Oakland Update


Representatives from UK justice campaigns today participated in a rally for truth and reinvestment in Oakland’s Oscar Grant plaza. They joined US activists from the Ella Baker Centre, American Civil Liberties Union, Anti Police Terror Project and the #BlackLivesMatter Bay Area chapter. Director of Truth and Reinvestment at the Ella Baker Centre, Patrisse Cullors introduced the #CaravanForJustice project, highlighting its demands and practical calls to action.

Historically communities have faced deinvestment in their vital health, educational and social resources whilst public and private funding for punitive aspects of the state increase. This includes the increased militarisation of police departments and the building of more and more carceral facilities. The call for reinvestment demands that funds be diverted from these damaging institutions towards those institutions vital to the life of the community.

We do not need police in order to run our communities. Methods of restorative justice and repair in our communities can be a powerful alternative.

Oakland’s residents take control of their public spaces by lending them names of social significance. The square outside the city’s town hall was dubbed and is now popularly known as Oscar Grant Plaza, in memory of the young man shot dead by a police officer at Fruitvale BART Station on New Years Day 2009. Oscar’s uncle Cephus ‘Uncle Bobby’ Johnson closed up the rally with powerful condemnation of the culture of state violence that took his nephew’s life. But Uncle Bobby also spoke of their victory in having the state bring a prosecution against the officer that shot Oscar that night – a first in California’s history.

Activists were also able to celebrate the victory of having California’s Governor Brown bow to pressure to sign AB-953 into law. The legislation forces police departments in the state to record all stops they perform, including data on race and gender. This followed campaigning from activists across the state, with many personally phoning the Governor’s office to show their support for the bill.

Much of the discussion at the rally focused on further practical action community members could undertake. A representative from the #BlackLivesMatter Bay Area chapter highlighted the role of the ‘Shut Shit Down’ tactic in forcing greater focus and attention on racialized state violence. The Bay Area chapter were also responsible for starting a series of ‘wake-up calls’ to public representatives across the United States after they ushered in Martin Luther King day with a 5AM wake up call outside the house of their mayor.

Going forward those attending the rally were encouraged to download the ACLU’s MobileJustice CA application – which allows recording of law enforcement personnel to be sent directly to the ACLU – and to spread this amongst their communities in order to normalise the practice and take control back from police.

UK activists had shared the stories of their struggles to gain justice for loved ones killed at the hands of the police and were invited to dinner with Uncle Bobby and ACLU organisers to continue the conversation.