On May 6, three young black men were waiting for a ride when Oakland police officers, out responding to another incident, approached the teens with guns drawn alleging that they “believed the young men had a concealed weapon.” When Alan ran for safety, an officer fired four shots, striking Alan and himself. The officer was rushed to the hospital while Alan was left on the street for four hours where he died. The police department would later claim that Alan had fired shots striking the officer, which we now know to be false. The department would also claim to have rushed Alan to the hospital for emergency care, which we now know to be false.
When Alan’s friends were released, they told the family of what happened to Alan. The police never called, claiming he was not carrying an ID. Yet, Alan’s mother said she made certain Alan always carried identification in his wallet. When the family showed up at the station for answers, no one spoke to them for two hours. While the family mourns Alan as a son, cousin, and a Christian, the officer has been placed on paid administrative leave. His name has not been released.
In search of justice, the Blueford family called for a march on Saturday, May 12th, which started at the site of their son’s murder in East Oakland and continued to the offices of his murderers at the Eastmont Police Station. After a prayer we started through the residential neighborhood to Bancroft Ave, where the majority black march took the two north-running lanes. Some young people walked along the south-running lanes talking to those in their cars and passing out fliers describing “What We Know” since the police have changed their story at least three times.
Rallying cries invoked the names of Oscar Grant, Casper Banjo, and Kenneth Harding, Jr. “Jail Killer Cops,” the man on the mic called. “NOW,” we responded. I shouted with as much of myself as I possessed while trying not to cry. Full of conflicted feelings about prison abolition and black genocide at the hands of cops who evade the law in ways far more dangerous and destructive than those of us without the uniform and the skin ever could. How could I entertain thoughts of transformative justice for the police first, when they are accountable to no one? An institution that shoots a teenager, leaves him under a street lamp to die, does not call his family, ignores them when they do show up, and then releases a statement that the officer, who shot himself in his own foot, followed “protocol”? It remains difficult to reconcile.
At the station, people crowded up against the glass front of the building as chanting continued. One of the march organizers got on a mic asking people to back away from the glass with the message “We’re not here for ourselves!” to which an apparent ally responded, “We’re here because we hate cops!”
I am not questioning whether the racist, classist, transphobic, and homophobic institution of policing is deserving of hate, but the dissonance produced by these two statements heard one after another gives me pause. Repeated sternly over the mic several times, “We’re not here for ourselves,” contrasted with the (perhaps waning) protest cry heard over the last several years that “We Are All (insert cause or name here).” “We’re not here for ourselves” signified a shift from displacing the slain with our own selfish imaginations, a departure from the self-centered act of putting ourselves in the other’s shoes, or the other’s shoes on ourselves. It meant, for a moment, that we could be gathered together because we value black life and black love, regardless of our relation to it or with it.
But, without missing a beat, an apparent ally fired back, dismantling the possibility of gathering for the value of blackness. I tell you that the reply to “We’re not here for ourselves” felt more like hearing “Yes, we are.” From this statement it would seem protest has a protocol, irreducibly FTP (“fuck the police” — energy focused solely on confrontation with police, to the eclipse or appropriation of other causes and ends). But the police are the easy enemy of race. Smashing things in the event of black death makes radicality’s check-list. Fighting and revolting for black life does not. Alan’s father said, “There’s more to life than death.” Let’s make it so.
Rally speakers asked for support in a number of ways: packing City Council on Tuesday, May 15,at 6 pm is a short-term way, as is pressuring the chief of police, as a black man, to investigate the murder, rather than allege “protocol.” In the long-term, Alan’s grandmother called for community led and controlled policing. Alan’s father asked us to talk to people and to demand accountability from our schools. Oscar Grant’s uncle asked us to “Act the faith by being a part of an organization that wants change.” And, finally, Kenneth Harding, Jr’s uncle exhorted us a black people to “know our value.”
Ianna Hawkins Owen is a PhD student of African Diaspora Studies at UC Berkeley. In New York she worked with All City and the Audre Lorde Project’s Safe OUTside the System Collective.
(Further reading on the problematics of empathy: Scenes of Subjection by Saidiya Hartman.)