Rain had temporarily cleared in downtown Oakland one morning earlier this week as 250 people flowed around the main headquarters of the Oakland Police Department, blockaded intersections, and chained themselves together in front of the building’s doors. For the next several hours the activists, black, white and Asian, occupied the space with chants and protest songs.
Black protesters held a banner that read “Black and Breathing;” white activists held banners reading “Complacency is Consent” and “Silence is Violence;” a group of Asian Americans, chained to one of the building’s entrances, held a sign reading “End the War on Black People.” On the flagpole in front of the OPD’s main entrance a flag was raised bearing the faces of Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice, Renisha McBride, and Alan Blueford — five whose lives were cut short by police violence in the last five years.
This was the latest action in an ongoing uprising across the country in the wake of two separate grand juries’ failure to indict the officers who killed Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y.
It should be no surprise that people in the Bay Area are taking to the streets in protest — both spontaneous, like the nightly marches that disrupt traffic and block freeways, and coordinated, like the Blackout Collective’s BART shutdown on Black Friday and today’s blockade of Oakland Police headquarters. What’s happened in Ferguson and New York is happening in Oakland. Of the 78 killings by OPD, CHP and BART police since 1970, 74 percent were of black people and 99 percent were people of color, among them Oscar Grant, Gary King, and Alan Blueford — names that are hauntingly familiar by now on the streets of Oakland.
The numbers are hard to believe. A black person is killed by police, security, or vigilantes every 28 hours in the United States. But they are hardest to believe for those of us who are institutionally protected and systemically segregated from the pain of others’ lives and losses. And the numbers only go so far in conveying the outrage we should feel as we witness a wave of institutional violence every bit as deplorable as the lynchings of the last century and the chattel slavery of the centuries before.
Such acts of violence benefitted, and continue to benefit, the privileged and the powerful. And it’s time for it to end.
The OPD shut down was a coordinated action among several all-black groups, an Asian solidarity group and a white solidarity group. But unlike the structural inequity that still plagues our society and the structural violence that plagues our legal system, this action was broken out among different racial groups with the intention of telling a clear story. If black people are to gain the justice they deserve, white people need to speak up, speak out and put our bodies on the line in ways that create space for action by black leadership.
Police violence is a moral crisis for our country, and it is the most brutal face of an economic crisis that kills black people every day, if not with bullets then with mass incarceration, heart disease and homelessness. White people cannot turn a blind eye any longer. It is time for us to join with black communities — and specifically respond to the requests of black organizers, such as those put out by Ferguson Action (http://fergusonaction.com/demands/) — to demand an end to racist police violence.
White silence means more violence. It’s time to choose sides. Let’s choose justice.
Brooke Anderson is a staff collective member of the Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project of Oakland. She wrote this article for this newspaper.