Rain could not deter around 1,000 union workers, community members and youth from rallying outside Oakland City Hall on Oct. 23 to demand an end to police brutality, jail for killer cops and an end to war and repression.
Tatiana Grant at rally.
PSL Photo: Bill Hackwell
Two weeks before the scheduled sentencing of Johannes Mehserle, ex-BART officer convicted of the murder of an unarmed young African American man, the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, Local 10, along with the San Francisco and Alameda Labor Councils, ANSWER Coalition, Party for Socialism and Liberation and other community goups came together in a demonstration of solidarity.
Signs and banners stated "Justice for Oscar Grant," "Jail all killer cops," "An injury to one is an injury to all" and “I am Oscar Grant.”
Oscar Grant was a 22-year-old African American man murdered at Oakland's Fruitvale BART station on New Year’s Day 2009. BART officer Johannes Mehserle shot Grant in the back while he was lying on the floor in handcuffs.
After video footage was posted on the web by BART riders, Mehserle claimed he was reaching for his taser, but instead had grabbed his hand gun and shot Grant. The video footage, widely circulated on YouTube and other sites, proves otherwise. Due to overwhelming pressure from the public, Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. This was a partial victory as Mehserle’s outrageous, racist actions warranted a murder conviction.
The ILWU was founded after the police murdered two picketers during the 1934 San Francisco Maritime Strike. The ILWU understands the reality of police brutality in their community and held a work stoppage effectively shutting down all Bay Area ports on Oct. 23 to highlight the demand to give the maximum sentence to Mehserle.
Farless Dailey, Secretary-Treasurer of the union, said: "We are here because what was done to Oscar Grant on that BART platform was wrong. We demand justice for the family of Oscar Grant."
Clarence Thomas, co-emcee of the rally and member of ILWU, stated, “This is not just a rally of protest, this is a rally of resistance. …This is the power of the working class.”
A spokesperson for the Oakland Educators Association pointed out that if the community had not taken to the streets following the murder, Mehserle would not even have been indicted. “It is a sad thing to say Mehserle is the first white policeman in my lifetime to have been immediately convicted of killing a Black man. The first one, probably the first one in American history. … We are here today to say some justice for Oscar is Mehserle behind bars for 14 years. Some!”
Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown, forrmer members of the Black Panther Party, spoke eloquently about the inequality of the justice system in perpetuating and allowing killer cops to walk free.
Lonetta Evans of the Black Organizing Project said the group's members were there to support the union, but also to highlight community concerns, such as safety and opportunities for quality education and good-paying jobs.
Frank Lara, representing the ANSWER Coalition and MORE Public Transit, said, “Every one here knows that something’s wrong. Because every time they close a public school, a prison complex gets built. Because every time they put a public transit bus out of commission, a multi-million dollar tank is sent over to Afghanistan. Because every time a teacher gets fired, a damn cop is put on the payroll for $100,000.
"You want to know why there’s racist police oppression, it’s because the system profits. The organizing and the struggle need to continue in the streets on a daily basis. Today we are out here to provide support to Oscar Grant’s family, to support the groups that are out here who are trying to end police brutality.”
Gloria La Riva, the PSL and Peace and Freedom Party candidate for Congress also spoke: “If more unions did what the ILWU has done for years, the politics and economic situation of this country would be entirely different, because they show that the workers have the power. And they do more than worry about their wages and conditions on the job; they see beyond that.
"The only way to defeat the military and political power of the police is the power of the community. We’re all a testament to the fact that Johannes Mehserle is about to be sentenced only because the people demonstrated and demanded justice. And yet, may he never have a day of peace. Because, Johannes Mehserle, no matter what sentence you get, it is not enough for the cold-blooded murder you committed.”
Several of Grant's friends and family members, including his daughter Tatiana Grant, now six-years-old, attended the rally. Grant's uncle Cephus "Bobby" Johnson addressed the crowd recounting how Grant’s mother told him: “Oscar, take BART, it’d be the safest way to go to San Francisco and come home … and as we know the end result was his murder.” Jack Bryson, whose sons were on the BART platform with Grant when he was killed, also spoke.
Tatiana's aunt, Lita Mesa, 33, read a letter she wrote to Judge Robert Perry, telling the judge how Grant's death has devastated the family, and how Grant will never be able see Tatiana attend her high school prom, or walk her down the aisle on the "most important day" of her life.
Mesa said she hoped the union participation would help the judge see that there is more at stake than one life. "It's a little step but a big step in many ways," she said. "We have to fight for our rights. ... It's hard work to get people to notice but I think people know [what happened to Oscar] was wrong."