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After Grant Killing, Community Turns Tragedy into Power

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia , News Feature, Jazmyne Young Posted: Feb 11, 2009

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Just days after the taped police shooting of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man, became a viral video that spread around the world, outraged Bay Area residents began to organize around his tragic death.

"Racial profiling [and] excessive police force or police brutality have disproportionately affected youth of color and, effectively, they've been terrorized," said Dereca Blackmon, who helped form the new Coalition Against Police Execution (CAPE), which organized the first rally after former BART officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Grant, 22, at the Fruitvale station in Oakland on New Year's Day. "We wanted to get people out [and] to help make it productive and keep it peaceful," she said.

Blackmon, the former director of Leadership Excellence -- an Oakland-based organization dedicated to educating African-American youth around social justice issues -- has made herself a cornerstone of mentorship for Oakland youth.

She says since the infamous video surfaced showing how Grant was shot and killed while lying facedown, with his hands behind his back, young people have been engaged.

"Because this was a young adult, youth have been very vocal in wanting to be involved," she said. "From making signs to speaking at rallies, young adults have been involved in helping shape the movement."
Youth OutrageAlbany Middle School sixth grader Seth Mapp, 12, holds a placard
at a recent Oscar Grant protest. His mom, Rue Mapp, brought him.
Photo by Sherron Hogg

Jazz Hudson, a 20-year-old college student and mother, is among the many emerging voices of CAPE.

"When we all came together, stuff happened quickly," Hudson said. "I feel like when we're all marching for something right, collectively, we can change anything."

After a series of CAPE-organized demonstrations, Alameda County District Attorney Thomas Orloff charged Mehserle with murder. He is out on bail. At a subsequent rally, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums credited CAPE with pressing for Grant's justice.

"You guys were able to make the system bend to the will of the people," Dellums said.

Dampening CAPE's peaceful and organized efforts were angry protestors, who disrupted a peaceful march on Jan. 7 and caused a riot.

"We have a three-hour peaceful protest and none of that gets shown, but they can show a clip of three windows being broken at a Wells Fargo over and over," said Reginald James, the editor-in-chief of Laney College's Harambe newspaper.

The street violence took place after CAPE's first organized rally, when anarchists decided to march to downtown Oakland and express their outrage. The demonstration led to 105 arrests and the vandalization of a number of businesses and vehicles.

"Because young people were actively involved in the rebellion and many of them weren't educated about the consequences or have access to legal representation, [it] forced CAPE not to get involved with the whole good protestor/bad protestor thing," Blackmon said. "We chose to respect their choice and to [recognize] that young people stepped up and said that: 'We have something to say.'"

Whether it was nonviolent efforts or street-level rebellion, or perhaps a combination of both, it is undeniable that this community-built movement has made an impact nationally.

Some 14 cities from New York to Boston -- participated in a second rally for Grant on Jan. 14. James says he believes wireless technology is what has helped sustain the interest surrounding Grant's murder.

"Had people not come out with the camera or cell phones, or if they didn't have access to YouTube or those media, this would've just got swept under the rug," he said.

Blackmon says that CAPE and other organizations are viewing this moment as a tipping point.

"Young people have always known that the police are part of the problem of violence in inner cities," she said.

Grant's murder has shifted into a bigger dialogue that is putting pressure on local government to have more police accountability, Blackmom said.

Hudson, the college student, believes that this new movement has the potential to make a positive change in Oakland and beyond. If the Hyphy movement, a hip-hop culture derived from a popular form of Bay Area rap music, can spread around the world, so can youth activism thrive around Grant's death.

"Why can't we stop police violence," Hudson said. "We aren't always going to be able to go to the elders, this is our life. This is our world."

Jazmyne Young, 20, is a content producer at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

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