Remember Oscar Grant
Oakland, Calif.—The Oscar Grant Committee held its first public forum on Sept. 13 at the main hall of Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library to a packed audience of activists and family members-turned-activists. The following is a summary of statements made there.
Organizers Gerald and Lesley said: Oscar Grant was shot in the back while he was lying on the ground of a BART platform on Jan. 1, 2009. What made a difference was that other BART riders took pictures of the incident. The response from police everywhere to the semi-successful prosecution of the shooter has been to prevent people from taking pictures of them.
A couple states passed laws that make it illegal to take pictures of cops. So far all those laws have been overturned when challenged in court, but given the Supreme Court we have, they could find it legal.
When the International Longshore and Warehouse Union struck for a day last October to protest Grant’s murder, it was the first time in recent memory that a labor union went on strike for a Black person killed by police. Families of other police victims came together during Officer Mehserle’s trial. They inspired us to make Grant’s commemoration an ongoing movement.
Cary Downs told how his stepson James Rivera, Jr., was killed by Stockton police a day before his 17th birthday in July 2010: There were 48 rounds fired at our son, of which 16 entered our son’s small body. He posed no threat. He was unarmed. The police were seen to be high-fiving each other after the shooting, as though they thought what they did was an accomplishment. We need to come together, to speak about police violence, not just in Oakland, but many other places. Too many times the police are found “justified” in killing our children. We the parents, we the people, will not stay silent anymore while police kill our children! We stand united with many other families who mourn the death of their loved one at the hands of the police.
Sharena Curley spoke on behalf of her brother, Antoine Thomas, who was wrongly convicted: Police gunning people down, she said, is not the only injustice they commit. My brother was framed. He was sexually assaulted by police while being arrested. They stomped on his head. The gun he supposedly used had someone else’s fingerprints, not his. Security cameras showed it was not him. His whole trial was a miscarriage of justice. It lasted three days and resulted in a 65-year sentence! He is filing an appeal, but if it does not work, he’ll spend a lifetime in prison.
Anita Wills spoke about her son and grandson, both victimized by police: My son, Kerry Baxter, Sr., was in a bar fight in 2001 with Jones, who had a blanket immunity for testifying for police. Jones has been coming up from Merced, robbing people, etc., because he had this blanket immunity. He has no strikes, though he recently beat his wife almost to death. They blamed Jones’ crimes on my son! A public pretender (can’t call him a defender) said, “take the 40-year plea or we’ll go after you!” He was set up and is now in prison for 65 years. We’re fighting it, but we can’t do it alone!
My grandson was killed in January 2007. The same officer who accused my son is in charge of investigating this murder. He refused to give me any information and called my grandson’s mother to tell her I am impeding the investigation! There has not been any investigation in my grandson’s death. Police are getting our tax money, but they don’t protect us. They are killing us!
Rosemary Duenez spoke of her son Ernest Duenez, who was killed in Manteca on June 8: He was fighting drug addiction, but was also achieving his dream: he was married and had a one-year-old son. Police hated him. He tested dirty on June 8. Police pulled in behind his car. He would have done 90 days for a dirty drug test. But as he came out of the car, with his hands up, they emptied their guns into him.
Police claimed he was advancing on them, but their own report tells that they had to cut a seat belt, in which his foot was entangled as he was trying to leave the back seat. They handcuffed him as he lay on the ground. They did not administer any first aid, just waited. We know there is a police video of the incident, but they won’t release it. The police took my son! He was not garbage, none of our children are. He loved his child. He was a human being.
Verbena of Cop Watch in Eureka spoke of Martin Cotton, beaten to death by Eureka police in 2007, in broad daylight, in view of 40 people: It’s as though they were saying, “Look at what we can do! Nothing will happen to us.” [A federal jury awarded his family several millions ten days after the event.] Martin Cotton, Sr., said: We are all one. We got to stick together. Power to all of us.
During the discussion some appreciated that the families humanized the persons who were not perfect. They may have done bad things, but it does not give the police the right to kill them. Future meetings of the Oscar Grant Committee will continue on the first Tuesday of the month at 7:00 pm at the library.