The executive director from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights was the police liaison for today's Oscar Grant rally. Lots of negotiation took place prior to this afternoon to assure that the police would back off. I would say that most of the afternoon and evening were great. Maybe because I was specifically working security did I pay more attention to the things that didn't go well. But for the most part, you had a thousand folks peacefully assembled. I was proud.
Considering how well things went, I still have to say that security was for sure not organized very well. Only team leaders received any real training and participated in strategizing during the last couple of days; the rest of us (dozens of us) showed up at 3 for a rally that was to begin at 4.* Only because three of the people on our team asked our team leader did we have any idea of what our orientation should be. Basically: hold the line; in as non-confrontational a manner as possible, attempt to diffuse and de-escalate anything that looks like it might be a problem on the inside of the line; let people breaking the line know that the cops are gunning for groups splintering off.
Two of the groups who raised a ruckus last week made a verbal agreement with the organizers to keep whatever clearly illegal civil disobedience they planned to engage in four blocks away. I don't believe they honored that agreement.
I wasn't particularly moved by the speakers at the D.A.'s office. I think the lack of satisfaction with what many of them had to say didn't help diffuse what happened later. But I did run into a few folks, including conditionbronze, out there.
I definitely saw one broken window on the north side of 14th St. near Franklin on the way back to City Hall from the Alameda County Administration Building. Four "Jesus Saves/You're Going to Burn in HELL" people--the same people with the 10 ft. signs who protest Pride--had staked out the northwest corner leading to Ogawa Plaza when we returned. They yelled about how we all had sin in our hearts, were fornicators and homosexuals, God would judge and punish all humans, not the courts, and that we were protesting the death of one man but didn't care about the millions of innocent babies killed in their mothers' wombs everyday. Yeah....
I broke protocol twice and dragged two women, one white, one a person of color, away from them when they tried to yank away their megaphone. Both women were crying; one kept walking back. I tried to direct people around them, discourage them from engaging, but several young white men wouldn't stop--this was funny to them, so they kept mocking and interacting, drawing a larger crowd and escalating that further. Two squad cars pulled up, and police got out and stood by. I spoke to these dudes no less than three times, telling them that they weren't helping anything, they should disengage the fire-and-brimstone folks, they were only going to make things worse for those walking to and from the stage, and two of them nodded, agreeing, and tried to drag their friends away to no avail. I sent one of the other people working security to find a megaphone so we could drown them out, but he kept getting denied because no one knew who he was and thought that would make it worse. I also attempted to get the Brass Liberation Orchestra to come over and play "When the Saints Go Marching In," but they headed for the intersection of Broadway and 14th instead, which didn't really help with dispersing folks. When I finally got hold of a megaphone from a Just Cause Oakland staffer and began thanking people for coming and telling them to get home safely, shit was beginning to wild out in that intersection, and the Jesus Freaks were the last of our worries for the moment.** We were given 10 minutes to clear the streets, or the cops were going to move in. A lot of folks refused to move. Someone started a circle on the sidewalk across from the plaza for people to work it out--speak, yell, whatever--and that worked to disperse some of the folks who were still too worked up to leave.
While asking people to please move out of the streets or risk arrest, I got yelled at by some white kids on bikes with black bandannas--"Are you going to arrest us?" "Do I look like I'm going to arrest you? I'm just trying to make sure these kids get home safely." Some other guy, older, said, "I've been doing this for 20 years. You can't tell me what to do." I replied, "When the police start shooting people who look like you all the time instead of people who look like me, maybe I'll listen to you as an authority on my safety and the safety of the other black folks out here."
A bunch of people just wanted to know if their buses were coming, how they were going to get home. Most of these folks were kids, black teenagers. Some brother in a suit who works for AC Transit and was chilling with Councilwoman Desley Brooks in the middle of the intersection while I was trying to get people back to the sidewalks asked me where the buses were. I stared at him. Someone said they were being held a couple blocks down. Only shouting that buses would not come until people cleared the streets actually seemed to work.
The whole time, the Jesus Freaks kept up their incendiary act. A Latina I'd met earlier when the security teams were first being set up walked towards me smiling, singing "This Little Light of Mine," and I handed her the megaphone. The crowd joined in. The Jesus Freaks gave up when their hate got drowned out, and we all switched to "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)" as they finally left.
That's when shit got ill.
Some folks followed them towards 12th St. I heard sirens. Then a group took off dashing in that direction. I met up with a few friends who were also working security, and we were like, "You know something? Fuck it. I'm not here to protect people who showed up with the intent of drawing cops."
And that's when I left.
I drove up to Berkeley to meet N. so we could go to the city to pick up my couch. When that was done, I headed to a bar in Emeryville to meet up with whittles and her mom, and a couple other folks. Her sister V., who'd been on my security team and was still there when I left, said the cops moved in down at 12th after a bus shelter window was smashed but before anyone broke the bank windows. That's when the tear gas came. She also showed me a flyer some group calling itself "POC Anarchists" had passed out bragging about last week's property destruction. One of the things we talked about for a bit was the difference between "violence" and "property destruction" and how the media and most people don't know there is one.
* There was a private security firm working the demonstration, but there were far more volunteers like myself there, and we were the ones wearing safety-orange vests.
** I should clarify that no one was doing anything wrong, but emotions were still high and the streets still packed even though the program was over. We began trying to direct people back to the park in front of City Hall just to empty the streets so that traffic could resume.