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“Fruitvale,” the new movie about Oscar Grant, gets rave reviews at Sundance UPDATE 2

8:24 pm in Uncategorized by hotflashcarol


A protest at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland. Flickr photo courtesy of Michael Mees.

Updated to add: Fruitvale just won both the Grand Jury Prize (“the big enchilada, as the announcer said) and the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic film at the Sundance Awards!

On Democracy Now this morning, Amy Goodman interviewed filmmaker Ryan Coogler about his debut film, Fruitvale, which tells the story of the murder of Oscar Grant by a BART police officer. The film stars Michael B. Jordan as Oscar and Octavia Spencer as Oscar’s mother, Wanda, and was produced by Forest Whitaker, among others. The movie has been a standout at the Sundance Film Festival. It reportedly was the subject of a bidding war; distribution rights were acquired by the Weinstein Company, which means that it should be playing in a movie theater near you later this year.

The two short clips that Amy Goodman showed during the interview, along with Coogler’s description of what it was like to make this movie, left me in tears. It reminded me that Oscar’s death is still an open wound that will never heal until Oakland stops marginalizing and brutalizing and killing young men of color. I’ve written fairly extensively about Oscar and police brutality in Oakland. This is one of the first FDL diaries I ever wrote, in anticipation of the Mehserle verdict back in July 2010 (which would turn out to be involuntary manslaughter instead of murder). This diary was written a year ago, on the third anniversary of Oscar’s death.

Ryan Coogler, the filmmaker whose day job is counselor at a San Francisco juvenile detention center, was compelled to make this movie because in the cell phone videos of the murder, Oscar was the same age as Coogler and “looked like he could have been any one of us.” And because he was angry and frustrated; the killing of an unarmed black man by police was, unfortunately, nothing new to Coogler as an African-American resident of the East Bay. Fruitvale (named after the BART station where Oscar was killed) begins with those cell phone videos and then flashes back to what Oscar was doing earlier that day.

I’ve read a lot of reviews of the movie; some of them focus on the fact that Oscar is portrayed in such a positive light. For those of us who are Friday Night Lights fans, the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Oscar is genius. For me, he’s a good match for the Oscar Grant that I have concocted in my head. I didn’t know Oscar, and it’s tempting to turn Oscar into some larger-than-life person. He wasn’t. But he was loved by his family and friends. He was Tatiana’s dad and Wanda’s son and Uncle Bobby’s nephew—we do know Oscar’s family now, because they have become tireless advocates for justice, not just for Oscar but for every victim of police brutality. Oscar was a young man who was trying to make the most of a hard day that New Year’s Eve and he did not deserve to be shot in the back on that cold fucking BART platform by a monster like Mehserle. If this movie does nothing else, perhaps it will help people to see that the cops are not always right, or righteous, and that until we really hold them accountable for these young lives they’ve taken, they’ll keep shooting first and asking questions later, as they did with Oscar and as they did in the case of Alan Blueford.

Unfortunately, the Oakland Police Department doesn’t seem to have any intention of changing its ways. Alan Blueford’s father, Adam, was back in front of the Oakland City Council this past Tuesday. Mr. Blueford was speaking out against the hiring of superpig and global security mogul William Bratton by OPD as part of a $250,000 consulting package. Bratton is worthy of a whole ‘nother diary, but suffice it to say that the last thing Oakland needs is more outsiders encouraging their cops to Stop & Frisk.

Police Chief Howard Jordan promised that racial profiling would not be a part of OPD policy. Nobody believed him, least of all OO livestreamer Bella Eiko/Jessica Hollie (below), who was another of the more than 200 people who addressed the City Council about Bratton during that marathon session on Tuesday. At 2 AM, the council voted 7-1 in favor of hiring Bratton. (The video that Jessica is referring to but that never makes it onscreen at the meeting is this one.)


#Occupy Oakland: What Does Non-Violence Even Mean in a War Zone?

10:54 pm in Uncategorized by hotflashcarol

“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.

#Occupy Oakland: For Wanda, For Tatiana, For Uncle Bobby . . . For Oscar

9:27 pm in Uncategorized by hotflashcarol

I am Oscar Grant (photo: tenacious snail/flickr)

I am Oscar Grant (photo: tenacious snail/flickr)

Today is the third anniversary of Oscar Grant’s execution by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. For any of you unfamiliar with this story: Oscar, a young father, a young worker, unarmed, was shot in the back while lying prostrate in police custody on the Fruitvale BART station platform; after days of rage in the community, Mehserle was charged with murder and ultimately convicted of involuntary manslaughter, for which he served less than half of his two-year sentence.

The Oscar Grant Committee and Occupy Oakland organized a march in remembrance, beginning at the plaza we renamed after Oscar and ending with a rally at the Fruitvale BART. My husband and I walked up to meet the crowd when they arrived at the BART, which is just a few blocks from our house. The streets were lined with police cars and near the edge of the rally, there was a big black SUV with a couple of laughing cops inside. Most every cop we saw was smiling or shooting the breeze with fellow officers; none of them seemed to be taking this occasion too seriously. After all, they are collecting some nice fat overtime pay.

These annual rallies for Oscar have a certain “old home week” feel – there are the same faces and the same litanies of police brutality, with another year’s worth of injustices added to the list. Another mother or two gets up to tell the story of how her baby was murdered or jailed by BART cops or OPD.  This year, we also heard from Kenneth Carrethers, a man who was beaten by Mehserle six weeks before Oscar was killed. Some people believe that if that incident had been properly investigated at the time, Oscar might still be alive.  We heard from several of our OO comrades who were arrested during Friday’s melee. It was reassuring to see their faces, to know that they were not spending New Year’s Day in jail (there are still a couple of people who have not been released). Khalid, one of our most articulate and eloquent comrades (and someone who has been arrested multiple times at OO), told us to occupy our neighborhoods – to not let anyone go hungry on our block, to give comfort to a mentally ill neighbor, to take care of each other. He is so right. It’s the main lesson we are all teaching each other at Occupy; it’s really all that matters. Read the rest of this entry →

#Occupy Oakland: Too Big to Fail

3:45 pm in Uncategorized by hotflashcarol

This is a love letter to Occupy Oakland, to my comrades. For the last month or so, we’ve been taking a Cointelpro-style beating from all sides. Our enemies and even our friends had just about written us off. The angry Empress Quan thinks the “ruling class is probably laughing” at us. But it turns out that the news of our death has been greatly exaggerated. Not only are we are alive and well; we can still kick capitalist ass all over the West Coast and around the world. Occupy will never die! Evict us and we multiply!

The morning began with the omnipresent Occupy Oakland soundtrack: the whirr of helicopters hovering overhead. And sufficient police presence to ward off the Chinese army. When my husband and I got to the West Oakland BART at 5:30 AM, we were delighted (and relieved) to find that several hundred of our comrades were already on the march through a gauntlet of squad cars to shut down the Port of Oakland. I’ve never seen such a festive crowd in the pre-dawn hours of a cold, damp December morning.

Once we arrived at the port, we were dispatched to block various gates, where we walked in circular picket lines for a couple of hours. There was a lot to take in under the harsh yellow glare of the port’s halogen lights: kids on colorful Oakland scraper bikes zipping in and out of the crowd; a life-size cutout of Pepper Spray Pig with a hole to put your face in; a little girl with a giant cardboard box full of oatmeal raisin cookies; a DJ playing Michael Jackson songs; Feminists and Queers and Teamsters and Workers of the World; a row of stoic riot cops protecting the property of the one percent. And focaccia.

The ILWU members refused to cross the picket lines. After a few hours, the union arbitrator came and declared the situation unsafe and sent the longshoremen home, effectively closing down the port for the 7 AM shift. (This is the way it’s done these days, since the union members are contractually prohibited from actually striking.)

Our morning mission accomplished, most of us gathered at Oscar Grant Plaza for a rally to get us hyped up to close down the port once again for the evening shift. It was packed, just like it used to be when we had our encampment. We saw dozens of familiar faces, people we hadn’t seen since the raid. Everything was all beautiful again and it made me cry.

The entertainment included a rousing sermon from the Reverend Billy of the Church of No Shopping, who said he prays to the 99%, since the 1% is the devil. He counseled us to continue being subversive by taking care of each other in the new world that we are creating. Amen! Praise Be! Can I get a Revolujah!

A variety of speakers, musicians and spoken-word artists came onstage to give us words of encouragement and moral support, including Scott Olsen, who was showered with love from the crowd. Boots Riley introduced the final speaker: “I’m not going to do a good job introducing this person because her real story is actually way better than her legend and her legend is fucking ridiculous. This is Angela Davis.”  (Squee! Just in case the day wasn’t amazing enough already.) Angela said she had just received a text from Barbara Becnel, the attorney who represented Stanley “Tookie” Williams. Barbara wants occupy movements all over the country to declare a national day in solidarity with the 2.5 million prisoners and the 3,500 on death row in the US and to have mobilizations at every major prison.  Angela went on to remind us of ILWU’s “radical solidarity” and its actions over the years against apartheid in South Africa, its refusal to unload an Israeli ship because of Palestine apartheid, and its solidarity with Mumia and with Oscar Grant. She said she recently visited Occupy Berlin, where everybody wanted to know first, how Scott Olsen is and secondly, how OO has built a movement that is anti-capitalist, anti-racist, feminist, that has stood up against police violence, trans-violence, homophobia and in favor of environmentalism and the abolition of the prison industrial complex. The clip below of Scott and Angela is long but well worth listening to.

In between the speeches, the DJ played James Brown and P-Funk. I dare anyone to stand still while Flashlight is playing.  You will shake your groove thang, just like my Occupy Oakland comrades did. These people do not fly their freak flags at half mast; they’re kind of like colorful snowflakes, each one perfect and unique. (Excuse my choppy video work; I am just learning to use the iPhone that a friend gave me. Horizontal would be good; not covering up the mic would be good. Next time.)

After this big euphoric endorphin boost, we were all ready to march again. Scott Olsen and other veterans led the way and we headed down 14th Street for the 3.5-mile trek back to the port. There were many thousands of us this time. Before we even got to the entrance of the port, we stopped for a mic check and were informed that we had already succeeded in shutting down the evening shift. Apparently they realized that in spite of their attempts to undermine and dismiss us, we had amassed too much support. We proved that Occupy Oakland is still Too Big to Fail. Whose Port? Our Port!

As we headed up the bridge over the freeway to celebrate with a GA at the port, my husband and I turned around and looked behind us at a huge, magnificent crowd that stretched as far as the eye could see. For some odd reason, it smelled like cake. And victory. After walking for 90 minutes towards the distant west edge of the port, exhausted but exhilarated, we decided to turn around and head back home. We were thrilled to see another wave of marchers coming over the bridge. Our comrades kept coming and coming and coming, in groups both large and small, almost all the way back to Oscar Grant Plaza. The final straggler was a man in a tuxedo riding a unicycle, with a mannequin in a bridal gown strapped on behind him. Just another member of the 99%.

#Occupy Oakland: WTFWMD

1:52 pm in Uncategorized by hotflashcarol

Some meandering thoughts as I prepare for the West Coast Port Shutdown tomorrow . . .

My husband and I moved to the Bay Area about 15 years ago when our son was starting high school. We wanted to immerse him in what has come to be known as “San Francisco Values.” My husband, a draft resister who fled (literally) from the induction center in Downtown Oakland, had been drawn to People’s Park in Berkeley for decades in much the same the way Richard Dreyfuss was drawn to Devil’s Tower.  He said he was first attracted to me because my big blonde afro reminded him of Angela Davis.

As for my transformation from a child in a very small, very white, town into a DFH . . . during the Summer of Love, when I was eight years old, my parents drove  me and my sister through the Haight and took us to Glide Memorial Church, where my groovy, pot-smoking minister uncle was a guest speaker. I got to sit up on the stage near the choir, right next to a six-foot-tall transvestite in platform shoes. I was mesmerized. (Forty years later, Glide still fills to the rafters for two services every Sunday morning and it rocks the very soul of even atheists like me. It’s still one of my favorite places to go when I need to be moved.)

So we moved to the East Bay to be with our tribe and the East Bay did not let us down. Being told by his history teacher to skip school and rally with Jesse Jackson at Sproul Plaza, and living mere blocks from historic 924 Gilman Street, our son turned into a drummer and a socialist, in that order. We relished every opportunity to march and protest even though things never seemed to change very much. For all these years, my husband has been saying, fuck this! We need to be camping out in front of City Hall. And finally he got his wish – if only for a month.

Now our encampment at Oscar Grant Plaza has gone the way of all the Occupy encampments in America – swept back under the carpet as the oligarchy tidies up for the 2012 election. The plaza, guarded by private security to the tune of at least $300K, has been watered day and night and has turned into muddy Quan Swamp. The historic oak tree that we were admonished not to pee on may literally be drowning. The divide, conquer and suppress strategy of the 1% is working like a charm – so well, in fact, that some of our comrades have forgotten the meaning of civil DISobedience and are threatening the momentum of the movement.

This morning’s SF Chronicle has the requisite Occupy concern-troll stories spread throughout several sections, including a lead story headlined “Opposition growing to shutdown of Port.” In addition to interviews with union members and truckers who are conflicted about supporting the shutdown, the story says that “some activists” have concluded that a port blockade is “too extreme” and so strongly disagree with confrontational tactics that they now call themselves “99 Percenters” instead of “Occupiers.” Various groups affiliated with Occupy Oakland have been holding trainings on diversity of tactics and non-violence strategies in anticipation of tomorrow’s events. On several Facebook forums there are very heated discussions involving rumors of peacekeepers who may be planning to “kettle” any comrades who do not comport themselves in whatever they deem to be an acceptable fashion.

As I read this, as always, I think: What the Fuck Would Mario Do?

Mario Savio included “organized labor” in his list of those running the odious machine, the machine that we must not stop passively, but must stop by putting our bodies upon the gears:

be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone!

After he gave that famous speech, Mario was arrested, along with 800 others, and sentenced to 120 days in Santa Rita Jail - the very same place some of us may find ourselves occupying tomorrow. I have never been arrested and I’d like to keep it that way. But I am willing to march with heroes like Scott Olsen and all the others who have been arrested and brutalized. I am willing to take that risk, especially to support the people who man the front lines and push through the police barricades and refuse to allow the state to have every single ounce of the power. Without them, who among us would have had the guts to be the first one to sit at that lunch counter or stand up on top of that police car and demand our right to free speech?

Finally, a couple more videos: First, Angela Davis talking about violence, as some food for thought. I am not advocating armed rebellion. But everyone still needs to listen to this and to watch the entire Black Power Mixtape documentary; it is quite a revelation.

And secondly, on a more uplifting note, a People’s Park video – the ending gives me mad hope.

#Occupy Oakland: Justice is Not Here Yet

1:22 am in Uncategorized by hotflashcarol

Edited just to clarify; I did not create the video – someone named utubekazu uploaded it to youtube so I want to make sure and credit him or her for it; it’s the best one I have seen so far.

The first week of Occupy Oakland was an adventure, a revelation. The first time I participated in the Human Microphone, it set off a little vibration. It moved a part of me that had not been moved before. It seemed primitive. And brand new.

On that first day, the plaza was typically Oaklandish, filled with every imaginable human life form and then some. On the second day and every day that week, I emerged from the underground BART and looked to see how many new tents had sprouted overnight. There were more than 200 by week’s end. Every day my husband wrote something new on the tent that he was occupying 24/7: “Oscar Grant Plaza, Est. 10-10-11.” “Power to the People.” “Fuck the Police.” There is an ongoing, heated debate about whether it is impolite or impolitic to say Fuck the Police; it comes up often when a speaker at General Assembly closes with that phrase and those members of the Human Microphone with less radical sensibilities have to decide whether to repeat it or not. In my mind, the OPD ended that debate on Tuesday night, October 25th, when they turned Oakland into Beirut. Anyone who disagrees is free to refrain from repeating that truth or to go ahead and say it and bring some soap to wash it out of their dirty mouth. But I digress. Read the rest of this entry →

Oakland waits: Will there be justice, will there be peace?

9:05 am in Uncategorized by hotflashcarol

I am Oscar Grant.” Actually, I am not Oscar Grant. I am a 50-year-old white woman, perhaps the least likely target of BART police brutality. And yet I am still debating what to do when the verdict comes down, perhaps today. I want to show my solidarity. I want to march peacefully with my community. I want Oscar’s little girl, Tatiana, and his mother, Wanda, to see faces of every age and color in the crowd. I want a verdict of voluntary manslaughter, at the very least. I want peace, I want justice. But if there is no justice, there will be no peace. And what even constitutes justice in a community where a young woman remembers being terrorized at 16 by the Oakland Riders?

On Friday afternoon I rode the BART home from San Francisco to the Fruitvale station in Oakland, the scene of the crime, a few blocks from my house. It was becoming apparent there would be no verdict that day but the tension was still palpable. A man on the train was lamenting his decision to park his car at Fruitvale that day. Even though I’d seen TV footage of the merchants of downtown Oakland boarding up their windows, or plastering them with posters of Oscar (or both), it was still a shock to discover the Fruitvale BART station sheathed in plywood.

The weekend was quiet yet ominous, filled with pleas for calm from religious organizations and city leaders (if you can call Ron Dellums a leader these days). Without a verdict and without cameras in the courtroom, all the news has to cover is the runup to the riot. There is a veritable tent city of responders set up near downtown Oakland, with plans in place to call out the National Guard if necessary. OPD just purchased an LRAD – the new sonic weapon for crowd control. The police chief keeps saying that they will be there to protect our right to peaceful assembly (if not our eardrums).

I spent the weekend reading about Oscar Grant in the alternative media as a means of counteracting the stereotypical “what can you expect from Oakland but violence” drumbeat coming from the MSM. I didn’t live here in 2009 when Oscar was killed and I needed to be reminded that without the uprising from the community, Mehserle may never have been charged at all. I needed to read this poem about Oscar, written by San Francisco poet Dee Allen. Dee read at a party I attended a couple of weeks ago so I was able to hear his voice in my head. His words made me weep. I expect to be crying again, if not today, then soon. Tears of joy or tears of sorrow, one or the other.

In the meantime, Oakland waits.