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This is how these kinds of stories normally start:
Demonstrators shut down a section of Highway 880 in Oakland, California, to protest the recent officer-involved shooting deaths of two black men. Roughly 2,000 protesters took to the streets on July 7 in a march that began at Frank Ogawa Plaza and stopped at the Oakland Police Department Administration Building, where OPD sources report vandalism including graffiti and broken glass. By 1:15 a.m. the next morning, all protesters had been cleared from the highway and traffic was moving as usual.
Read or write stories like this long enough, and you forget that the above narrative is actually a lie, even though none of the information is technically inaccurate. It’s a lie because it erases the humanity and reality of the human beings who are most affected by what it purports to be telling the truth about.
“Demonstrators” didn’t shut down the 880; people did it. People tired of being dehumanized, silenced and ignored, shut down a single highway in a single city and a few hundred other people were inconvenienced for a few hours.
This massive and nearly spontaneous outpouring of solidarity wasn’t a reaction to two men’s deaths; it was the culmination of thousands of deaths, reaching all the way back to the first blood-encrusted pages of our nation’s history.
If those people were blocking that highway for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, they were also blocking it for Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Justus Howell, Eric Garner, Timothy Russell, Oscar Grant, Alan Blueford, Ramarley Graham… this is a tiny sample of the names on a shamefully long list from recent memory.
So forgive me and others if we don’t shed any tears for a handful of broken and paint-stained inanimate objects. We’re all cried out for Malissa Williams, Sandra Bland, Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Shelly Frey, Rekia Boyd, Jessica Williams, Aiyana Jones… And of course Alejandro Nieto, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, Luis Gongora, Anthony Nuñez, Pedro Villanueva…
So many others have been forgotten by all but their families. Their memories have been buried under the crushing weight of media desensitization. Their humanity has been lost in the labyrinthine shadows of impotent “police reform” debates, their faces erased by the constant erosion of “traffic moving as usual.”
It’s no surprise really that several of the people stuck in traffic honked in support of the peaceful demonstration blocking their path on July 7, because the 2,000-plus people who took to the streets that night represent only a fraction of those demanding real change to our racist “justice” system.
In truth though, the real demonstrators weren’t any of the people on the freeway that night. The real demonstrators are the people who took to social media and the comment sections of news articles to speak in all-caps hysterics about the rally on 880, about running people over, about “economic terrorism,” about hypothetical patients dying in hypothetical ambulances — leave it to the apologists for the racist status quo to value even imaginary lives over black and brown lives.
Those people are the demonstrators. They’re demonstrating what a lifetime of uncritically consuming mainstream media narrative from a position of privilege can do to your mind and soul, and it’s like salt on a slug.
Or as Malcolm X put it, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
This isn’t an empty debate about an abstract issue—not for those of us directly affected by it, not for those of us who have to say goodbye to somebody we love each morning and wonder if we’ll see them again that night or on the nightly news.
Pastor Ben McBride is a Bay Area native who has committed his life to uplifting his community and ending the epidemic of violence in one of Oakland’s roughest neighborhoods. He’s worked closely with the OPD in the past, serving as the primary non-officer trainer for the department’s Procedural Justice & Police Legitimacy Course.
But that night, though he projected strength and determination, his anger was palpable and he made it clear that waiting and praying for the police to willingly change is no longer an option.
“Now we are not at a point for police reform. That day is over. The system cannot be reformed. We need a total, fundamental transformation of the public safety system in the United States of America,” he said. “And here’s what we want to tell the police: ‘We don’t need you to author it. We will no longer participate with your games. We will no longer participate with your conspiracy… we’re going to disrupt your empire until you do what is right. And until you do what is right, through the power of nonviolent direct action we will pull down your department brick by brick.’”
As the chant of the crowd throughout the night said, “The whole damn system is guilty,” and it’s the whole system that must change.
We’ve been here before — every step from slavery to today there have been those “moderate” voices telling black and brown people and other communities of color to stay in their place and not make too much of a fuss. “I agree with your cause but not your methods,” they tell us, elevating the convenience of motorists and the sanctity of police property over the lives of black and brown human beings.
No more. No more excuses. No more justifications. No more sanitized news narratives that afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable. No more sweeping black and brown lives under the rug.
No more “traffic moving as usual.”
Story by: Greg Zeman