The police won't tell us the truth

In the weeks since Alan Blueford was gunned down by Oakland police at around midnight on May 6, a movement has been building to win justice for him and his family. Despite the silence of City Hall, the media's character assassination of Alan and the police department's constantly changing narrative of what happened and its unwillingness to disclose information about the officer who pulled the trigger, Alan's parents, Jeralynn and Adam Blueford, and other relatives have bravely stepped forward to speak out.

In the week following his death, Alan's family held a vigil to bring attention to the killing. The next day, they led a 100-strong march to a police sub-station close to the crime scene. On May 15, the Blueford family confronted the Oakland City Council during its public meeting--supporters flooded the council chambers and others filled the rotunda.

When it was announced that Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan would come to Acts Full Gospel Church of God in Christ, the Blueford family's place of worship, to address the community's concerns about the case, a contingent of the family's supporters organized to confront Jordan. At the family's urging, the group planned a silent action, in which some 50 demonstrators, along with church members, turned their backs on Jordan when he spoke and raised their fists when he told lies to the audience. When protesters and congregants began chanting, Jordan left, and the demonstrators followed him out for a spirited rally aimed at shaming the departing police chief.

Since these actions, Alan's family and their supporters have continued building awareness. On Saturday, June 9, an audience of almost 100 people heard members of the Blueford family speak at a panel event titled "From Police Brutality to Hate Crimes: How Can We Win Justice?" Also speaking was Talishia Massey, the sister of Brandi Martell, a transgender woman of color murdered in front of her friends in Oakland. Other families of victims of police brutality and hate crimes were present to show their support, including relatives of Kenneth Harding Jr. and Oscar Grant III.

On June 15, Alan's parents were invited to attend the graduation ceremony of Skyline High School, where Alan was to receive his diploma. Jeralynn and Adam received an honorary diploma for Alan's accomplishments--and a standing ovation from students, parents, teachers, staff and administrators. A few weeks later, the two were featured speakers at a panel discussion on police violence at Socialism 2012 in Chicago.

Here, Jeralynn and Adam Blueford speak to Adam Balogh and Fran├žois Hughes about the loss of their son, their efforts to get answers from police and city officials, and the struggle they and other families face to win justice.

Jeralynn and Adam Blueford (at left and right) onstage at a Bay Area meeting against police violence (WeAreMany.org)Jeralynn and Adam Blueford (at left and right) onstage at a Bay Area meeting against police violence (WeAreMany.org)

WHAT DO you know about the night Alan was murdered?

Jeralynn: I know that he was with his two friends. They were at our house. They were invited to go and watch the Mayweather fight that night. Alan was going to watch the fight.

He and I had this conversation that day. I had just met with his friend who was with him that night. Alan and I went to get Slurpies. It was a hot day. We were walking and talking, and he had his arm around me. He said he was going to the fight. I kind of said, "I don't want you to go." And he's like, "Oh mom, I'll be back." And he left, and he never came back.

From what I understand, they were just three young guys, minding their own business, and the police officer just rolled up, harassed him and murdered him. That's just the bottom line. They stopped him for no reason and murdered him.

Adam: I'd spoken with Alan just 15 minutes before this incident happened. He let me know he was on his way to come home. He called from a friend's phone. I told him, "It's 12 o'clock, you need to come home." He said, "Aw, Dad, I'm waiting for some girls. They're in a white Chrysler. Everything's okay." That's the last time I spoke with my son.

From what I heard, what happened that night was that three young men were walking to the store, and the police officers rolled up on them, kind of military-style. They whipped out their guns, grabbed one young man, detained him, handcuffed him, handled him roughly. Now they're saying that Alan knew he had committed a crime and ran. The officer actually chased Alan four city blocks before this incident happened.

Jeralynn: They murdered him. Period. They stopped him for no reason. And chased him down and murdered him. That's it.

Adam: We're hearing all these rumors about "an exchange of gunfire." It's really disheartening.

WHAT KINDS of distortions did the police department use around Alan's case?

Jeralynn: The first distortion they told us was that he was in a gun battle.

Adam: Initially, we were told that the officer rolled up because he thought that the young men had a concealed weapon. That was the first distortion: racial profiling. How can you, at 12 o'clock at night, think that someone has a concealed weapon?

Jeralynn: If it's concealed, you can't see it.

Adam: It's just a reason for them to try to justify this murder.

Jeralynn: They told us that he shot the cop twice. That was a lie. The third thing is hard for me because I know Alan always carried his ID. He always had a wallet. I had given him money, because you never know. I gave him a couple dollars--ten to be exact. And the police said there was no ID in the wallet.

I saw the ID. So I knew it was a lie. But he [the officer who addressed the parents when they went to the police station the night of Alan's murder] comes out and describes the wallet, and there's no ID. Somebody took that ID out of his wallet.

The next thing they said was, you know, that we couldn't identify him. You know, just the way that they talked to us and treated us, and said, "Well, you can see a picture, but it's gore-y." I felt after waiting for two hours that you would get an answer.

He was so harsh in his comments--in what he was saying. I almost felt bullied. And we were just saying, "No, that's not right." But he kept being adamant about "this is what happened." Just being brutal and heartless. You know, I work in health care. I know what it means to have a bedside manner. If someone has a fear or a phobia, or something's happened, you just don't treat people in that way. So I felt bullied.

And it's been continuous lies and distortions since. They say that they took our son to Highland Hospital. We know that's not true. Now they just came out with a statement saying "an unknown hospital." Well, it's unknown because it doesn't exist--because they never took him.

Every time we say something, they come out and try to clean it up. They wait for us. I know that Police Chief Jordan went to Acts Full Gospel Church of God in Christ for the community meeting and said he was taken to Highland within minutes. He said that. It's on YouTube. And now he's changed his story again.

Adam: We have official information that says my son was pronounced dead at 12:20 a.m. on Sunday morning. And he wasn't brought to the coroner's office until 3:45 a.m. So, he lay out there until that time or they drove around with him. I spoke with a deputy at the coroner's office, and he let me know that fact. I went to Highland Hospital and got documents saying that he never came there.

Oh, and then there's the gun that was supposedly found on the scene. There was a party out there, the place where the gun was supposed to have been found nearby. There's no information on the gun. Period. We asked for information on the gun. We haven't been able to get at any information connecting Alan to the gun supposedly found at the scene. There's just a whole lot of stuff that they're not giving up.

Jeralynn: They haven't given us the coroner's report or the autopsy report. How can they release the body to a funeral home without these reports being done? Again, it's another ploy or diversion, because, in my opinion, they just think that they can pass judgment and do this and get away with it.

HOW DO you think Alan's murder is connected to the larger questions of racist violence and police brutality in the Black community?

Adam: Overall, it's the policies that they set. It comes from the top. These people take these kinds of actions, and they feel like they can get away with it and have the backing of their higher officers. It's just unbelievable. I think it's the media--it's the whole outlook on young Black people which allows things like this to happen.

Jeralynn: I think it's the way they portray the African-American community. Like, if you see three Black guys, they must be doing something. You automatically have it in your mind that there's something wrong. What if they're just out there because their car broke down? What if they're just walking next door to borrow some sugar from the neighbor? I mean, it's the perception--the way that young men are perceived.

And because young men don't get a fair shake--I mean in the African American community, even the brown brothers--they're stereotyped so people think they're doing wrong, that something is wrong, so we have to "get them." We have to go and harass them. In my neighborhood, when there are three caucasian guys walking, I never say they're gonna rob me. They're just some young kids. They could be doing anything.

You know, it's just that perception--the way the media portrays them. It's just the way that society's been brainwashed. Like Trayvon Martin--he couldn't walk from the store to wherever he was going.

Adam: America's not America without a constitution. When you're not innocent until proven guilty, when you can be harassed for no reason at all, America's not America in the Black community. The point of being in America is being free.

Jeralynn: The oath is to "protect and serve." But I don't believe that they're there to protect me. Since this has happened, every time I see a police officer driving down the street, I don't feel a sense of protection. I feel like my skin is crawling. I just get sick to my stomach.

And it's not all police--I'm not saying that. But just because of this personal tragedy...It's senseless. This makes no sense at all. None whatsoever. He should never have been shot. He should never even have been stopped. Period.

When I was growing up, if you did something--say, for instance, they even took you down and harassed you--they then called your parents. Now they just shoot you dead in the street! And then feel like they have no responsibility to answer any questions or talk to the parents. They just do it, and it's okay. It's not okay.

This is how I feel: OPD [the Oakland Police Department] is a brotherhood. And they're going to stick up for each other and stand by each other and protect one another, because when you stand up against something, you can be ostracized and treated badly. And so it's like, "Do I take a chance on my retirement, do I take a chance on my livelihood, to stand up for what's right? Or do I just close my eyes and close my ears and act like it doesn't affect me?"

But it affects us all. It affects everybody. And they need to stop it. I'm sick to death of this.

HOW DID you start fighting for justice for your son?

Adam: We're looking for answers for our son. We've seen all the injustice that's been done just in us trying to get answers. And we see how the system is working against regular people.

We've always seen people killed. But it doesn't hit you until it affects you. You can't really understand the brutality of it until it hits home. We watch the news. We see these stories all the time. But now, we understand that you have to fight for justice. They're not going to give it to you. And as Alan's parents, he's not here to fight for himself.

Jeralynn: He was a very honest young man, but he's not here to say what happened. So we have to be a voice. You know, our way to fight for justice is just to tell his story and to let people know. You should just hear some of the stories that people come and tell me.

I wear this button [which says "RIP Alan"] everywhere, because it just kind of makes me feel that he's with me--because I can look down and see his face. I wear it above my heart. I go in the grocery store, and they say, "You're Alan's mom." Or I go in the gas station, and they go, "Oh, I was in class with him." Or his friends call me, and they tell me, "We just want to know how you're doing."

We have to tell his story because he's not here. And that's the way to fight back--because he would want that. The civil rights movement happened in the '60s, but now, we're fixing some of the same things. And it shouldn't be that way.

WHAT DOES it mean to you to be able, in the fight for justice, to meet other families who have experienced similar tragedies, and to meet so many people who support you?

Adam: The support means a lot for the family. It's important to see someone who felt like you felt, who went through the things you went through, to try to kind of get a better understanding. We know that united we stand, divided we fall. We feel like if we can get enough attention, enough people who feel what we felt, then that will make a difference.

Jeralynn: The support means to me that people hear what we're saying, and people are recognizing that this could be anybody. And it does help when people talk about him and tell the good stories and everything. But mainly, if I can do anything to make a change, then I don't want another family, another parent, another mother or father to feel the way that we feel. I feel like I've been robbed.

WHAT HAPPENED at Skyline High School's graduation ceremony?

Jeralynn: Oh my god, it was so beautiful. It was almost surreal for me, because I went to Skyline High School. I was so proud of him.

When we got there, we were greeted by the administration. They came and they gave us hugs and condolences, and they showed us our seats. There were people coming over out of the stands because they recognized that we were the parents. They were just coming and giving us hugs. When the ceremony started, there was a moment of silence with his name and another classmate who had passed away. And there was a song, a tribute: "I'll Be Seeing You In All the Old Familiar Places."

We were under the impression that the vice principal would give us the diploma, but the principal gave us his diploma. I was honored that he took on that responsibility. He could have appointed anyone to do it, but he was there. The student body president was there to give her condolences. The lady who worked at the cafeteria, she was there. These are people who Alan touched, who knew him, who saw him smile every day.

After I got the diploma, I just sort of held it up, and we got a standing ovation. People were coming up out of the stands. One parent walked over and said how sorry he was.

As a family, we're so proud of him. At the same time, there was just the sadness that he suffered this. And so we gathered in the parking lot afterward because it was too hard to sit through the whole ceremony. We gathered in the parking lot, and we got a nice circle, and we prayed, and we had 12 balloons. Each family member had a balloon, and we all let them up. I just found it real touching, because the balloons stayed together, and they just kind of floated up. I felt his spirit. I felt that he knew somehow that we were proud of him.

Although it was difficult for us, it was also a day of celebration. So we did celebrate his accomplishment. Because, I mean, you think about it, a lot of kids don't finish.

WHAT DOES justice for your son look like?

Adam: Justice for Alan Blueford looks like policy change, some type of legislation, something in his name to live forever. We're not looking for financial restitution. We know that money comes and goes. We want something in his name that will live forever. He was sacrificed. We look at it like he was a sacrifice to be killed in this type of way. He sacrificed for a lot more people...

Adam and Jeralynn: ...so this never happens again.

Jeralynn: Hopefully, one day we can have a scholarship in his name where we can help young men go to the college they want to go to. We hope that laws are passed where racial profiling is stopped altogether.

I would like to see the police and the community have a better understanding. We want to see the police and whoever hires them to look more in-depth into the kind of people in the department. We want people from the community who understand the community. But they can't decide to just kill our babies and disrupt lives in communities and think it's okay.

Justice means change. And I believe a change is coming. I really do. And Alan's name will live on. When people hear his name, they'll know the good person he was, and his sacrifice, and the change behind his name.