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Why Rejecting the Pitifully Small Police Brutality Settlement of #J28 Helps #BlackLivesMatter
January 28, 2015
Here I am, defiantly saying “Fuck you!” to the Berkeley Police Department, after being tear gassed and shot with a rubber bullet at a #BlackLivesMatter protest on Dec 6th 2014. Since this image went out internationally on the AP wire under the headline “Berkeley Protests Turn Violent”, and apparently I was the SnapChat Hero of the Day at Berkeley High School, yeah, 50+ days later I’ll fucking own it.
January 28th 2012 (#J28) over 2000 people gathered in downtown Oakland to support #OccupyOakland’s “Move-In Day”: an explicitly radical action designed to take over a dormant, vacant building and transform it into a community activist/houseless-outreach center. To prevent this from happening, the Oakland Police Department and many agencies from all around the Bay Area showed up like Roman Legionnaires to violently suppress us, breaking every Federally-mandated court order regarding crowd-control policy to eventually mass arrest over 400 hundred of us. Although there is hundreds of hours of video footage from the dozens of reporters and independent livestreamers documenting the police agencies breaking their own laws hundreds of times throughout the day, it took our “Civil Rights” lawyers three years to reach a terrible pittance of a settlement with the City of Oakland: A $1.3 million dollar settlement in which the lawyers keep the lion’s share; we the plaintiffs are to receive ~$2.6k each (before taxes), and no official from the City of Oakland, Alameda County, or the OPD receives any charges levied against them from their brutal illegalities of that day and the following days when we were tortured and abused inside the notorious Santa Rita jail.
I believe it is extremely important to reject this insultingly low monetary settlement, the secretive lawyering practices that led up to it, and reject and replace our “radical” movements’ laissez-faire attitude towards those volunteer protesters afflicted by police brutality and/or arrest: “Don’t worry! Let the ACLU/NLG/the ‘Civil Rights’ lawyers take care of it,” since it should be shockingly obvious that these lawyers have failed to do their job at even creating the meanest modicum of justice, over and over again in the modern Bay Area populist/radical movements, stemming from at least the Oscar Grant uprisings to present day.
This is an exceedingly imperative conversation to have RIGHT NOW, as we are several months into the #BlackLivesMatter movement against police-brutality in the Bay Area. Police have been the most violent they’ve been since #J28 2012, with more illegal baton strikes; tear gas, concussion grenades, less lethal munitions fired into crowds of peaceful protesters, and more mass-arrests without giving people a chance to disperse. Yet, astonishingly, we the protesters of late-2014 to today have learned little to zero of the stark lessons about movement sustainability since the days of Occupy. We paid for those lessons in our literal blood, and they shouldn’t be abandoned because of some unexamined kneejerk squeamishness in confronting our Sacred Cow “allies” of the “left” like the civil rights lawyers’ guilds. This is something that needs to be rectified IMMEDIATELY if we are to continue our cause to en masse challenge and overcome the police state.
Since the events of #J28 have been rather well document by others, I’m going to recount my memories of what went down around the time of this iconic photo, and the resulting aftermath:
I remember us marching rather blindly into the kettle trap at 19th & Telegraph, and the police firing tear gas without warning ten feet away from me, rather ironically in front of the statue commemorating Gandhi, MLK and others.
I remember two members of Occupy Cal, young UC Berkeley students, who fearlessly stood in front of said statue in a cloud of tear gas, facing down the riot cops with peace signs held high. I went back for them, as they were the last ones left there, and suggested now was a good time to go. (Later, the very-nonviolent female student who was all of 5-foot nothing was clubbed on the back of the head: concussed & bleeding, she was arrested and soon cited-and-released by OPD and left to wander aimlessly in a daze through the streets of Oakland in the middle of the night [only to be randomly rescued by another member of Occupy Cal who was doing jail support].) (Tear gas is banned in war = Torture/War Crime)
I remember the adrenaline rush of the fence being torn down and us escaping the kettle, only to realize we were still marked pilgrims in an unholy land; surrounded by riot cops in white vans on every street with no clear place to march.
I remember us unstrategically marching back south down Broadway into another kettle trap of phalanx of riot cops. I had all of one second to decide: I saw some of the crowd trying to run into the YMCA on the left; others I saw climbing a fence to the right. The one second I spend on deciding was one second too long as WHACK— a baton struck me from behind. (Illegal crowd control)
I remember the ~400 of us being herded into the alcove at the Y, trying frantically to calm the riot cops down who had a crazed look in their eyes like they wanted nothing more than an excuse to charge into us and start cracking skulls. To that end, they “randomly” selected a black man out of the front lines who was doing nothing wrong, threw him to the pavement and put the boots and batons to him Rodney King style. (Illegal crowd control)
I remember the mass arrest for “failure to disperse” after illegally never saying it on a loudspeaker, and illegally, not letting us disperse after kittling us at the YMCA. (Illegal crowd control)
I remember being put in ziptie handcuffs at around 7pm. Those zipties didn’t come off until 5AM at Santa Rita.
I remember being loaded on a full prison bus with no ventilation: meaning all of us who had been tear gassed all day in the open air were now boxed in with each other, making a poisonous box full of people coughing, choking and vomiting. (Torture/War Crime)
I remember an older black man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was arrested with the rest of us: he had kidney problems and begged the officers for use of a bathroom. The officers laughed at him while he pissed in his pants.
I remember the officers saying we were going to all be collectively punished for people urinating and vomiting on the bus, even though we hadn’t had access to a bathroom in over 10 hours. We were forced to wait an extra 30 minutes outside the bus with our faces against the concrete wall for our “crimes” before being led into Santa Rita. (Torture/War Crime)
I remember being aggressively patted down: I remember those males identifying as queer or trans being extra-aggressively being patted down, groped, molested, assaulted and taunted by the prison guards.
I remember 24 of us being crowded into a holding cell that wasn’t mean for more than five. We’d be there for the next ~20 hours. (Torture/War Crime)
I remember that although 80%+ of us were vegetarian, we were denied vegetarian food out of spite and given slimy baloney sandwiches instead.
I remember 2-3 times that night/morning after we managed to all more or less fall asleep in the extremely overcrowded cell, some sort of chemical agent was pumped/vented in causing us all to wake up, choking and coughing. (Torture/War Crime)
I remember over the next 38 hours or so, the prison guards would strategically wait until most of us were asleep in our cells, and call a cell check for some random name that belonged to none of us: they did this for deliberate sleep deprivation. (Torture/War Crime)
I remember everyone involved being denied their necessary medication, including HIV/AIDS meds and others. (Torture/War Crime)
I remember being moved to a bigger cell that was slightly less overcrowded, but the drinking water was scalding hot IE not potable. (Torture/War Crime)
I remember in the 48 hours I was arrested and then finally released, I was never given access to a phone or a lawyer. (Constitutional Violation)
I remember the sickening feeling that if I resisted this torture in any way, I’d be beaten, thrown into a hole and forgotten about. This may have been the worst psychological torture: to let the pigs have their way and feel that there was nothing I could do about it…
It’s hard/impossible to put a dollar amount to the tortures I, we, endured. But surely $2600 does seem ridiculously, insultingly fucking low, doesn’t it?
Well, this whole recounting has been rather fucking draining. But I must continue with the aftermath.
I remember being arrested Saturday night and being released on a Monday night. Immediately upon my release I contacted every media outlet because I wanted to give testimony/bear witness/go on record about the tortures I witnesses and endured.
I remember Tuesday morning calling up the Thom Hartmann Show and detailing my experience (with my voice raspy as I was still affected by tear gas and lack of water), and getting Thom to on the air, live, apologizing for criticizing Occupy Oakland and offering a call for solidarity.
I remember 90% of the independent media journalists, if they got back to me at all, say a version of “Oh yeah, I already filed my #J28 story on Sunday/Monday: no new news here.” As if the largest mass arrest in Oakland in 30 years warranted no follow-ups. INDY MEDIA FAILED US.
I remember “indy-journalists” who used Occupy Oakland social media channels to solicit donations for their personal careers, refusing to do any follow-ups RE #J28— it’s worth reiterating: INDY MEDIA FAILED US.
I remember still coughing tear gas out of my lungs when Chris Hedges published his infamous “The Cancer of Occupy” article RE #J28 that was republished on countless “left” “progressive” independent media news sites. More words were written about how we were “violent counterrevolutionaries” for wearing helmets and carrying shields than were written about the violent, torturous police and prison guards of Alameda County. CommonDreams dot Org has me banned to this day for commenting “Fuck Chris Hedges”. AGAIN: INDY MEDIA FAILED US. (#OpChrisHedges)
I remember the Leaders-Not-Leaders of Occupy Oakland/#J28 calling a special GA to talk about Move-In Day. Hundreds of people showed up voicing many direct, to the point questions about the egregious tactics that failed us over and over again that day that left many of us fucked up by police brutality (yet the Leaders-Not-Leaders [mostly] got away unarrested and unscathed). One after another these people were dismissed with variations of “Oh, we can’t talk about it since there is now an ongoing court case going on RE #J28” IE, variations of the bullshit sophist “Loose Lips Sink Ships” propaganda to silence extreme pertinent criticism. I cannot stress enough it was because of this there has been no major sustained radical movement in Oakland to this day (with just wisps of ad hoc #BlackLivesMatter rallies now, three years later— more on this later). Unaccountable leadership. The buck stops nowhere.
I remember the NLG (National Lawyers Guild) calling us to two mass meetings of those arrested on #J28, that was meant to placate us. The meeting boiled down to “Don’t worry, we have everything under control: don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
I remember the NLG never calling us back RE our initial court hearings, having us rely on varying degrees of accuracy social media reports to see if charges were filed against us or not.
I remember NLG making a social media announcement/email “Whoops, we don’t have everything under control- we are going to fob you all off to independent civil rights lawyers Yolanda Huang and Dan Siegel (the latter of whom is totally going to put his best foot forward fighting this case and not at all be distracted by running an ill-conceived Mayoral campaign).”
I remember trying to call the Law Offices of Ms. Huang sporadically over the next ~3 years and very rarely even getting this response/callback: “Don’t worry, everything is under control; Stop calling me: I’ll call you.”
I remember being extremely concerned circa summer of 2013 when the ACLU announced a pitiful $1 million dollar settlement regarding the most infamous case of obscene police brutality in all of Occupy: the pepper-spraying of Occupy UC Davis by Lt. Pike. A case that was so ridiculously clear cut, the ACLU could have hit multiple grand slams charging the University of California, the UCPD, and made fundamental systemic changes to how colleges handle student protests from now on: this ACLU chose to bunt instead, holding no one accountable, and those student activists chemicallytortured receiving less than Lt Pike did with his paid suspension and workerscomp by a factor of ~6X. I tried to write about this, but I was censored.
I remember being extremely concerned when the NLG announced their settlement with the city of Oakland regarding the Oscar Grant protest mass-arrests of 2010 (of which I barely escaped the net). The NLG got the lion’s share and for their 24 hrs of being thrust into overcrowded jail cells after being illegally arrested (24-48 hours less than most #J28 arrestees) got around $3k each. This seemed insulting low to me (little did I know…) at the time, and I did my best to try and rally people around the idea that if this is acceptable, we are going to get fucked over when our #J28 settlement comes to fruition. How fun it is to have the Cassandra Complex!
I remember being somewhat optimistic after hearing about the first few rounds of settlements coming out of Occupy Oakland in the past year, and #J28 cases that had individual counsel (and not a class action suit like the one I was involved in). One woman got a $40k settlement for being pushed to the pavement by OPD on #J28 and not even arrested. This set the bar at a reasonable place for the rest of us who endured so much more brutality.
And then… the announcement of a settlement of $2.6k each for #J28 happened.
Look: I’m not going to lie to you. I’m fucking poor, and I’ve been fucking poor my entire life. $2600 would help me a lot. But that’s not a settlement: you might as well offer me 30 pieces of silver, because that’s fucking Judas money. I haven’t been an activist in the Bay Area these past 6+ years for the money, but this scene has taken from me so much fucking more from me than I’ve put into it, and I’m not just talking about fiduciary concerns. So if I’m ever going to cash in my chips, I’m not fucking doing it for $2600.
But let’s be really fucking clear: this isn’t about haggling over a fairer price for me. If we accept this we are dooming the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Here is me, in the middle of No Man’s Land, in a cloud of tear gas, during a #BlackLivesMatter protest in Berkeley on December 6th 2014.
Out of the hundreds of protesters gathered, I alone didn’t retreat back a block but advanced towards the line of riot cops to rescue a stranger who had fallen because a concussion grenade exploded inches from his face and he collapsed to the street. Risking my health and safety I helped him up and got him back to the protesters. For this, even though I never through a thing at the police (except my middle finger), I was shot at and hit by rubber bullets. I did this because I have fucking courage, and I believe in the movement #BlackLivesMatter against police brutality and the police state: even to the point of risking my life.
But I won’t be a sucker. Never again. I won’t be used by people who exploit the movement(s) for their personal gains. Never again. I won’t sit silently while this movement goes on unstrategically, while more people get brutalized, burned-out and then gladhanded by the lawyers who are supposed to protect our rights, but sell us out, over and over and over again. How many more examples do you need before you too shout “NEVER AGAIN!”?
What then, is to be done?
The fuck if I know. I’m just one person, sometimes bolstered by allies and friends; other times not so much. I’m in a movement that pretends to be all about community, but will jettison your ass to the curb the SECOND you become an inconvenience and do something like ask the wrong question about the Sacred Cows of the “Radical” “Left” (the knife in the back: no extra charge).
But here are my “Calls to Action” all the same:
1st: I think we need a public meeting regarding the #J28 settlement and I think we need to pressure the lawyers involved to show up and publicly state why they mishandled the case (Let’s not mince words). And then we need to public reject this settlement and go back to the negotiating table.
2nd: I think we need a larger conversation locally and nationally about the goals and demands of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the construction of a sustainable movement. While I have been inspired by the series of ad hoc protests around the country these past months, shutting down a freeway or mass transit for a few hours, and then being brutalized and arrested by police only to have a shitty settlement three years later isn’t sustainable, therefore it won’t win as currently structured. I want to win. I believe we can win. We MUST adjust our tactics accordingly.
3rd: To that end, I’ve been remarkably consistent in what would be the biggest revolutionary demand to end the police state: #EndTheDrugWar. I’ve been saying this since the Oscar Grant movement at public and private organizational assemblies. Usually to crickets and tumbleweeds.
Yet the logic is simple: We are outraged at police brutality, and how it disproportionately affects black and brown and poor communities. We are outraged at the mass incarceration of these communities. What is the lead cause of this brutality? The Drug War. #Every45Seconds someone in this country (overwhelmingly black, brown and/or poor) someone is put in chains and a cage for possessing cannabis. More than ever before, a vast majority of people in this country support ending the drug war: tying #EndTheDrugWar to #BlackLivesMatter would make an overwhelming populist movement with a clear goal, the likes of which haven’t been seen in the USA since the anti-Vietnam War protests over 40 years ago. (And no, the endgame here isn’t “Yippie! I can buy weed at WalMart now!” but #DrugWarReparations— but that is a another conversation for now.)
That’s the best I could come up with on short notice, on this, the 3rd anniversary of #J28 2012. Here’s to many more justices and victories for us, the good guys and gals, before the next anniversary.
Lemme know what you think = @Ergoat