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Ianna Owen
Ianna Hawkins Owen is a graduate student in African Diaspora Studies at UC Berkeley.

Before Us the Open Grave: Responses to Bay Area Police Brutality and the Defense of Black Life


by: on July 11th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

What though before us lies the open grave?
– Claude McKay’s ” If We Must Die

Community members hold a vigil on May 11, 2012, for Alan Blueford. Credit: Creative Commons/Wendy Kenin.

Black families in the San Francisco Bay Area are no strangers to this kind of grief. Before the nation turned its eye to Oakland in the wake of the Oscar Grant riots in 2009, there were others. And there are still more now. According to a court-appointed monitoring team, police shootings are so flagrantly mishandled that District Court Judge Thelton Henderson has moved the Oakland police department “one step closer” to federal receivership, as reported recently by Colorlines.

Meanwhile, Bay Area residents continue organizing to counter this quiet genocide in a few ways. In June, the International Socialist Organization of Oakland (a group to which I have no affiliation) hosted a community discussion to talk about police brutality and hate violence (though the de facto focus of the panel was on the former). Panelists at the discussion included the sister of Brandy Martell, a black trans woman shot to death by a transphobic attacker on April 29, and the family of Alan Blueford, an African American teenager shot to death by Oakland police on May 6.

For those who have not heard, following Blueford’s killing, the police initially claimed that Blueford shot an officer. It was later revealed that the officer shot himself, but the department continued to insist that Blueford brandished a firearm and that both he and the officer were rushed to the hospital. A People’s Independent Investigation, recently formed and present at the community discussion, has since canvassed the neighborhood of the shooting and gathered the testimony of ten witnesses who confirm the worst: Blueford was never carrying a weapon and his body was carelessly tossed about but never received emergency medical care.


We Are Not Here For Ourselves: Alan Blueford, Protocol, and Black Life


by: on May 15th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

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.


Protesters hold a vigil outside the Oakland Police Headquarters on May 11, 2012, five days after the shooting of Alan Blueford. Credit: Creative Commons/greendoula.

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.


Facing and Fighting Transphobic Violence for Both the Living and the Dead: CeCe McDonald and Brandy Martell


by: on May 2nd, 2012 | Comments Off

The corner of 13th and Franklin in Oakland, California, has become a makeshift memorial site for Brandy Martell. Credit: Photo by A.M. (http://transfeminism.tumblr.com).

It is not easy to mourn the dead, it’s an assignment without hope of closure. Nor is it easy to defend the living, but for other reasons. The living pose questions that we hesitate to answer: Whose bodies are grievable? Are our responses sustainable? How much do we have to give, for whom, and for how long? We do not sign up for shifts of pain, they spirit us away. But we do we have a choice to show up – in myriad ways, to make eye contact, to pack the court, to pick up the phone. We must not remember the dead at the expense of the living but instead balance our dedication to freedom.

Just three nights ago here in downtown Oakland Brandy Martell, a trans woman of color, was murdered. There were a lot of people gathered at an emergency vigil on Sunday night at the site of her passing on 13th and Franklin. Friends, community members, and family spoke and witnessed, shouted and cried. An Occupy Oakland street medic, who happened to be out late that night responding to another shooting (despite a curfew order), described trying to save Brandy’s life with CPR and pressure applied to her bullet wounds while the police came late and stood idly by as she died.

Not having known Brandy or her friends, I showed up because, among other reasons, this happened in my neighborhood. The next day when I woke up, I read that CeCe McDonald‘s trial was just beginning. Having survived a racist and transphobic attack, she is facing not justice but two counts of “second degree murder” for defending herself. Today she has taken a plea and as her supporters there are things that we must do and things we mustn’t do. We must respect her decision. Yet, we must not allow the state to gaslight her determination to live. CeCe still needs our support. She needs our energy and efforts not only as she awaits sentencing, not only if/as she moves through the system, not only in the days when she is free again. As the old saying goes, “the heart is a muscle the size of your fist”; so long as it flexes within you, pray with it for Brandy, fight with it for CeCe, and speak from it with one another.

Are you hurting? We shall be free.