotherhood alleges that all of the answers to the family's questions have already been made available. Yet, up until now, the family has not received answers to many of their questions: why has the knife that Anas allegedly wielded -- according to the police version of the events -- never been produced or undergone forensic evaluation? Why has the video of the scene never been made public? Why have the police officers Bernier and Roy never had to testify publicly or been cross-examined on their version of the facts? The Brotherhood also preposterously alleges that the coroner's inquiry will only serve to harass officer Bernier.
This action by the Police Brotherhood simply adds more questions for the Bennis family, and reveals the police's bad faith and lack of transparency. It is worth noting that this is the same Brotherhood that filed similar proceedings to prevent an inquest into the death of Michel Berniquez (killed by a police officer in 2003), and whose president Yves Francoeur has stated that officer Jean-Loup Lapointe (who killed Fredy Villanueva this past summer on August 9th) "did his job properly."
It is imperative that the Brotherhood as well as municipal and provincial governments are reminded that the public support for the Justice for Anas campaign remains strong, and that the Brotherhood's attempts at preventing the truth from coming out will not go unchallenged.
Please come out in large numbers to fill the court and to support the demands of the Justice for Anas Coalition.
THE JUSTICE FOR ANAS COALITIONThe Justice for Anas Coalition demands:
- The immediate release of all reports, evidence and information concerning the death of Anas Bennis to the Bennis family and to the public;
- A full, public and independent inquiry into the death of Anas Bennis;
- An end to police brutality and impunity.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Le Gros Bon Sens invites you to a Costume Ball in front of City Hall this January 26th, 2009 at 6pm
- just because we wear masks doesn't mean we're violent
- our masks are used to protect us from the police apparatus which is already too controlling
- our masks can be a form of expression as well as a way to maintain our anonymity
- we like dressing up and having a good time
The group Le Gros Bon Sens invites the Montreal population to participate in a Costume Ball held in honour of our right to anonymity, this Monday at 6pm in front of City Hall.
275 rue Notre-Dame est
You must wear a mask; opera masks will be available to those who don't have one.
Progressive Montreal and Quebec organizations are invited to resist this new rule by doing the following:
- circulate this invitation to the Costume Ball in your own networks
- come and join in our Costume Ball
- print and distribute fliers (downloadable in French here)
- publicly demonstrate your support to Le Gros Bon Sens, either by being present or by means of a press release
- get involved!
The agenda of the Municipal Council meeting on January 26th at 7pm, is available here (the point in question is 41.05):
Mumia Abu-Jamal's Remarks to the Rosa Luxemburg Conference in Germany / Jan. 10th, 2009:
'Imperial Power & Counter-Power'
If one is to address the reactions to the recent election of Illinois Senator Barack Obama to the U.S. Presidency, this can perhaps be best encapsulated by the term, exultation.
For if ever a political figure rode the currents of a stellar alignment, Barack Obama did so.
The exultation was both national and global.
In my 1/2 century of life, I can recall no presidential election that elicited so profound a political -- indeed visceral! -- response.
When one considers what role the left had in such a spectacular political event, again we must look to alignments; not of stars, but of constituencies, which converged to not only elect Obama, but to also close the door to the ruinous politics of the U.S. right wing, represented by the incumbent President, George W. Bush, and his presumed political heirs, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and Alaska's Gov. Sarah Palin of the Republican Party.
While the U.S. left was a constituent part of the larger constituency, it neither drove nor directed the forces that elected Obama. In many ways it was hostage to those forces.
Those forces were youth -- those between 18-28, who mobilized in ways never seen before; it was also African Americans who voted in unprecedented numbers for one they perceived as one of their own; add to this millions of women, some of whom felt, frankly, disrespected by the choice of Palin, who, though a woman, betrayed an astonishing lack of knowledge and expertise on issues, especially given the very real possibility that her running mate, sen. McCain, might not survive the rigors of office.
But one cannot ignore the significant segment of those who felt betrayed or disaffected by the hard-right tilt of the Republican Party -- which ran almost exclusively on the notion that Obama was a "socialist", who in Palin's oft-repeated quote, "pals around with terrorists."
For those beyond our shores, it may be necessary to briefly decode this language. The "socialist" tag was a kind of cleaned - up, classy version of 'communist', the ultimate slur in U.S. capitalist politics, only exceeded by the post 9/11 term "terrorist" (and by calling Obama a "pal" of terrorists, it was tantamount to calling him one).
The last reference was to the alleged friendship between Obama and William Ayers, a Hyde Park educator who, in the 1960's, was a leading member of the Weather Underground, student anti-war and anti imperialist activists, who engaged in acts against property, and who supported the Black liberation movements of the era.
In point of fact, Obama was, by no measure, a leftist.
In the Spring of 2008 issue of The Black Scholar, African-American studies professor, Charles P. Henry makes the point explicitly, citing both Obama's own words, as well as a political biography of him in the New York Times Magazine. (1)
Obama's quoted remarks are instructive:
The Democrats have been stuck in the arguments of Vietnam, which means that either you're a 'Scoop' Jackson Democrat or you're suspicious of any military action. And that's just not my framework .(2)
Obama's choices were illustrative of two poles of the Democratic Party: Sen. Henry 'Scoop' Jackson was so pro-war that he was called the "Senator from Boeing". (3) ; Hayden by contrast, was a student anti-war activist, and member of S.D.S. (Students for a Democratic Society). (Interestingly, Obama never referred to himself as a Jesse Jackson Democrat either).
This leads us to the next query on the role of the U.S. anti-war movement; in a word, it is moribund.
This, paradoxically, can be traced to the massive demonstrations of Spring 2003 in protest of the imminent Iraq War. For millions of people, this was their first, and last experience of mass action. Sadly, the lesson they learned was of their impotence, not their power, for Bush promptly ignored the protests, rattled the sabers of war, and launched Operation Shock and Awe.
For many people, unused to popular protests, this short-term failure to stop the war blinded them to the rarity that such mass protests represented: never had the nation seen such mass protests before the war was begun. At this stage, the people were a Counter-Power, but they stopped far too soon.
To further analyze the question of whether the election of Obama represents a leftist surge, or if the anti-war movement is in its ascendancy we need only recall that Obama is neither a leftist nor is he anti-war. The early stages of his electoral campaign were explicitly against the Iraq War. As he ran in the later stages, his sound bites announced a troop withdrawal in Iraq was necessary to buttress U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Indeed, given the events occurring as these words are written, there will probably be more U.S. anti-war protests against the Israeli blitzkrieg on Gaza in the next 2 weeks, than there was against the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan in the last two years.
That, I think, succinctly states the case of where we are.
But where we are need not determine where we can go. For people move by inches and by leaps. This was, undoubtedly, a giant step in U.S. history. This was not a day ever envisioned by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln or even John F. Kennedy.
Yet, one of Black America's most revered historians, Vincent Harding, (author of the classic, There is a River), spoke for far more than himself when he said, "So my hopes are very much focused on him, but not on him alone. I see the energy that's been built up over these two years of campaigns, and I see the possibility that we could gather ourselves together and begin to ask, in a very powerful way, not what should Barack Obama be doing next, but where do we go from here? What is our role as committed, progressive citizens to move to the next stages?"
Harding, a close confidante of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ended his comments on the Obama election with this fitting suggestion: "Maybe a democracy needs community organizers more than it needs commanders."(4)
It appears Dr. Harding is suggesting that instead of empire, we need a republic, for if history teaches us anything, it is that the two realities are un- reconcilable. In the days of ancient Rome, the advent of empire spelled the end of the republic.
In 193 C. E., an African seized the throne of Rome. Emperor Septimius Severus extended Rome's power, and strengthened its empire. His sons succeeded him, and exceeded him in cruelty and brutality.
They didn't bring change -- they brought continuity.
Will this empire be any different?
Danke! Aus die Todeszelle,
Hier Sprecht Mumia Abu-Jamal.
1. Traub, James, "Is His Biography Our Destiny?", New York Times Magazine, November 4, 2007, pp.50-55.
2.Hayden, Tom, "An Appeal to Barack Obama", post to firstname.lastname@example.org, November 8, 2007; cited in Henry, Charles P., O"Obama '08 -- Articulate and Clean,"The Black Scholar, (Spr. '08) [vol. 38:no.1}, p.6, fn.17.
3.Johnson, Chalmers, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), p.211. Boeing received some $20 billion in defense contracts in 2006.
4. Wane, Aly (compiled by), "Historical Moment: Black Thinkers Reflect on the Election of Barack Obama", Syracuse Peace Council's Peace newsletter (Jan. '09: #780), p.7.
The Power of Truth is Final -- Free Mumia!
[SP. WRIT. 12/30/08] (C) '08 MUMIA ABU-JAMAL
While the above may not be groundbreaking, i found it to be useful in how its analysis of the surge for Obama, a surge not only of the "left" but also significant sections of the U.S. ruling class...
Sunday, January 18, 2009
It would seem Montreal police are taking aim at the militant edge of the Montreal left, with news this morning of an impending bylaw banning masks at demonstrations.
As i mentioned last year in my post of the Montreal hockey riots, the increasing number of security cameras and surveillance videos has allowed police - and a reactionary public - to identify almost anyone ex post facto, once the fun is over. During the riot last April, hockey fans - and some folks who were simply taking advantage of a good opportunity - specifically targeted cop cars after the game. But in the days afterwards, police obtained pictures of them from the security cameras in various stores, as well as cell phone photos sent in by passeresby, and in the weeks following many arrests were made precisely thanks to this evidence.
The police realize what a powerful tool they have, and nobody is making any bones about it, this proposed law is aimed directly at the left and anarchist scenes, with the goal of aiding in the surveillance of protesters. While it is true that a mask may be worn during confrontations with police, as a way of protecting oneself from later arrest, it can also be worn simply to protect one's identity, keeping oneself - and by extension, the left - partially protected from the state.
It remains to be seen whether the left will be able to mount a successful challenge to this attack... one thing is for sure: if we don't resist this attack, we'll see similar repressive bylaws cropping up in other Canadian cities.
No more masked protesters, city saysJanuary 18, 2009
The city of Montreal says it plans to pass a bylaw forbidding people to wear masks or face coverings at public demonstrations – a bylaw that civil-rights experts say could turn out to be unconstitutional.
Montreal police have asked the city for the bylaw, saying they want to be able to identify participants in violent protests.
However, Montreal’s top elected official in charge of public security said yesterday the city will be careful to make sure the bylaw’s language isn’t vague, and that explicit exceptions are granted.
For example, protesters would be allowed to cover their faces for religious reasons, and during cold winter events, said Claude Dauphin, chairperson of the public-security committee and a member of city council’s executive committee.
Dauphin added in a telephone interview that senior brass of the Montreal police made a pitch for such a bylaw during testimony two months ago at the city’s public-security committee.
The proposed bylaw was approved in principle by the executive committee on Friday. It could be ready for submission to city council as early as Jan. 26, Dauphin said, but the actual wording hasn’t been finalized.
Julius Grey, a Montreal lawyer who is an authority on civil-rights issues, said the bylaw could be ruled unconstitutional if the wording is too vague, or is seen as unreasonable.
“I do not exclude the possibility of preventing masks and disguises in certain particular circumstances, on good security grounds, case by case,” Grey said.
But a vaguely worded bylaw would not be able to withstand a serious legal challenge, he said.
Dauphin said the city is well aware that there are legal reasons to be careful with the bylaw’s wording.
He said city lawyers are studying existing bylaws prohibiting facial concealment that have been passed in Trois Rivières and Quebec City.
There are no similar bylaws in the rest of Canada, Dauphin said. In the United States, New York City has had such a ban since 1845 ; it was upheld in 2004. In Germany last year, at least four people were arrested for violating a temporary ban on face masks during the G8 summit.
Samer Majzoub, executive director of the Canadian Muslim Forum, said he is pleased to learn the new bylaw was conceived two months ago, and therefore has no apparent link with last weekend’s rally downtown against the Israeli military action in the Gaza strip.
“We have very good relations with the police and after last weekend’s rally, we asked them if they had any comments or suggestions for us, and they said no, everything was okay,” Majzoub said.
He added: “We don’t cover our faces at our demonstrations, neither the men nor women.”
However, Majzoub said he has noticed that many Quebecers have embraced the Palestinian koufieh, or scarf, as a fashion accessory; he has seen local young people on TV at public demonstrations with the koufieh covering their faces.
Dauphin said police have spoken to the city mainly about ski masks – not koufiehs – and more pointedly about the behaviour of demonstrators wearing ski masks at rallies that have been organized against alleged police brutality.
“At these events you see kids in ski masks throwing golf balls at police, or carrying big two-by-four wood sticks,” Dauphin said.
In North America and Europe, young masked demonstrators have usually been linked with the political left wing or with anarchist movements. In Quebec, masked demonstrators showed up at some Liberal Party events during last fall’s provincial election campaign.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Last week there was a public discussion with the left-communist Internationalist Perspective and the Internationalist Workers Group here in Montreal. This coming Saturday, the same kind of public discussion will be happening in Toronto.
Based on the version of this discussion that happened here last Saturday, what we can expect to see covered is an explanation of the financial crisis and description of its scope, and also of the inevitability of such crises under capitalism, ending necessarily in war and misery for the global proletariat. Particular attention was given to the role of "the left-wing of capital" in shoring up and rescuing the capitalist system during these crises.
Saturday January 17, 2009 7PM
OISE - 252 Bloor Street West, Toronto Room 2295
Contact PO Box 47643, Don Mills, ON, M3C 3S7
Saturday, January 10, 2009
The following important article is from Counterpunch (Jan 9-11) about the recent uprising in Oakland:
Popular Fury at Yet Another Police Murder
Oakland's Not for Burning?By GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER
In 1968, Amory Bradford penned a volume entitled Oakland's Not For Burning, documenting the tinderbox that the city had become, and the lamenting the inevitability with which it would explode. But the assertion contained in the book's title was hardly credible, coming as it was from a Yale-educated former Wall Street lawyer and New York Times general manager whose only business in Oakland came via the U.S. Commerce Department. Some forty years later, in the early hours of this year of ostensible hope, the reality of the persistence of racism in Oakland became devastatingly clear, sparking a powerful response the likes of which this city hasn't seen in years. But luckily, the condescending voices of moderation, like that of Bradford a generation prior, seem have little traction with those who have seen enough police murder.
A New Year's Execution
After responding to reports of "a fight" on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train, BART police detained the train at the Fruitvale station, forcibly removing several young men from the train as dozens of bystanders watched. Several of the men, all young and mostly black, were lined up, seated, along the platform. Some were cuffed, Oscar Grant was not. As he was attempting to defuse the situation, BART police decided to detain him, placing him face-down on the platform, with one officer kneeling near his neck, and another straddling his legs. For some still unexplained reason, one officer, now identified as Johannes Mehserle stood up, pulled his gun, and fired a shot directly into Oscar Grant's back.
The bullet went through Grant's back, ricocheting off the platform and puncturing his lung. There are gasps from the bystanders and shock on the face of the other officers, who clearly didn't expect the shot to be fired. Grant, who was begging not to be Tasered at the time of the shot, clearly didn't expect it either. But this surprise notwithstanding, the decision was then made to cuff the young man as he lay dying. As an added precaution, BART police then sought immediately to confiscate all videophones held by the train passengers, in an effort to cover up the murder. Luckily for everyone but the BART P.D. and Mehserle, several videos managed to make it into the public domain, where they went viral and were viewed on Youtube hundreds of thousands of times in the following days. In a rare show of journalistic integrity, local Fox affiliate KTVU aired one of the videos in its entirety.
The standard protocol---deny, distort, cover-up---had clearly been disrupted, and BART spokesman Linton Johnson even went so far as to criticize the leaking of the video, arguing that rather than clarifying events, public access to the video would "taint" the investigation. BART was on a back foot, and popular anger was on the offensive.
A Corporate Police Force
BART Police are a notoriously problematic organization, existing in a gray area between public and private, funded by taxpayers but operating under a corporate structure which lacks all accountability and oversight. According to the San Francisco Bay Guardian:
The structure of the BART police force is a recipe for disaster. BART's general manager (who is not an elected official and has no expertise in law enforcement) hires the BART police chiefŠ There is no police commission, no police review board, not even a committee of the elected BART board designated to handle complaints against and issues with the BART policeŠ There is, in other words, no civilian oversight.
And this "disaster" has been more than merely hypothetical: in 1992, a BART cop shot unarmed Jerrold Hall in the back of the head with a shotgun as he walked away, after firing a warning shot. In 2001, BART police shot a mentally ill man who was unarmed and naked. And according to Tim Redmond, writing in the same paper, "BART made a monumental effort to cover [the Hall slaying] up," and in the end, "Nothing happenedŠ BART called the shooting justified." As of yesterday, BART hadn't yet interviewed the officer, Johannes Mehserle, who insisted on invoking Fifth Amendment rights not to speak. And just when they claim to have compelled him to do so, he abruptly resigned, thereby ending any internal affairs investigation that may have taken place. There still remains, according to BART, a criminal investigation, but if the past is any indicator, this won't get far.
But let's not fool ourselves. Even publicly-run organizations like the Oakland Police Department, which has all the ties in the world to elected power, operates with an informal shoot-to-kill policy for black teenagers. This was as clear in the 2007 murder of Gary King as it is with Oscar Grant today. And since the district attorney responsible for bringing charges against the police works closely with these same police on a daily basis and in a shared enterprise of delivering convictions, we should not be surprised that not a single police murder in recent years has even seen disciplinary action. "No one we talked with," writes the Chronicle, "from the district attorney's office to lawyers who work either side of police shootings - could remember a case in the last 20 years in which an on-duty officer had been charged in a fatal shooting in Alameda County."
Does It Matter What Really Happened?
We have all seen the video, and rumors are swirling about how to interpret its contents. The officer clearly fires a fatal shot into Oscar Grant's back while the latter is face-down on the floor. A flurry of "experts" have intervened to give their analysis. While such expert testimony usually functions to justify the police, even among these experts some are shocked and disgusted by what they see. One expert, after concluding that the gun had accidentally gone off, watched video from another angle, after which he changed his conclusion: "Looking at it, I hate to say this, it looks like an execution to me."
Others are insisting that Mehserle meant to pull out his (less fatal) Taser, but this theory has since been discredited. Firstly, a Sig-Sauer handgun weighs three times what a Taser weighs, and the shape is completely distinct, and another expert noticed in the tape that the officer had previously withdrawn his Taser, located for safety reasons on the other side of his belt. In other words, he knew he was going for the gun. Hence the claim of accidental discharge, but this too raises a serious question of plausibility: when Mehserle drew his gun, Grant couldn't see it, and so there could be no claim that it was meant to threaten the victim into passivity. In the end, if Mehserle is ever forced to give a statement, he will likely turn to the tried-and-true excuse that he "suspected" Grant had a gun in his pants.
But none of this matters, all the debate of the officer's "intention" only serves to reinforce the fact that, while white cops are allowed to have intention, this is a quantity denied to their victims. This fact of racist double-standards is not lost on those who, realizing that there will be no "justice" in this case, have taken to the streets to demonstrate their rage at the unprovoked execution.
"I'm Feeling Pretty Violent Right About Now"
While friends and family were gathered for Grant's funeral, a number of organizations called a demonstration where he was killed, at Fruitvale BART station. Circulating by internet and Facebook, the call reached many thousands, and in the end some 500-600 protestors and mourners came together to make speeches and lament this murder. At a makeshift memorial behind the BART station, candles are burning, and hand-written messages appear: "Oscar, we watched you grow up from a lil' boy down the street into a man," and "O., RIP, peaceful journey, God only pick da best."
As an indication of the contrasting sentiments that divided the crowd, where someone had scribbled "Fuck the police," another had covered the expletive with another message: "Forgive." But forgiveness wasn't on the minds of many. Several of the more radical protestors climbed onto the BART turnstiles, displaying a red, black, and green flag. One shouted:
I've got the mentality of my parents who were Black Panthers, I'm tired of talking, I'm thinking like L.A. in 1992. Y'all can have your megaphone speeches, I been through that, I'm black, I don't need more speeches. Let's take a stand today, because tomorrow ain't promised!
While some on the mic attempted to soothe the crowd, insisting that burning up the city was "too easy" and "useless," the message didn't seem to resonate much with the crowd. And why should it? We were standing in the middle of "Fruitvale Village," a corporate paradise in the middle of a historically Latino district, which clearly doesn't belong to the local residents. It was clear where the momentum was going, as the biggest cheers went up for the more radical voices who seized the mic: "I'm feelin pretty violent right now," one insisted, "I'm on some Malcolm X shit: by any means necessary. If I don't see some action, I'ma cause a ruckus myself."
While some remained to hear additional speakers, including hyphy hip-hopper Mistah FAB and the recently-founded Coalition Against Police Executions (CAPE), several hundred set out on a militant and rapidly-moving march north on International Boulevard. The police response was initially hands-off, despite the tenor of the chants: "No Justice, No Peace: Fuck the Police," and "La Migra, La Policia: La Misma Porqueria." If those in the passing cars and stuck in traffic were of any indication, the local population knew exactly what was going on, why we were protesting, and were largely sympathetic.
As the march wound around Lake Merritt, it turned sharply to the left, a shortcut to BART headquarters. This seems to have thrown off the police, who were clearly unprepared for what came next. A single police car, parked sideways at 8th and Madison to prevent access to the BART headquarters, became the target of the crowd's increasing fury. Sensing the tone of the crowd, a cop reached in and grabbed her helmet before scurrying away. Within moments, the police car was destroyed and nearly flipped over, and a nearby dumpster was burning.
A few seconds later, the air was thick with teargas. Evidently, seeing their own property destroyed was too much for the police to stomach. (Note: there is no truth to the CNN report that tear gas was deployed to protect a surrounded officer). I get a noseful of teargas, and a protestor near me is shot in the stomach with a rubber bullet, and needs to be helped off, as the crowd quickly sprints north toward downtown. Passing through Chinatown, dumpsters full of fresh produce are emptied into the street to slow the march of a line of riot police. When the crowd reaches Broadway, there is momentary confusion, with some continuing straight to Old Oakland, some pushing left toward Jack London Square, and others urging a move rightward toward the city center.
The police took advantage of this momentary indecision, with a full line charge that send many of the furious demonstrators sprinting and left many arrested. When the crowd regrouped, it was promptly encircled at 14th and Broadway, and a standoff ensued. Either by design or by a predictable quirk of the police organization, nearly every riot cop in the street was white, some sneering defiantly. And if the crowd of demonstrators was largely multiethnic, it was clear by this point that the functional vanguard was composed largely of the young, black teenagers most acutely aware of their relationship to the police. There were chants of "We are all Oscar Grant!" and several protestors lay in the middle of the street with their hands behind their backs, mimicking the position in which Grant was executed.
Some small fires were set, and the police moved in again, pushing the crowd down 14th toward Lake Merritt. The spearhead of the demonstrators rushed forward to shouts of "We the police today!" smashing and torching vehicles, and while this was done out of anger it was far from irrational, as the press will certainly present it. Rather, it was the result of a very clear line of reasoning that goes something like this: we have to do something, and in the face of police impunity, this is all we can do. Nothing would be more irrational than a blind faith that the police will do the right thing, given all the historical evidence to the contrary. While the press is doing its best to find bystanders to decry the "vandalism" involved, it couldn't ignore the testimony Oakland Post reporter Ken Epstein, who was writing an article on the killing when he looked out his office window to see his Honda CRV in flames: "I'm sorry my car was burned," Epstein admitted, "but the issue is very upsetting."
The crisp wintry air swirled and the lights twinkled along the surface of Lake Merritt as demonstrators demolished a local McDonalds, at which point a line had clearly been crossed: a police armored personnel carrier came tearing down the street at 45 miles per hour, firing rubber bullets and sending the crowd scattering. The scene was surreal, with padded riot cops leaping off the vehicle in an effort to win an impossible footrace with younger and fitter demonstrators.
Dellums Steps In, Steps Out
From the early moments of the demonstration, the position of the mayor, Ron Dellums, was at issue. Here was a mayor with a great deal of popular respect, with longstanding civil rights credentials, but who had done little to slow the pace of police killing, among the other ongoing ills plaguing postindustrial Oakland. With tear gas swirling and the APCs circling, the mayor decided to make his appearance at around 9pm, walking the few blocks from City Hall down to 14th and Jackson to address the angry crowd himself. Several times he attempted to scurry away under hard questions that he could not answer, with the standard responses: we should all take it down a notch; there will be an investigation.
I don't remember what it was exactly that I yelled at the mayor, but it certainly got to him. As he was leaving the crowd, he turned and walked directly up to me, putting his face a mere inches from my own.
Dellums: What I want people to do now is calm down. I've told the police to stand down, and I hope you all can do the same. Both sides need to be peaceful right now so we can find out exactly what happened.
Me: But we know what happened! We've all seen the video: A cop pulled his gun and shot an unarmed black man in the back. And you know there are reasons that certain people have guns pulled on them and others don't.
Dellums: There are two processes currently underwayŠ
Me: The process is if I shoot someone, I'm arrested. But if a cop shoots someone, he gets put on paid administrative leave until everyone forgets about it.
Dellums: I'm asking both sides to be peacefulŠ
Me: Both sides? I haven't killed anybody, this crowd hasn't killed anybody. The police have killed somebody, and you're in charge of the police! Who runs this city? When will the prisoners be released?
Dellums then returned to City Hall, surveying the damage. But as he entered, the angry crowd booed thunderously. And despite his claim that the police had been ordered to stand down, clashes broke out immediately on the same block, more fires broke out, and more teargas was deployed. The mayor's intervention could do little to calm Oakland's frazzled nerves. His claim that the people have lost faith in the police rings empty for people who never had such faith in the first place, people who have seen vicious police murder after police murder without so much as an indictment.
The demonstrators continued to express their pent-up rage, engaging in running battles until nearly 11pm, when a mass arrest seems to have quelled the resistance for the moment. All in all, official numbers show 105 arrests (including 21 juveniles), more than 80 of which occurred after Dellums claims to have told OPD to stand down. Who knows if his promise of a speedy release means anything at all. Support and solidarity demonstrations are scheduled this week for the prisoners' arraignments, and with another mass mobilization scheduled for next Wednesday, this is far from over.
Intention as Privilege
As I have said, and at the risk of controversy I will repeat: it doesn't matter if Mehserle meant to pull the trigger. He had already assumed the role of sole arbiter over the life or death of Oscar Grant. He had already decided that Grant, by virtue of his skin color and appearance, was worth less than other citizens. And rather than acquitting the officer, all of the psychological analyses and possible explanations of the shooting that have been trotted-out in the press, and all the discussion of the irrelevant elements of Grant's criminal history, have only proven this fundamental point.
If a young black or Latino male pulls a gun and someone winds up dead, intention is never the issue, and first-degree murder charges are on the agenda, as well as likely murder charges for anyone of the wrong color standing nearby. If we reverse the current situation, and the gun is in Oscar Grant's hand, then racist voices would be squealing for the death penalty regardless of intention. And yet when it's a cop pulling the trigger, all the media and public opinion resources are deployed to justify, understand, and empathize with this unconscionable act. One side is automatically condemned; the other automatically excused.
For now, the fires are out. But despite the soothing words of Barack Obama and Ron Dellums, there is no lack of fuel and no lack of spark in Oakland.
George Ciccariello-Maher is a Ph.D. candidate in political theory at UC Berkeley. He lives in Oakland, and can be reached at gjcm(at)berkeley.edu.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
SATURDAY JANUARY 10th
13h00 Dorchester square
Corner Peel and René-Lévesque
Across the world protesters are taking to the streets in opposition to the current Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip. Across the Middle East, Europe, North America and internationally a movement in solidarity for Palestinian human rights and against Israeli apartheid has been ignited.
In Montreal an estimated 10 000 people gathered this weekend to call for an immediate end to the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip, an end to the blockade on Gaza and for an end to Canadian complicity in Israeli apartheid.
Thousands will gather in Montreal this upcoming weekend to stand in solidarity with Gaza as part of a growing international movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza.
As Israeli military forces have commenced an invasion of the Gaza Strip, as the Israeli military continues the aerial assault on Gaza which has taken the lives of over 500 Palestinians, wounding an estimated 2400, now is the time to take to the streets in solidarity with Palestine.
Over the past two years the Gaza Strip has been undergoing the daily violence of a wide-ranging humanitarian catastrophe triggered by severely reduced access to energy, food, and medicines. In effect, Gaza is the world’s largest open air prison.
Both the governments of Quebec and Canada stand in direct complicity with Israeli apartheid. In recent years both governments in Quebec and Canada have heightened bilateral relations with Israel increasing bilateral economic, military and political links. This fall the Liberal government of Jean Charest inked a bilateral trade deal with Israel, standing in stark contrast to the growing international calls for an economic boycott of the Israeli government in light of ongoing Israeli war crimes in Palestine.
At this moment, we can only reaffirm our commitment in the strongest possible terms to continue mobilizing friends and allies in other progressive social movements to respond to the call by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations for a comprehensive campaign of boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS).
Organized by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), Tadamon! Montreal with the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (CJPP).
While i have my personal reservations about much left communist thought, specifically regarding questions of divisions within the working class, and the way in which communist consciousness is generated and dissipated, the GIO has good comrades in it, with a wealth of personal experience in working class struggle. Plus, no matter what differences i have with them, left communists have the advantage of rejecting social democracy and liberalism, which already put them ahead of the game.
i believe the forum will only be in French. it also coincides with a demonstration about the Gaza massacre called for 1pm that day - so not sure where i will be. However, here's the information:
La crise économique mondiale. Quelles sont les perspectives pour les travailleurs et les travailleuses?
Des présentations du Groupe Internationaliste Ouvrier et de Perspective Internationaliste, suivies d’une période de discussion.
Samedi, le 10 janvier à 14h30
Centre Jean-Claude Malépart, salle 207
2633, rue Ontario Est, Montréal
(En face du métro Frontenac)