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Riots, Ruckus and Radicals

A message to the anarchists that hijacked the Oscar Grant protest

Silicon Valley Debug , Commentary and Video, Words: Chip Lyas // Video: Angel Luna Posted: Jan 13, 2009

Editor's Note: A peaceful rally in honor of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man shot by a BART police officer on New Year's Day, turned destructive in downtown Oakland last week and San Jose organizer Chip Lyas feels like it was the wrong way to make things right. Lyas is a writer for Silicon Valley Debug.

Last week, I attended a rally in memory of Oscar Grant a 22-year-old black man from Hayward who was shot in the back by a BART police. Even though the gathering was prompted by such a gloomy occurrence, it was an amazing event. With hundreds of people in attendance, the vibe was positive and you could feel a powerful energy in the air. It gave me a feeling that maybe as a community, we can pull together and force the magistrate to change their behavior.

People from all walks of life stood together and literally shut down the Fruitvale BART station. Different artistic renderings of a smiling Oscar Grant could be seen everywhere you looked. I cannot emphasize enough the lengths that the organizers went to remind everyone exactly why we were there. We were there because one of our brothers was senselessly murdered by a police officer. We were there because this is not the first time this has happened. It was also made very clear that we were there in peaceful remembrance, and with a desire to seek change through solidarity.

Early on it was announced that the police officer who shot Grant had resigned, and understandably, this did not make people feel any better. The mayor's office even sent out a representative to speak to the crowd and offer an apology for what took place. This was met with boos and a young brother got on the microphone and took it upon himself to declare that as a group we did not accept the apology.

Throughout the day I had noticed a lot of people who reminded me of images I'd seen of protesters in Greece, who were rioting because of the shooting of a 15-year-old anarchist by police. While I could empathize with the folks in Greece, I immediately saw these people as artificial. You know the type: usually white, wearing American Apparel "fatigues," riding fixed gear bikes. These kids were making me nervous all day. I mentioned to friends throughout the day that if anything went wrong, these kids would be the reason.

Around 6 p.m. or so, we took to the street and began marching in the direction of downtown Oakland this is when things started to go bad.

A peaceful rally for Oscar Grant turns destructive in downtown Oakland.

I can't say I would be happier if the melee was ignited by angry black people, but there was something quite disturbing about watching masked white kids (yes...I'm generalizing) setting out to be destructive during a peaceful demonstration for a young black man that had been murdered by the police. I watched the now infamous garbage dumpster that was eventually set ablaze get pushed down the street. I saw the frustration as they couldn't light the fire as quickly as they would have liked. It unfolded like a really bad episode of Saved by the Bell, or your choice of any fictionalized account of how average white (again...generalizing) kids deal with "real" life. Now that Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski are wielding molotov cocktails, I feel less safe than I already did.

For once in my life I was more scared of a white kid than I was of an overambitious thug trying to ruin my good time or a police officer trying to arrest or kill me. Now, I am not oblivious to the handful of rambunctious youngsters dancing on the hoods of cars or mobbing into liquor stores, but when told that was not what we were out to do, said youngsters would return to the fold and damage was minimal.

What unfolded as the first extreme act of violence was initiated by the aforementioned masked marauders and their trusty dumpster. This then opened the door for people of all races to start throwing bottles and mindlessly attacking a police car. Police responded by firing tear gas into the crowd. If there is one lesson I have learned in life, it is that violence only brings on more violence. We had a plan of going on to shut down the Lake Merit BART station, and continuing on to the police headquarters. We never got the chance to get the real point across. All most people who were not there will remember is the "anarchists," their riot, and the destruction of people's property left in their wake.

I am a firm believer in hope. Not the Pepsi-colored, Obama screen-print kind, but real genuine hope. The kind of hope that allows a person to walk into a situation knowing that they are the underdog, and see the rewards of practical strategy and positive determination. I am talking about the hope one builds when they see someone like Ramon Vasquez, who had been wrongfully accused of murder in San Jose and unsuccessfully fitted for the gang-enhancement jacket, released from custody after spending five months in jail. This is the hope one builds when they see someone like Ramon reunited with his family after months of applying pressure to the District Attorney's office, Public Defender's office, and the police department. This is the hope one builds when they watch the police presence in their downtown area decrease due to direct pressure being put on the Mayor and the Chief of Police. This is the hope one builds when you watch a ballot measure like last election's Proposition 6, aimed at locking up people of color and trying youth as adults in crimes that are whimsically declared gang related, be utterly obliterated by the same people it sought to target.

I was personally involved in each of these situations and can say with steadfast earnestness that not one bottle was thrown, not one fire was started, not one window was broken. Sure, there was the occasional "Fuck the police" or crowding of a DA in their own office, but there were zero arrests made due to the hard work and sacrifice that was invested. Funny thing is, we are now at the table with the same people we stood in protest of. We now have a recognized voice in San Jose, a city where discrimination and gentrification has been the modus operandi for decades.

Heres a message to the "anarchists" who were in Oakland that night: Take off the masks. Put down the bottles. I've had enough. This is my firebomb and its headed for your cozy bedroom or wherever you concoct your project mayhem fantasies. I will not digress from a position of disgust for anyone who feels that violence is the only answer.

I believe that the police actually allowed the rioting to go on for some time, before they released canisters of tear gas one of very few options they had. What did people think was going to happen? This is not a Third World country. We are not in a mandated police state. In places with real conflict, children are being blown up. I am in no way trying to minimize the situation, but let's get serious. Every day men and women both white and of color are killing each other at an alarming rate. The bastardization of gangster rap and the birth of tabloid television is systematically corrupting our youth. We just spent the last eight years with a president that was trying to throw us to the dogs. And what do we do? We give them another reason to treat us like savages.

Related Articles:

BART Slaying Gives Oakland Rocky Start in '09

Towering Obstacles in Prosecuting the Oscar Grant Killing

Pigs Go Home: Oakland Riots Bring Out My Demons

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