The topic for the Gray Panthers membership meeting on April 27 was
The speaker was Gerald Smith, of the Peace & Freedom Party and the Oscar Grant Committee. He was a co-founder of “Cop Watch” in Berkeley. He has been a union worker, longshore, electrical, sheet metal. He has also been a teacher.
The Oscar Grant Committee was formed after Oscar Grant was killed by a BART policeman in 2009.
Everyone has seen the “Black Lives Matter” signs which began to appear following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and Eric Garner in New York City.
Gerald began by describing his own background. His father was a proud member of the Communist Party and his activist `family made sure Gerald became politically aware at an early age. He had a subscription to the New York Times at his school. He attended Manhattan Community College and joined the Young Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Workers Party, which was concerned with diversity of education and the “missing History” covering women and blacks.
He was involved with the NAACP, but found the organization too conservative and bureaucratic; he said it was being transformed from being controlled by its rank and file to being influenced by corporations. In 1963, NAACP leaders discouraged members from participating in a sit-in at The New York World’s Fair. The NAACP had an anti-communist policy; they expelled members who were involved with groups thought to be communist-influenced, such as the Socialist Workers Party. The Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) did not have such a policy, so In 1964 Gerald got involved with that group.
He was involved with the 1964 Harlem Rent Strike, which was over poor maintenance of buildings.
He became aware of cultural nationalism (also called “pork-chop nationalism”), a reaction to, instead of an action against, political oppression. The cultural nationalists are concerned with returning to the old African culture and thereby regaining their identity and freedom. In other words, they feel that assuming the African culture is enough to bring political freedom. Many cultural nationalists fall into line as “reactionary nationalists."
Gerald thought he needed a plan of action, so in 1969, at age 17, he joined the Black Panthers. He remembers the entire leadership of the Black Panthers getting arrested on over 100 charges, like attempting to bomb the Macys and Bloomingdale department stores. All the charges were false. He remembers being frightened by the implications of the Rosenberg trial; he thought the Rosenburgs were executed for challenging the system. But he was proud that in the Black Panther trial, the jury came back 104 times with “not guilty”.
Gerald assured us that the Black Panthers were never terrorists.
Turning to more recent times, Gerald reviewed the 2009 New Years Day killing of Oscar Grant, who was shot in the back while face-down on the ground in a BART car. Gerald asked how many had not seen the murder video; very few hands went up.
The event still is full of controversy. Johannes Mehserle, the BART police officer who did the shooting, claimed to have mistaken his gun for his taser. Other people say Grant resisted arrest, and did not offer his hands for handcuffing. Police attempted to confiscate cell phones of witnesses, but didn’t get them all. Cell phone videos of the shooting went viral.
A bunch of non-profit organizations got together to form a group called Committee Against Police Executions (CAPE). The first street demonstration happened one week after Grant’s death. The first major march took place in March 2010; the police used sticks to harass the marchers and tried to keep them off the streets. Gerald said that, because of personal mobility problems. he wasn’t on that march, but he did drive downtown. Gerald noted that the danger with non-profits is that they are controllable by getting money from outside, not just running on member dues. He recommended a book about this problem: “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded”
The many Oscar Grant marches and demonstrations are now famous. Vehicles were burnt. News media reported that during that first march, 400 shop windows were broken in downtown Oakland. This was one of many lies being spread; some people did an actual broken window count which came up with 14 (there are fewer than 400 businesses in downtown Oakland).
At one point, the West Oakland BART was occupied and train service halted; this made trouble for many people. Police did not arrest these demonstrators. There was some resentment from BART riders, since none of those people had anything to do with the killing of Oscar Grant,
Gerald said that he was involved with picketing TV station KTVU, for their distorted coverage including attacks on Oscar’s character. This got results; coverage improved. Moral: Don’t let media get away with injustice; fight back.
Soon after, the Oscar Grant Committee was formed, with initial support from labor unions, such as longshore.
In 2010, the longshoremen went on a 1-day strike at the Port of Oakland. Other unions joined in, including Teamster and BART workers. This strike probably cost businesses $100,000. Gerald said that such actions get the attention of the 1% -- when you stop the flow of their money.
It was clear that the State did not want to prosecute BART officer Johannes Mehserle, so a group calling themselves “100 black men who care” marched on the DA’s office, demanding that officer Mehserle be charged with murder. The jury ruled that the shooting was accidental. Gerald said that the DA resigned rather than accuse a cop of murder.
Gerald said that the Committee didn’t get permits to do marches, mostly because they didn’t have money for the required fees. He said they were going to break the law – or not exist. “We have to fight back.” Doing things without permits paved the way, later on, for the Occupy Movement. The Oscar Grant Committee started a relationship with a group of lawyers called the National Lawyers Guild . At one point, the police arrested an entire demonstration. The lawyers won that case; the city had to pay $5000 to everyone in that demonstration. That’s what happens when you fight back.
The Black Lives Matter movement got started with the death of Trayvon Martin, a young black man who was fatally shot in 2012, by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Sanford, Florida.
Zimmerman was tried for second degree murder and acquitted. The trial was even televised; many young people watched it. It was also widely reported on social media like Twitter and Instagram.
Black Lives Matter really took off after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MO, by a police officer.
At this point Gerald asked how many had seen the video of Mario Woods, who was killed by San Francisco police when he appeared to be threating them with a 3” knife. The police had shot him with bean bags, but he didn’t drop the knife;
When he tried to walk away, they shot him many times.
Gerald said that in his experience, about 40% of the people who are murdered by police are mentally ill.
Gerald also mentioned 28-year-old Alex Nieto in San Francisco, who was killed in a barrage of bullets fired at him by four San Francisco policemen.
There are a few things about his death that everyone agrees on: he was in a hilltop park eating a burrito and tortilla chips, wearing the Taser he carried for his job as a bouncer at a nightclub, when someone called 911 on him a little after 7pm on the evening of 21 March 2014.
When police officers arrived a few minutes later, they claim Nieto defiantly pointed the Taser at them, and that they mistook its red laser light for the laser sights of a gun, and shot him in self defence.
Another case was Jose Luis Gongora, a disturbed homeless man, shot by SF Police because he wouldn’t drop his knife, possibly because he didn’t understand English. Police arrived with weapons drawn. Gerald said “they came to kill that man.” Evidently there was no attempt by police to de-escalate the situation.
Gerald ended his talk with the case of Richard “Pedie” Perez, an unarmed white man killed by Richmond police in September 2014. Perez was in front of a liquor store. He may have been intoxicated and tried to grab the officer’s gun.
Gerald went to the neighborhood as part of a team of four to find out what really happened.
They talked to people and made videos. The result was two videos and interviews with five witnesses to what happened. Gerald’s group took the witnesses to a City Council meeting
The group concluded that Pedie, who had been told to sit down, got tired of waiting while the officer fiddled with his walkie-talkie. Pedie started to walk away. The officer tackled him from behind. But the video shows that Pedie fell down in such a way that he could not have grabbed the officer’s gun even if he had wanted to.
Apparently the officer had lied, expecting to be protected by the “blue brotherhood.”
Once Gerald's group had their information and knew they were right, they went to the city council, bringing the witnesses and played their taped statements After a while, people in Richmond began to understand whthad happened.
There was a Police Commission, which was supposed to receive complaints from the public, if the complaints are recorded within 90 days The group got together with council members called the Richmond Progressive Alliance and discovered the Police Commission was totally disfunctional. The name was changed to the Citizens Police Review Commission. They can't have police investigating police, so they hired an investigator who was not a police officer. The family of Pedie Perez participated in the hiring process. Gerald's group said: "We got the witnesses; talk to them!" Finally, it was agreed that whenever any citizen is shot in Righmond, there will be an automatic investigation.
Gerald invited the audience to a May Day march against police terror, starting at 11am at the ILW hall in San Francisco, ILW Local 10, 400 North Point Street, San Francisco, CA 94133.
Then he told us that State Senator Mark Leno has drafted SB1286, which is intended to prevent police from hiding criminal activities. It undermines the "Law Officer Bill of Rights" which had been pushed by VP Biden.
Another book recommendation: "The Rise of the Warrior Cops".
A group of five wheelchair-bound hunger strikers and hundreds of their supporters marched in San Francisco from the Mission District to city hall on Tuesday May 3, hoping to meet Mayor Ed Lee and call on him to fire Police Chief Greg Suhr. The mayor, however, was elsewhere. With a crowd of some 800 people supporters at city hall, some 100 went inside with the hunger strikers and congregated outside the mayor’s office, where Diana Oliva-Aroche, a mayoral aide, said the mayor would be unable to meet the protesters because he was in the Bayview. ,
There are hunger strikers camped out in the Mission in front of the police station at 17th & Valencia. You can visit them by getting off BART at 16th & Mission.
On Friday, September 5th, hundreds of of protesters gathered in front of the Marriott in Downtown Oakland, CA, to stand against Urban Shield and declare two major victories: Urban Shield will no longer be held at the Marriott and it will no longer take place anywhere in Oakland.
Reclaiming the streets in celebration of our power, we made it loud and clear that we do not welcome militarization and policing of our communities.
Summing up, Gerald listed some specific things which would improve police conduct:
The Oscar Grant Committee to organize working class resistance to police terror meets on the 1st Tuesday of every month, starting at 7pm, at Niebyl Procter Marxist Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave, Oakland.