What if the Police Threw a Riot and No One Came
As I headed to downtown Oakland with members of the Ella Baker Center family, I really did not know what to expect. Almost every business was closed. Some of the big ones had posted security guards outside. The streets were almost empty.
I had to laugh as we passed a local business that, despite boarding up their windows, did not let an opportunity to advertise pass by. I was also touched by the new mural on the Youth Radio building paying homage to Oscar’s life. We reached the intersection of 14th and Broadway by passing through a long line of cops.
I could hear a diverse line up of speakers taking the mic and sharing their reactions, emotions and thoughts. There were many
beautiful pieces of art on display pleading for justice. The level of discourse was fairly high in the crowd with the people around me finding smart and constructive ways to express their sadness, anger, and indignation. Yet, it was hard to ignore the huge rows of cops surrounding the gathering at every angle. Was all the hype, fueled by the OPD and the media, that supposedly demanded the outrageously large police presence the chicken or the egg in this situation?
I wondered what might happen if as the sun set, nothing happened. What an incredible statement that would have been to Oakland officials and police!
As I headed home, we witnessed a 15 year old, Black youth being searched by the cops for no apparent reason. He seemed unscathed for the most part and chalked it up to being “young and black.” As we walked further, a huge gaggle of police cars tore down the street towards the community gathering.
I found myself torn- wanting to stay out in the streets to bear witness and to stand with the community yet not wanting to be on the other end of a marching line of riot cops should the situation intensify. And indeed, things did intensify. A Foot Locker, the Whole Foods and a few other businesses experienced property damage and cops had water bottles thrown their way. The media had a heyday- asking whether these rioters were outside anarchist perpetrators or Oakland residents and shifting all the media attention onto these acts of vandalism instead of on the pressing issue of justice that caused them.
I will never know whether those who upped their response to a level of property destruction were merely enraged at the verdict, or perhaps they were overwhelmed and angry, as I was, to see so clearly the Police State that we live in. And maybe there were a few outsider folks who came to town eager at the opportunity to stir things up. But to me, that doesn’t matter so much.
What matters is that there was clear and building energy in Oakland yesterday. Energy to build a larger and lasting movement for justice. A movement that makes connections between the actions of the police to the criminalization of folks of color and the lack of opportunities for poor folks. A chorus of voices who are willing to come out, even when intimidated to control their anger, to display their rage and demand justice. And a generation of young people who are engaged in the struggle and who maintain a true commitment to peace. Maybe the Police were throwing a riot; whereas I was seizing an opportunity to stand with community. Surrounded by the people of Oakland, I felt proud to be in such good company.