Call to action in Oakland against police terror

Clare Dankoff reports from Oakland, Calif., on a forum to demand justice for the victims of police violence, from the Bay Area to New York City.

Angela Davis speaking at the celebration of Alan Blueford's lifeAngela Davis speaking at the celebration of Alan Blueford's life

ON DECEMBER 18, in front of a Laney College theater packed with 400 people, Angela Davis, a leading figure of the 1960s Black liberation struggle, joined with the family of Oakland police murder victim Alan Blueford to commemorate Alan's life and those of all police murder victims. Also participating were family members of police murder victims from Oakland and across the country, as well as anti-police violence activists and Oakland unionists.

The event was not just a memorial, but a call to action.

The event began with Jeralynn Blueford, Alan's mother. Alan was an 18-year-old high school senior three weeks away from his high school graduation when he was chased down and shot by Oakland Police Department officer Miguel Masso.

Since Alan's death, Jeralynn has helped lead the Justice for Alan Blueford coalition, which has shut down Oakland City Hall and mobilized numerous rallies of hundreds of people each. Pressure from these protests forced the city of Oakland to hand over the coroner's report and then the police report on the death of their son. Jeralynn said that the families present at the meeting "have come to share, to educate and to strategize so that there are no more Alan Bluefords, Ramarley Grahams, Kenneth Hardings, Oscar Grants--no more young people shot down in the street."

Among the other relatives of police murder who spoke was Rosemary Duenez, whose son son Ernesto Duenez was killed in June by police officer John Moody in Manteca, Calif., 70 miles east of Oakland.

Police followed Duenez, who was wanted for a domestic violence complaint, to his house. As a graphic squad car video that the family has decided to release publicly shows, Moody ran up as Duenez was exiting his vehicle and within seconds had fired 13 bullets, 11 of which struck Duenez. The cops claim Duenez held a "throwing knife," but admit that the only knife found at the scene was in the bed of Duenez's truck.

Every Sunday since his murder, the Duenez family and supporters have protested outside the Mantica Police Department. "What Moody didn't know is that Ernesto had a family who loved him, who would fight for him," Rosemary told the Oakland audience. "So I say to you, to all the families: Fight, fight, fight!"

Constance Graham then told the story of the struggle for justice for her son Ramarley Graham, who was killed last February by New York City police, who followed him into his home and shot him in the bathroom in front of his grandmother and 6-year-old brother. Ramarley's family and their supporters held vigils for their son every Thursday for 18 weeks straight--one for every year of his life. The vigils nd other actions pressured prosecutors to indict the officer who killed Graham on manslaughter charges--but Constance and the family's supporters want him charged with the crime he committed: murder.

Members and officials from unions, including Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the Oakland Educators Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, were present at the meeting to offer their support. Bay Area unions have increased their support recently for the Blueford family's campaign for justice.

On the panel, Clarence Thomas, a longtime activist and leader of ILWU Local 10, spoke about the responsibility of labor to get involved in struggles against police terror: "Solidarity is not an empty slogan. Solidarity is making a sacrifice. We have power. We all know what we got to do. We remember the civil rights movements. The abolitionists should be our models."

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THE KEYNOTE speaker Angela Davis talked about the war on drugs as a new incarnation of past forms of oppression, like slavery and Jim Crow:

We know that Black and Latino youth are subject to a vicious process of criminalization that is ideological and psychological--consistently portrayed as criminals so the mere sight will strike fear in people's hearts. That was the antecedent for the murder of Alan.

C.D. Witherspoon, a Baltimore minister and community activist, shared stories about police violence and strategies for community fightback from a city with one of the highest rates of police killings in the U.S. With determined organizing, Witherspoon said he and other activists have forced information from city and police officials. "We as a community proved we have the ability to not just advocate for justice, but to make the police a liar in front of the community," he said.

Timothy Killings, president of the Black Student Union (BSU) at Laney College BSU, spoke of the lessons he learned in the fight against police brutality over the past four years in Oakland. The angry protests after the murder of Oscar Grant by Bay Area Rapid Transit cop Johannes Mehserle including shutdowns at the Port of Oakland, a takeover of City Hall and sit-ins at the district attorney's office. Ultimately, Mehserle was convicted in Grant's murder, though only of the least serious manslaughter charge against him. Yet this was the only conviction of an officer for a police killing in California history.

Killings stressed that winning justice for Alan Blueford will be an uphill battle, as it was for Oscar Grant:

Alan Blueford...was murdered to send the message to the rest of our community that resistance is useless, change is impossible, and we should just submit to the unjust conditions of our community. This is why we should do what ever is necessary to receive justice for all our fallen brothers and sisters.

The next steps for the Justice for Alan Blueford coalition won't be easy. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley has said she won't charge the officer who killed Alan, Miguel Masso, based on the police report. Activists is to pressure O'Malley to reverse this decision--or go over her head and pressure Kamala Harris, an Oakland native who is now the state's attorney general.

But prosecutors like O'Malley and Harris collaborate with police in carrying out tough-on-crime policies that are filling prisons to the bursting point, disproportionately with young Black and Brown men. It will take immense pressure to force public officials to sacrifice even a few officers from the barrel full of rotten apples.

Alan's mother Jeralynn gave voice to the determination that will be needed in one of the most powerful moments of the program. She spoke of her son as a thoughtful young man who always questioned authority and was willing to fight for what's right: "We have to stand up for him and say, "I'm Alan." I know he's looking down on us and saying, 'Go! Go! Fight!' And that's what we will continue to do."