Civil and Human Rights

Bay Area Ports Shut Down: Justice for Oscar Grant! Jail Killer Cops!

By Chris Kinder

On Friday, November 5, 2010 Judge Robert Perry of Superior Court in Los Angeles sentenced former officer, Johannes Mehserle, to two years in state prison for the murder of unarmed Oscar Grant. The judge dismissed the gun component of the charges that would have led to more prison time. While the jury found that Mehserle was eligible for additional prison time because he had used a gun in the crime, Judge Perry rejected that finding which enabled him to enter the inexcusably light sentence. With time already served, Mr. Mehserle could be released from prison as early as next year. This is a terrible blow to Oscar Grant’s family and to the Black and poor communities that are suffering tremendous economic hardship while living under violent police-occupation, stop and search and massive arrests. And, yet again, a killer cop gets away with cold-blooded murder! Socialist Viewpoint stands with Oscar Grant’s family and the community of Oakland in outrage against this unconscionably light sentence! —The Editors

October 23, 2010—Oakland was fired up today, and longshore workers led the way, as close to 1500 people came out in a drizzling rain, in Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza, in front of City Hall. After almost two years of rage among Oakland’s primarily Black working class community over the unprovoked police murder of Oscar Grant, the rebellion continues, and shows no signs of abating.

Today the longshore workers of Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), together with their sister locals and friends in the union movement, shut down all the ports of the San Francisco Bay Area in support of Justice for Oscar Grant! and Maximum Sentence for Johannes Mehserle! Local 10 executive board member Jack Heyman said, “The killings of Black youth by the police have got to stop, now!”

Mehserle, the ex-Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop who in 2009 shot Oscar Grant to death while he lay face down on a BART platform, faces sentencing in LA on November 5th. Since the maximum sentence for the absurdly light conviction of involuntary manslaughter (with gun enhancement) is 14 years in state prison, several speakers pointed out that this wasn’t enough. While some speakers said that any conviction of a white cop killing a Black youth was a victory, and focused on calling on the judge, Robert Perry, to give the maximum sentence, jailing Mehserle and throwing away the key seemed to be the general sentiment.

As longshore workers came out for Oscar Grant, they remembered that workers shot down by police is nothing new for them. During the 1934 West Coast maritime strike—a pivotal labor struggle in the U.S.—several strikers were shot and killed by police, including two in San Francisco. As Clarence Thomas, a Local 10 spokesman put it; longshore workers honored the memory of the two martyred strikers by moving the struggle forward. “This was the beginning of the ILWU,” he said. The workers’ answer to this police murder was the San Francisco General Strike. Similarly, the Oscar Grant movement has gone forward to create actions such as that held today.

The family of Oscar Grant was strongly represented today, as Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson spoke to introduce Jack Bryson, the father of a close friend of Oscar’s, Jack Bryson Jr., who was with Oscar on the Fruitvale Station platform when he died. Unassuming and modest, Jack Bryson was critical to getting the rebellion around Oscar Grant’s murder going in the beginning. Though he deserves much credit, his first words today were to credit the ILWU and other supporters who have come out for Oscar. The rally crowd was also introduced to Oscar’s now six-year-old daughter, Taisha, who greeted the crowd over the microphone.

Speakers at the rally included a wide array of union and community leaders, including the president of Local 34, the clerks union of the ILWU; an out-of-town ILWU delegation; as well as support from BART workers, from SEIU 1021 (which represents some port workers who also walked off the job today), and from the Oakland teachers union.

Solidarity messages were also reported from French dock workers, and from the British parliament. Embroiled as they are in defense against cutbacks and class size increases, Oakland teachers have been strong supporters of Oakland’s Black community, and of victims of the criminal justice system such as Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Oscar Grant.

None of these speakers called for supporting the Democrats in the upcoming elections, most did not even mention that there were elections. I attribute this partly to the discrediting of Oakland Democratic Mayor Ron Dellums in the course of the Oscar Grant rebellion, in which he exposed himself as more interested in getting the protesters to calm down and go away, than he was in doing something about a police murder of an unarmed man on his watch. Democratic Party politicians were generally nowhere to be seen today, which is not surprising, since they have nothing to offer. The Oscar Grant rebellion has polarized Oakland, with the generally Democratic establishment on one side, and the politically unrepresented Black and working class youth on the other.

Also speaking today were community supporters such as Cristina Gutierrez of Barrio Unido, Gloria La Riva of the Party of Liberation and Socialism (now running for Congress), Raymond Nat Turner of Upsurge, and John Burris, the attorney for Oscar Gant’s family; as well as former Black Panther leaders Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown, among others.

Chris Kinder is an Oakland resident, a socialist, and the coordinator of the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal