Behind Bars

Protesters Demand: Drop Charges Against JR Valrey!

By Chris Kinder

Some 25 protesters gathered outside the Alameda County Courthouse on Fallon Street December 7 to defend journalist JR Valrey, of the San Francisco Bay View and Block Report Radio. Currently out on $10,000 bail, Valrey faces bogus charges of felony arson, for allegedly having started a fire in a barrel on the street. His real ìcrimeî was reporting on the January street protests over the New Years-day police killing of Oscar Grant.

The demonstrators chanted, ìOakland DA is nothiní but a liar, she knows JR didnít start no fire,î to rhythmic percussion provided by the Brass Liberation Orchestra, which provided some music to call attention to the event (as they have done at protests of hearings on the San Francisco 8 case earlier this year). Signs read, Defend JR Valrey, and Drop All Charges Against Protesters of the Police Murder of Oscar Grant. Many attended the hearing, in which a discovery motion was discussed. The beginning of JRís trial was put over to February 22nd.

Starting at just after 8:00 A.M. protesters passed out information on the case, and got a good reception from many going into court. South Bay friends of death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal came up from San Jose for the protest, while others represented Critical Resistance and All Of Us Or None. Still more responded to flyers and emails put out by the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal. The protest was covered by Oakland North, and by videographer Adimu, the producer of ìSmall Axe,î a video on the Oscar Grant events featuring JR.

A dangerous career—
honest journalist!

Raised in East Oakland, JR Valrey courageously pursues a dangerous career in the inner cityóthat of honest journalist. While the mainstream media is fully ìembeddedî in a racist and corrupt capitalist system, reporters like JR seek out the truth about the murderous brutality that accompanies the police occupation of the black community. As such, they are singled out and targeted by cops and courts. Of the dozens of professional journalists covering the January 7th street protests of the murder of Oscar Grant, JR was the only one to be arrested; he was also the only one to be tackled and thrown to the pavement!

160 protesters were arrested in police actions that tried to paint the people, rather than killer cops, as the problem. Charges have been dropped against most of these, except for JR and at least two others. One protester, Holly Works, has a hearing at 9:00 A.M. on Monday, December 14 (at 1225 Fallon), for assaulting an officer.

Oscar Grant was a young black retail grocery worker and father of a young daughter. He was shot in the back at point blank range by a BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] cop as he lay facedown on the Fruitvale station platform on New Years Day 2009. Strikingly clear cell-phone videos were taken of the incident by numerous witnesses on the station platform, and this is the only reason that the cop, Johannes Mehserle, has been charged with murder. In hundreds of police shootings of young black males in California, only one other cop has faced murder charges.

Outrage over the police murder of Oscar Grant

Outrage over this blatant execution of an innocent man (who was not resisting arrest) spread through the community. Protesters closed three BART stations, attacked police cars, and a thousand protesters marched on city hall. As JR reported, the march was composed of ìan almost equal number of Blacks, Latinos, Asians and whites.î In a phone call that evening, he said heíd never seen such solidarity. ìEverybodyís got everybodyís back,í he said.î (San Francisco Bay View, January 9, 2009)

160 protesters were arrested in police actions that tried to paint the people, rather than killer cops, as the problem. Charges have been dropped against most of these, except for JR and at least two others. One protester, Holly Works, has a hearing at 9:00 A.M. on Monday, December 14 (at 1225 Fallon), for ìassaulting an officer.î

Meanwhile, BART officials failed to interrogate Mehserle for a whole week after the incident, while Oakland Mayor Dellums seemed much more concerned about street protests and broken store windows than he did about police brutality and shootings of young black men.

Mehserle quit the police force, moved to Nevada and began cooking up a defense before prosecutors finally decided that the cell phone videos, which were all over the TV and Internet, had forced their hand. Other cops who were on the platform with Mehserle, howeveróparticularly Officer Tony Pirone, who clearly inflamed the situationóhave not been charged. Still, one killer cop facing a jury composed of members of the community he was supposed to ìprotect and serveî is more than the system can bear. Mehserleís trial has now been moved to Los Angeles.

The vital role of the witnesses with the cell phones at the shooting of Oscar Grant canít help but remind us of how the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense got started. Acting in the tradition of Robert F Williams, Deacons for Defense and Justice, and other heroes of armed self-defense of black communities, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale stood armed nearby police actions in the black community, to warn people of their rights and protect them from serious abuse, by their presence as witnesses. The cell phone witnesses couldnít save Oscar Grant, but they did use the weapons they had to provide unassailable evidence of a police crime as it happened.

JR Valrey, the minister of information of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee (POCC), continues the same tradition with his journalism. The similarities between JRís case, and that of Mumia Abu-Jamalówho was known as the ìvoice of the voiceless,î are striking. Jamal was fingered for a cop killing by police, who knew him for his earlier struggles against the notoriously racist Philadelphia police, in particular his biting exposure on local radio of a brutal assault on the living compound of MOVE, a local black community group.

Chris Kinder, is a member of the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

San Francisco Bay View, December 9, 2009