“Not Yet Free” by The Coup with Boots Riley, released in 1993
In this land I can’t stand or sit and not get shit thrown up in my face
A brotha never gets his props
I’m doin bellyflops at the department of waste
And everyday I pulls a front so nobody pulls my card
I got a mirror in my pocket and I practice lookin hard
I’m lookin behind me beside me ahead of me
There’ll be no feet makin tracks here instead of me
But I can’t disregard just what the news says to me
I’m twenty-one, so I’ve reached my life expectancy
At any minute I could be in some shit that kills my skinny ass
From motherfuckers doin the sellout strut or probably Oakland task
My relationship with OPD has been like one big diss
Long arm of the law, grips my dick so tight it’s hard to even piss
So I forgot ain’t even got a pot to do it in
Up at the church they’re tellin me it’s because I live in sin
So I grin, but nevertheless my mind won’t dwell
I must be trippin cause I thought I was livin in hell
Capitalism is like a spider, the web is getting tighter
I’m struggling like a fighter, just to bust loose
It’s like a noose asyphyxiation sets in
Just when I think I’m free it seems to me the spider steps in
This web is made of money made of greed made of me
Of what I have become in a parasite economy
Today I watched a young man shoot another young man. To say it happened right in front of everyone, in broad daylight, would be an understatement. It was just after lunch and a handful of us “Mac-Tem (MacArthur Temescal) Neighborhood Assembly” folks were in Mosswood Park, waiting to join the Occupy Education march from UC Berkeley when it came down Telegraph Avenue in a half hour or so. The rain had just cleared and the sky was like a big blue diamond and the still-wet grass under our feet was all shiny green and we were standing at the edge of the park talking about soup. And then there was one gunshot and what had been a tight little knot of people directly across the street began to sort of come unknotted. And then there were more gunshots, maybe five or six or seven. Most of us hid behind a big tree for about a minute. When I looked back across the street, the man with the gun – a young African American man in a black hoodie – was still sort of pacing around a little ways up the street.
Nobody screamed. I thought there would be screaming. But it was kind of still for a minute and then the people I was with started talking about what the gun looked like. I don’t think I actually saw it but apparently it was big and silver. If you hadn’t heard the gunshots, you could not have guessed what had just happened. The people filling their cars with $5/gallon gas at the gas station only a few feet away seemed to be going about their business. The people who had been shot at were still on their feet, sort of milling around. Except for one. In another few minutes, people began to yell and point at a young man who had run around the corner and fallen down about a half a block away. My friend Z. ran down the block to check on him and came back and said he had been hit in the shoulder and was bleeding pretty badly. I started to cry. I thought there would be crying. But it was just me.
After maybe 10 minutes some cops showed up. No ambulance, even though Kaiser Hospital was a stone’s throw away. But Kaiser’s not a trauma center; Oakland’s Highland Hospital specializes in gunshot wounds. I’m pretty sure I remember hearing that medics on their way to Iraq or Afghanistan do their training at Highland; after all, a war zone is a war zone.
I went to my car and made my way home in kind of a fog. When I got home, I heard from friends on Facebook that an ambulance finally arrived about 20 minutes after the shooting. The young man who was shot – Z. called him a “teenager” – is in critical condition but apparently is going to survive and the shooter apparently has been caught. So far this is the only news story I can find about it; it was not today’s only shooting in Oakland, and he was just a teenager, not a toddler.
* * *
During the past few weeks, I had kinda broken up with Occupy Oakland. At least we had stopped seeing each other as often. The relationship had some issues. You might call it violence fatigue. Or “insurrectional dysfunction.” After J28, I started re-evaluating the idea that every major action must involve a police riot; OPD can always be counted on to start one if that’s the plan. Many of us began to question where we were at and how we got there and what should happen next. But discussions about tactics continue to devolve into arguments about the semantics of violence and non-violence and blah blah blah, yada yada yada. The most obnoxious and divisive people continue to be defended under some sort of “comrades uber alles” mentality. When it finally begins to feel like junior high school, you realize: Hey, I’m not 13, I don’t actually have to go.
And yet . . . you can’t stay away. That’s why I was there at the Mac-Tem neighborhood assembly today, at an event that was billed as family friendly and non-violent, that probably would have included some kids if it hadn’t been raining earlier. But you can’t count on Oakland to be non-violent. Not my Fruitvale neighborhood in East Oakland, where Oscar Grant (and just recently, his cousin) was murdered by the police and where I hear gunshots all the time. Not further into “Deep East” Oakland where there are shootings pretty much every day, and a death every two or three. Not in West Oakland where someone was shot just today; and not even in Mosswood Park in North Oakland, in the culturally diverse, hipster neighborhood of Temescal.
It is not a mystery why people are shooting each other in Oakland at all hours of every day and every night. Boots Riley, among others, has schooled me about the “parasite economy,” “made of money, made of greed, made of me” that forces impoverished people, people who are the victims of decades of institutionalized racism, who have been chewed up and spit out by the prison industrial complex, to do whatever it takes to survive. Unemployment is 14% in Oakland, as much as 20% in East Oakland, and higher than that for people of color. I can’t even imagine what the statistics might be for parolees. And yet . . . when you see the consequences unfold in front of your eyes, when you watch as one more young man waits 20 minutes for an ambulance and another is taken away to jail, it still seems so incredibly fucking wrong.