Dec. 18 would have been Alan Blueford's 19th birthday. Instead, the African-American high school student was gunned down on May 6 by Miguel Masso, an Oakland police officer with a history of racist violence.
Since their son's death, Alan's parents, Adam and Jeralynn Blueford, have embarked on a campaign to end police murders and give voice to the relatives of the cops' victims. The Bluefords did not get to be with their son on his birthday, but they were far from alone. The event, Honoring Alan Blueford: Communities, Families, Students and Labor Unite to Stop Police Brutality and Racial Profiling, organized by the Justice 4 Alan Blueford Coalition, drew over 500 supporters to Laney College Theater in Oakland. The success of the event attests to the ways in which the Blueford family has succeeded in drawing attention to the epidemic of police murder to different strata of workers across the country.
The Bluefords spoke first. The tearful mother thanked the standing-room only crowd and noted how amazingly fast their movement had grown from the first small marches through the streets of Oakland to OPD headquarters following the death of their son. She expressed disbelief that Angela Davis, the reknowned scholar and former political prisoner, one of her childhood heroes, had agreed to be the keynote speaker at an event honoring her fallen son.
One of the main themes of the event was the way in which organized labor had come to understand police murders as attacks on the working class as a whole. Clarence Thomas, of International Longshore Workers Local 10, asked, “As the nation mourns and expresses outrage at the murder of 20 children and 6 adults in Connecticut... where is the outrage to the vast and escalating murder of Black and Brown youth in this country?” Thomas blamed “white supremacy and capitalism” and continued, “Labor has a responsibility, because labor is the most organized sector of the working class and we have power.” Thomas compared the working-class African-American and Latino youth who are routinely murdered by cops in our era, to working-class martyrs from the early twentieth century, such as Charles Olsen and Howard Sperry, striking workers shot dead by cops during the 1934 San Francisco General Strike. Then as now, Thomas pointed out, the role of the police is to terrorize the working class. “The abolitionists should be our role model. If we can end slavery, we can end this murder and mayhem perpetrated against our youth.”
Various members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 detailed the special relationship that has developed between the Justice 4 Alan Blueford Coalition and SEIU. Jack Bryson, an SEIU member, was one of the founding members of the Coalition. The SEIU members noted how Adam Blueford had immediately taken an active role in supporting the union's work and had led his supporters in joining workers from SEIU in shutting down the port of Oakland on Nov. 19.
Crystallee Crain, of Oakland Education Association, told a story of two African-American teachers who were accosted by police after an OEA meeting. The cops handcuffed the two young men and had them lying face down on the pavement with guns pointed at their heads because the teachers “fit the description of a suspect.”
Wanda Johnson, whose son, Oscar Grant, was murdered by a BART cop in 2009, addressed the crowd. Johannes Mehserle, the cop who killed Grant, was arrested and convicted of manslaughter. “If we come together, if we work together, if we fight and stand up for what's right, then there will be less killings by police officers. But it takes us to do it. And as a mother, Oscar was always saying to me, 'Mom, fight!' And in that spirit I would say to us that we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and spiritual evil in high places. And the enemy is so prevalent that he would like to destroy the nation of Black and Brown People. But we have to wise up and pass on these spiritual truths to our children each and every day.”
Keynote speaker Angela Davis began by saying she had lived in Oakland the majority of her life and recounted the OPD's long history of murdering Black children and teenagers. “We know that Black and Latino youth are subject to a vicious process of criminalization, a process that is ideological and psychological. Black and Latino youth have been so consistently represented as criminals that the mere sight of young men who are Black and Latino can strike fear into people's hearts. And it seems that this is what happened on the morning of May 6th when Alan Blueford was racially profiled by the Oakland Police and murdered.” She pointed out that although many more people of color go to jail for drug related offenses, studies show that young white people are more likely to use and sell drugs than young people of color. “The difference is surveillance, what the Black Panther Party used to call the occupation of our communities by racist police forces. That is the only difference.” She noted how people of color have constituted the most vulnerable targets of “law enforcement” since the days of slavery.
“Institutions have much longer memories than individuals,” Davis argued. “Even when it is no longer possible to commit individual acts of racism with impunity... institutions continue to act in ways that promote and perpetuate racism... I know it's important to hold these people individually responsible for their acts, whether they are police or whether they are vigilantes but racist violence cannot be eliminated only by addressing the individual perpetrators... Prisons have not solved any problems... Imprisonment gives the impression that we are addressing the problem, when in fact oftentimes the problem is being reproduced... We have to eliminate racism from institutions like the Oakland Police Department ... This racism is also very much related to mass incarceration, which has been produced by the workings of a global prison industrial complex that is very much linked to the rise of the globalization of capital and this has led to an increased focus on profit and not on people's needs.... education, recreation, housing, health care. Instead of responding to people's strivings for their needs, capital sees fit to simply stop them, or kill them, or imprison them and pretend the problem has been addressed... And then make that whole process profitable. As health and education is increasingly made unrealizable for poor people, and especially poor people of color, as health and education is increasingly privatized... imprisonment also becomes privatized.”
After Davis's talk, there was a discussion panel featuring two families from opposite ends of the country whose loved ones had also been victims of police violence. The families of Ramarley Graham, killed in his own home by the New York Police Department, and Ernest Duenez Jr, shot down by a Manteca, Calif. cop, both vowed to work with the Bluefords to avenge their sons and end police murder.
C.D. Witherspoon, a Baltimore activist, told the crowd that his city has seen 15 police killings in 2012 alone. Witherspoon related the story of Anthony Anderson, an African-American man who had been walking towards his home where his family was having a birthday party for his 2-year-old grandchild. Two cops sneaked up behind Anderson and body slammed him to the ground. Anderson landed on his head, began to shake, and was dead in minutes. The officers claimed they had seen Anderson swallow drugs before attacking him without warning, “as if that would be some kind of justification for killing him,” Witherspoon noted. The Baltimore Sun reported the next day that Anderson had died from choking to death because he tried to swallow drugs, without even mentioning that the police had attacked him. Witherspoon demanded an autopsy report for Anderson. The report proved that not only did Anderson not have any drugs in his system, but that there was no airway obstruction.
Finally, Fred Hampton, Jr, son of the slain Black Panther, addressed the crowd. He told the story of his father's assassination by the Chicago police. “It would be ideal if we could talk about this in a nostalgic, abstract way, about how bad things used to be back in the '60s. But we're continuously reminded, as these cases here, of cases on a day to day basis, we're reminded that police brutality is a euphemism. It's police terrorism... All of us experience the same sentiment of terror, from the top of our heads to the tips of our toes. We think we'll get 40 shots in the back, or end up on death row on some trumped up case... Everyday, everyday is September 11th for us.” Hampton continued, “We have to start using brutal terms for brutal realities... Don't call them 'jails' call them 'concentration camps'!... There's a difference between a war and a revolution. A war is a fight between two occupying armies... a revolution involves the participation of large masses of people, everybody involved. Ain't no neutral position in this war being waged against our people.”
The great success of the event is a product of the Blueford family efforts in forging alliances between different strata of workers to fight for justice not only for their family but for all victims of police violence. As the different speakers made clear, the killing poor and oppressed people by armed agents of the state is an essential component of capitalism. The struggle of the Blueford family has truly demonstrated that an injury to one is, indeed, an injury to all.