A Response/Reflection on Kali Akuno’s Open Letter to the Movement
by Andrea Prichett
July 26, 2010
First of all, thanks to Kali for his very focused and systematic consideration of the way forward. (It is copied after this letter). I really appreciate the way he has broken things down and identified categories. There is one fundamental concept that I would ask comrades to consider regarding what kind of a movement could be forged out of the lessons of the past.
While it is important to defend the concept of justice in regards to the murder of Oscar Grant, I believe we must always ask ourselves if we really believe that justice can come from the institutions we are naming. Do we believe that the same system which CREATED Mehserle is really capable of meting out a justice that will satisfy any of us?
Some of us remember back when Jerrold Hall was murdered by BART Officer Crabtree back in 1993. The FBI got involved and did an “investigation”. The found that Crabtree had done nothing wrong. The fact was, their agents never even contacted key eyewitnesses including the youth who was right there with Jerrold when he was killed.
I fear that demands that emphasize a federal investigation and police department reforms will get stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire and the movement will lose its momentum. Legislative efforts will not be a good strategy for us to focus on because a) we don’t have the resources to wage a statewide campaign. If it would have been tough last year, consider how difficult those campaigns will be given the Communities United decision that allows unlimited corporate contributions b) our strength is in the neighborhoods and grassroots. There is where we have a wealth of human resources.
These efforts should be made and there is nothing wrong with pursuing those avenues. However, it will become increasingly difficult to convince people to be patient and let this system correct itself. It doesn’t take a highly sophisticated or experienced political analysis to realize that this “justice” system is not functioning (i.e. providing justice). In fact, as the Mehserle verdict shows so clearly, there is a two tiered justice system in this country. As the economic divides continues to widen, so too will incidents of brutality. It takes a lot of brut force to maintain a ridiculously unbalanced economic order. BP and bank criminals are not even called criminals while arbitrary gang injunctions work to ensure that young men of color are profiled and labeled regardless of their rights to due process.
There are groups in our movement that have been talking about alternatives to police and incarceration for years (Critical Resistance, All of Us or None, many more etc). We can get good help from a wider movement to implement some people’s initiatives.
… People’s Tribunal: (As they have been called) We don’t need to demand them; we need to create bodies that have credibility with regular people that will investigate police abuse complaints. Think of respected figures in the community who have good credibility to serve on a panel. We should already be forming a committee to investigate Fred Collins shooting death or at least to monitor the investigations of the DA, OPD, Internal Affairs, Police Citizen Review Board.
… Justice Committees: To help resolve issues in the neighborhood without the involvement of police. To resist gang injunctions and racist police practices in the community. To help educate the neighborhood about rights and foster justice dialogues. Reduce calls for service to the police by providing alternatives. That the people trust. We must try to stop calling police and encourage others to seek other remedies to problems in the neighborhoods.
… Database: Accessible regional video and incident database that we can open to the public (with confidentiality safeguards, of course) and use as a community resource. Integrated database with input from justice groups from East Bay that maintain statistics or do in take on police conduct. Keeping track of problem officers and identifying patterns of misconduct would significantly reduce these incidents.
I surely welcome feedback on these thoughts. Perhaps what we most need is a way for us to have a broader conversation about how to move forward. Maybe we need a city wide forum and strategy discussion that is public and presents the questions facing us.
No matter what the larger movement chooses to be its main emphasis, it is very encouraging to see so many people continue to be in action on these issues. This is an incredible time in the evolution of policing. The reductions in numbers of police are incredible to believe. The move by SF Chief Gascon to hire civilians to do non-violent police work is a huge opening to transform and hold accountable police departments. If this becomes a trend, communities may be in a much stronger position than they have been in years.
KALI AKUNO LETTER
As a former resident and organizer in Oakland, I have been following the development of the Justice for Oscar Grant movement with some interest since its inception. My interests are both personal and organizational (in the capacity of the National Organizer for the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement), and both will be reflected herein.
Like all of you, I was more than pissed by the open reformist and collaborationist initiatives that started circulating widely over the past several weeks, but I was just as equally disturbed by the fractures within the movement inhibiting it from articulating and advancing a coherent set of demands and strategy to achieve some concrete victories.
What I offer here, I offer as a comrade trying to make a contribution to the struggle. No pretensions or assumptions of leadership on my part or the part of my organization are being advanced. Just perspective gained from my own personal learning in the struggle, and that of my organization and revolutionary tendency. There will be no slight it folks reject this out of hand. I only hope it adds something of value as a contribution to move things forward for all of us.
On Next Steps and Organizing Orientation
1. For reasons of security and political alignment, I want to encourage a small core of folks from various revolutionary organizations and tendencies to come together ASAP to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the justice for Oscar Grant movement over the past year and half. I would urge comrades to seek some agreements of principle in this meeting that address the following:
a) A firm condemnation of collaboration and opportunism; but avoiding personalized vilification of the social forces that collaborated (being mindful of the lessons of COINTELPRO)
b) A statement of distinction on the role of political and community organizations as opposed to non-profits; and clarity on the reformist orientation and political limitations of non-profit organizations
c) The function of organization in the movement to combat infiltration (as appears to have occurred within the Black Bloc and other formations)
d) The need for strategy to help facilitate forward development and political advancement of the movement(s)
2. I would encourage this core to produce a statement and/or document directed to the movement that attempts to provide a clear analysis of the weaknesses and errors of the movement to this point and some strong points of orientation to try and anchor, sustain, and advance it going forward.
3. I think it is imperative that this statement include a comprehensive set of demands, both tactical and strategic, to help anchor the next phase in the struggle.
4. Finally, I think this core should attempt to outline a one year strategy and work plan to realize these demands that is put forward to the movement to democratically accept (understanding the independence of initiative of each formation), modify or categorically reject.
It also occurs to me that this initiative should also seek to further consolidate unity with the radical forces advancing work in Los Angeles also working on this front of struggle as an integral part of this process. Linked with this, I think there should be a national call to facilitate the consolidation of a national movement.
On Demand Development and Expansion
1. I think the opening of a Federal Investigation should be utilized as an organizing opportunity. And that this is one of the key points where a national initiative would be of the most benefit. However, I think there should simultaneously be a call for more self-determining justice and a push to challenge the hegemony (internally and externally) of US power by internationalizing the struggle. To be more concrete, I think there should be a demand for the an independent “people’s or citizens” commission to conduct a more thorough investigation of the case, issue indictments, and oversee the DOJ’s process. This commission should consist on internal participants (activists, lawyers, jurists, etc.) and call on various international bodies within the UN and International System to intervene (with a clear understanding of the limits of the international system and its powers, but with an eye to using it as organizing tool and point of leverage).
2. The demand for resources and economic development I think should be supported, but modified in a manner that puts limits on its control by City Hall and its access by opportunists and collaborators. A means to accomplishing this (not without its faults or limits by any stretch) could be a call for participatory budgeting rules and procedures to define the use of the resources, and terms of agreement framed by the movement that define its access and any recording or monitoring procedures demanded by the state (which without question will be there).
1. We demand that Officers Pirone and Domenici be indicted for first-degree murder for their role in Oscar Grants murder.
2. We demand civil restitution and reparations for the family Oscar Grant, and the victims of Police violence by the OPD and BART.
3. We demand that BART Police be disarmed and disbanded.
4. We demand that the Police Bill of Rights, which shields the records of police misconduct, abuse and murder, be immediately abolished, and that all police records be made public.
5. We demand that an independent “peoples commission”, drawn and determined by the citizens of Oakland, with international jurists determined by this commission, be granted oversight into the Federal Department of Justice investigation of the murder of Oscar Grant, and systemic violations of civil and human rights by the Oakland and Transit Police.
6. We demand the termination of all Gang Injunction laws and policies in Oakland and throughout California on the grounds of their unconstitutionality and their violation of civil and international law.
7. We demand that Oakland be declared a sanctuary city, and that all ICE raids and racial profiling policies and practices targeting Latino/a, Black, Asian and other oppressed peoples be terminated immediately.
8. We demand that the City of Oakland, the State of California, and the Federal Government provide massive funding for education and jobs in Oakland that are allocated and distributed via a transparent and democratic public participatory budgeting process.
One-Year Plan Targets/Tactics
1. Conduct a general strike in Oakland and Los Angeles the day after Mehserle’s sentencing, focused on Students, Public Sector Workers, Transit Workers, Dock Workers, etc. as the social base to execute the action.
2. Organize broad, neighborhood police/copwatch formations, and work to create “liberated zones” in Black, Latino, Asian, and white working class and poor communities, where the police are prohibited or curtailed in their activities.
3. Organize a massive local, regional, statewide, and national “Justice for Oscar Grant” petition drive to pressure the DOJ and build support for the movement’s demands (buttressed by broad internet and social networking interface to support and broaden reach).
4. Develop a broad people’s media and cultural workers initiative to provide educational, motivational, and agitation tools and resources for the movement and to provide sufficient analysis and coverage to frame the movement from its own perspective and counter the reactionary framing and attacks of the bourgeois media.
5. Hold a People’s Tribunal, with international observers and jurists, to press DOJ and its deliberations.
6. Utilize Inter-American and United Nations special action procedures and special rapporteurs to conduct international investigations, recommendations, and sanctions on the US government for its failure to protect the human rights of Oscar Grant, the victims of police violence, and the victims of the various racial profiling laws and policies of the government.
7. Organize local, state and national referendum and legislative initiatives to realize and support various demands.
Again, it my hope that this contribution is of some use to forces on the ground in Oakland and the Bay Area, and that any comrade reading it will receive it with an open mind. I am more than open to any engaging any feedback, criticism, or inquiries of clarification any of you may have. And I pledge to do all within my individual power, and all that can be drawn from my organization, to work to implement the initiatives proposed herein – and those decided by a collective movement process not contained herein.
In Unity and Struggle,
Saturday, July 10, 2010