Human Rights

Oscar Grant and Mumia: Where’s the Justice?

By Chris Kinder

OK, here’s the quiz. Two quizzes, actually. Didn’t know there was going to be a quiz? Just read on and check the blanks as indicated:

QUIZ 1—A man, we’ll call him Adam for now, is shot in the back and killed while lying face down on the pavement. Another man, we’ll call him Benjamin, had been holding Adam down, along with two accomplices. Suddenly Benjamin stood up, pulled out a pistol, and shot Adam in the back, while his accomplices continued to hold Adam down. Adam was not resisting or even moving at the time he was shot. We know all of this because several witnesses took digital cell-phone recordings and photographs of the entire incident.

Assuming that there is no other evidence in this case, which would even remotely contradict any of the facts above, is Benjamin guilty of murdering Adam?

Check One:

Yes [] No [] Maybe/Not Sure []

QUIZ 2—A man, we’ll call him Charlie, allegedly stands directly over another man, we’ll call him David, who is wounded and lying prone on the pavement. It is alleged that Charlie fired four bullets down at David, one of which hit him in the head and killed him. (It is also alleged that Charlie fired an earlier shot at David which was not fatal, but which caused him to fall.)

Photographs were taken of the crime scene immediately after the incident by an independent news photographer (this was before the age of cell phones with digital recording capabilities.) The photographs show no “divots,” or marks, in the sidewalk where David fell, which would have had to have been made by the three shots that missed David. (A recent test confirms that marks would have had to have been there.)

The photographs also show that one of the two key alleged witnesses to the crime was nowhere near where he said he was at the time of the shooting. The other key witness changed her story several times in successive police interviews; finally settling on testimony that said Charlie pulled the trigger. Both she and the other key witness had police records as long as your arm, and so were subject to police pressure.

Several witnesses saw one or two men run from the scene immediately after the shots, but one changed her story on the stand, and most of the others were not called to testify. Charlie, meanwhile, had been severely wounded by a cop, was found on the scene, and couldn’t possibly have run anywhere.

Assuming that there is no other evidence in this case which contradicts any of the facts presented here, is Charlie guilty of murdering David?

Check One:

Yes [] No [] Maybe/Not Sure []

OK, so you cheated: you already know these cases. If you don’t know them by now, you’re probably from Mars. Welcome to Earth. But let’s say you didn’t know them, and you didn’t cheat. Since you’re a reasonable person, you checked “yes” on quiz 1, and “no” or “maybe” on quiz 2. Noting that “maybe” implies reasonable doubt, you would have convicted the white ex-cop Johannes Mehserle of murdering a young Black man named Oscar Grant; and you would have acquitted former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal of murdering the white Police Officer Daniel Faulkner: the EXACT OPPOSITE of what the criminal so-called “justice” system did in these cases.

Is the world upside down? Yes it is, and it’s going to stay that way until we fix it, through socialist revolution. (That wasn’t on the quiz. Take my word for it, or read on...)

A blatant, racist, police murder

This country and I think much of the world knows the name Oscar Grant by now. A young Black father and grocery worker was shot in the back, while lying face down, on New Years Eve 2009, by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) cop Johannes Mehserle. There was absolutely no provocation for this killing. While Mehserle’s defense claimed at trial that Grant was keeping his hands under him and struggling (while face down on the pavement), in fact both his hands were presented for cuffing behind him when he was shot. One of the other cops, the now-fired Officer Tony Pirone, was forced to admit this at trial, based on the video evidence.

The other police-generated dreck about the incident—a so-called “fight” on a BART train (mostly a verbal altercation); cops who felt “threatened” by the crowd on the subway platform; Grant’s supposed “resistance” as he was forced to the ground by three cops each of whom weighed more than he did; and Mehserle’s alleged “mistake” in drawing his gun instead of his Taser—is so much BS, in light of the key facts, pardon my French.

The Oakland rebellion

But something good does in fact emerge from the tragedy of Oscar Grant’s senseless murder, and that is the resistance by the Black and working people of Oakland. The resistance started on that subway platform, the Fruitvale BART Station. Several people had the presence of mind, and the distrust of police, to record the incident with their cell phones. These recorded images found their way onto the Internet of course, but also onto the nightly news. This helped spark a rebellion in Oakland, and that was a good thing. So many young Black men have needlessly gone to their deaths at the hands of racist, trigger-happy cops, at least now there was a rebellion against this. And only because of that, Mehserle was charged with murder by the Oakland DA—the first cop so charged for killing a Black man “in the line of duty” in California.

Mehserle was found not guilty of murder in his trial in LA (after a convenient—for him—change of venue, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter), and the rebellion continues today. As you read this, the port will have been shut down on October 23rd, and a mass, labor/community rally held in Oakland, raising the demands: Jail Killer Cops! Maximum Sentence for Johannes Mehserle! The rally was called by Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), AND the union voted to shut down the port for the day to honor Oscar Grant.

“Fuck this shit!” — Johannes Mehserle makes his move

The resistance also started with the witness of Oscar Grant’s close friend, Jack Bryson Jr., who was handcuffed alongside Oscar, as they both lay face down on the Fruitvale BART platform. Compiled from the trial testimony of Jack Bryson Jr., and the report of his father, Jack Bryson, given in public and to this writer, this is what transpired:

“Less than two minutes before the shooting, Mehserle arrives on the scene. He takes out his Taser twice, each time pointing it at Oscar Grant, and saying, ‘Shut the fuck up,’ both times. Grant captures Mehserle pointing his Taser at him in a photograph taken from his own phone. But Grant also puts his hands up to surrender.

“Amidst shouts of ‘bitch-ass n____r’ coming from Tony Pirone—a violent ex-Marine who weighs almost twice as much as Grant—Oscar is wrestled to the ground by three cops, including Pirone and Mehserle. Mehserle is hitting Oscar. Once down, Oscar’s legs are laying on Carlos Reyes’ legs, so he (Oscar) can’t move his legs. Officer Pirone by this time has his knee on Oscar’s neck, holding him down.

“OSCAR: ‘Man, I can’t breathe! Get off me! I surrender, man! I quit! I can’t give you my hands because I got too much on me!’ The cops holding him down were allegedly trying to cuff him.

“Soon, Grant does manage to free his hands, and puts them behind his back. But at this point Mehserle was standing up.

“MEHSERLE: ‘Fuck this shit!’ He pulls his gun, holds it with both hands directly over Grant, aims and fires one shot directly into Oscar’s back.

“(NOTE: In order to pull his gun, Mehserle has to undo a strap, take off the safety, and notice that it weighs three times as much as his Taser, which he has just pulled and re-holstered twice within the last minute or so.)

“OSCAR: ‘Man, he shot me, he shot me! I got a daughter!’

“JACK BRYSON JR: ‘Oscar, don’t close your eyes.’”1

Police officers reacted to the shooting by immediately trying to collect all the videophones from the witnesses on the platform—an instinctive cover-up reaction common to cops and other criminals. Good thing they didn’t get them all! The videos the cops didn’t get were soon all over YouTube and local news stations.

While all these details (Jack Bryson’s testimony particularly, and some of the video evidence) weren’t generally known at first, people got the message: another unprovoked police killing of a Black youth had gone down, and this time it was caught on camera. This time, there could be no doubt as to the circumstances. And this time, the divide between the predominantly Black, but integrated working-class youth, and the tear-jerking liberal establishment with ties to Oakland Mayor Dellums and the Democratic Party, couldn’t have become clearer.

The divide started immediately, with the call for a protest at the Fruitvale BART station, and the formation of CAPE—Coalition Against Police Executions (which no longer exists).

A crowd of over 500 gathered to protest the murder, but most were impatient with the tone of mourning and the decrying of violence. Graffiti appeared saying, “fuck the police,” and while someone scribbled “forgive,” over “fuck,” most weren’t paying attention to that. Protesters jumped the turnstiles at the BART station, and soon the more militant majority had marched off toward downtown, along International Blvd. saying, “We have to do something!” A police car was trashed, some windows broken, and a few fires set in dumpsters.

The police charged the crowd at one point, but failed to suppress the rebellion, which surged up 14th Street. Amidst the charges of violence and rioting emanating from the media, one report on local TV cut the other way: a reporter for the Oakland Post, Ken Epstein, who had looked out his window only to see his own car burning, said, “I’m sorry my car was burned, but the issue was very upsetting.” For the youth on the street, this violence was actually about something: the police had committed murder, and no one was doing anything about it.

Mayor Dellums shows his true colors

The divide deepened and people were taking sides. And Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, the long-time Democratic Party liberal leader in the U.S. Congress, was (predictably) on the wrong side. This was documented well by George Ciccareillo-Maher, a local Oakland student and activist, who was on the protest march and challenged Dellums directly. Dellums had decided to emerge around 9:00 P.M. that night, to talk to his angry constituents.

“’I don’t remember what it was exactly that I yelled at the mayor,’ said Ciccareillo-Maher, ‘but it certainly got to him... (he) walked directly up to me, putting his face mere inches from my own.

“Dellums: ‘What I want people to do now is calm down. I’ve told the police to stand down... Both sides need to be peaceful right now so we can find out exactly what happened.’

“Ciccareillo-Maher: ‘But we know what happened! We’ve all seen the video: a cop pulled his gun and shot an unarmed Black man in the back...’

“Dellums: ‘I’m asking both sides to be peaceful...’

“Ciccareillo-Maher: ‘Both sides? I haven’t killed anybody, this crowd hasn’t killed anybody. The police have killed somebody, and you’re in charge of the police! Who runs this city?’

“The demonstrators continued to express their pent-up rage, engaging in running battles until nearly 11:00 P.M., when a mass arrest seems to have quelled the resistance for the moment. All in all, official numbers show 105 arrests (including 21 juveniles), more than 80 of which occurred after Dellums claims to have told the OPD to stand down.”2

The shattering of illusions in Dellums that took place that night—the same Dellums who had come to be mayor of Oakland wearing a virtual halo following his Congressional career—was an important turning point. The dividing line between the Black working class thousands of Oakland, youth particularly, and the Black middle-class, liberal, pro-Democratic Party “leadership,” was becoming a chasm.

New organizing centers came together around the Oscar Grant murder, and around rejection of older, reformist and liberal leadership, such as that of Dellums and his supporters. Important among these was the Black Dot Cafe in West Oakland, which was largely promoted through the work of journalist JR Valrey, the Minister of Information of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee (POCC), headed by Fred Hampton Jr, son of the well-known murdered Chicago Black Panther, Fred Hampton. (JR’s journalistic work centers around the San Francisco Bay View, and Block Report Radio reports, which are heard on KPFA.) Said JR at a POCC-sponsored “Town Bizness” meeting, “This ain’t like the other town halls where a preacher talks for three hours,” which was a direct reference to the liberal sermonizing going on at the Olivet Baptist Church.

“Oakland DA ain’t nothin’
but a liar, she knows JR didn’t start no fire!”

Protests continued throughout January. Eventually, the arrests topped 160, and a “Defend the Oakland 100” committee formed. As these were mainly harassment arrests, minor charges were eventually dropped, but serious felony charges were brought against two protesters, JR Valrey and Holly Works, a local musician and activist. Although bogus from day one, JR’s charge of felony arson (starting a fire in a barrel), and Holly’s of “assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer” carried the threat of serious jail time.

The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal organized pickets at the court hearings of both, which were supported by people from Radical Women, Critical Resistance, the Partisan Defense Committee and others. The Brass Liberation Orchestra turned out at 8:00 A.M. to provide some music. When we chanted, “Oakland DA ain’t nothin’ but a liar, she knows JR didn’t start no fire!,” the band cranked up a little ad-lib rhythm to go with it.

The DA was forced to drop the charges against JR for lack of evidence—what a surprise! That left local activist Holly Works, who was accosted and arrested by police as she and a friend walked to a planned protest that hadn’t even started yet. According to Holly, they had made the mistake of walking through an area where the police were forming up in preparation for cracking down on the protest. Having stopped Holly and her friend from going to the protest, the cops discussed how to make an example of her right in front of her. They accused Holly of assaulting a cop with a knife... but no knife was found. So they dumped out her purse and found a screwdriver, which she happened to have, so they accused her of using that as the “deadly weapon.”

Once arrested, Holly, being a woman, was put in the back seat of the paddy wagon, not the rear part reserved for men only. From her spot just behind the front seat in the cab, she could overhear all the police radio transmissions, and what she heard was revealing. The cops discussed, ahead of time, how they would pick who would get arrested: “Pick up anyone with a red head band,” etc.! Holly was eventually given a one-year probation, after which the charges would be dropped.

July 8, 2010: “Oakland Says: Guilty”

“I AM,” shouted the speaker at the Oakland protest of the verdict in the trial of Mehserle; “OSCAR GRANT!” roared back the crowd at 14th and Broadway. “Oakland Says: Guilty,” was the slogan on a huge banner hoisted over the crowd, strung from light poles.

The crowd was protesting the fact that Oscar Grant’s cold-blooded killer had just gotten off with an involuntary manslaughter conviction, after less than two day’s deliberation, by a jury with no Black members. They cleared Mehserle of murder, and cleared him of voluntary manslaughter. They settled on involuntary manslaughter, enhanced by use of a gun, leading to a maximum of 14 years in state prison. Oscar Grant’s family was outraged, as was most of Oakland’s Black and working class community.

But as with Dellums in January of 2009, for some, there were other concerns. Protesters planned a rally outside City Hall on the day of the verdict; but it seemed most of the preparation—by city authorities, community and religious leaders, and police—went into protecting a few windows in downtown Oakland instead of protesting a racist police murder.

An alliance had emerged between non-profit organizations and city leaders to head off a repeat of the previous year’s rebellions. A now-notorious PSA was issued by Urban Peace Movement and Youth Uprising, called “Violence is Not Justice,” which equates the murder of Oscar Grant with the minor property damage that followed. The Mayor’s office even organized a press conference with Dellums, police, and... three members of the Laney College Black Student Union, who were expected to parrot the “peaceful, legal” line. This backfired when the students attacked the police for their threatening preparations!

At the protest itself, Council member Desley Brooks, who in January 2010 had virtually hijacked a one-year commemoration event on the subway platform where Oscar was killed, organized an orange jacket goon squad to keep the peace at the verdict protest, which attacked some of the protesters.33

The main perpetrators of violence in the community, the police, went into overtime heaven with “Operation Verdict.” Weeks in preparation, “Operation Verdict” meant that downtown would be turned into a prison camp controlled by cops. Whole sections of the freeway coming into Oakland were sealed off so that police from the Highway Patrol, Alameda County and other jurisdictions—which underwent special training in advance with Oakland Police Department—could pour into downtown Oakland unhindered by civilian traffic. Downtown freeway entrances were also blocked to keep protesters from getting onto the roadways.

Oakland’s “Great Skeedadddle”

Building managers in downtown were instructed to evacuate everyone from their offices at 4:00 P.M., just as the verdict was to be announced, according to reports on local Pacifica Radio KPFA. Blocks from downtown, where I was just after 4:00 P.M., you could see the result of this “great skeedaddle.” People in shops along Telegraph Avenue were remarking on the excess traffic as hundreds, perhaps thousands jammed the streets to get away. Many more clogged BART entrances near 14th and Broadway to escape what the media was portraying as the hordes of violent youths who were (presumably) about to descend on the city center to make mayhem.44

Two friends and I were among the hundreds who did “descend” on Oakland’s downtown to protest this racist injustice of a verdict, only to find—amazingly—a peaceful protest! Arriving around 6:30 P.M. or so, we had to pass through a phalanx of cops, who had the whole city center completely sealed off, between about 12th and 15th streets, along Broadway. The rally was welcoming, friendly, and militant. While some speakers spouted the “peaceful legal” refrain, one young Black speaker got the cheers when he said, “How could protesting racist injustice make you an ‘outside agitator’ anywhere?! The police are the real outside agitators! You need to watch out for them—they are the ones who threaten us, the communities of Oakland!”

After the rally, no one was hurt but, oh dear, some window breaking and looting did take place. Shoes and t-shirts went flying through the air to a waiting crowd. So, what about looting? It all depends who’s doing it and why. Only by seeing this in the class context can we make a sound judgment. In ancient Rome, looting of conquered peoples was one of the rewards for being a Roman soldier. Slave rebels led by Spartacus, on the other hand, looted local farms to get supplies and make recruits from the local slaves and farm hands.

Young Black men in the U.S. today have a 40 percent unemployment rate. While the media portray Black men as criminals every night on the news, the real criminals, the suits up on Wall Street (all white, incidentally), have been robbing the whole country blind for years, and continue to rob us while they spiral us into depression and profit from Bush/Obama bailout money. The problem with looting is that it provides no long-term solution; it’s not part of an organized revolutionary strategy. What we need is an organized, working class response to the exploitation, oppression and racism of capitalism.

Longshore workers step up to
the plate

With Mehserle’s sentencing, long delayed, coming up for a final word from the judge in LA on November 5th, Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) called a rally, and a port shut down, to say: Justice for Oscar Grant, Jail Killer Cops, and Maximum Sentence for Johannes Mehserle! (See the report on October 23 Rally following this article.)

The ILWU is the same union that shut down all West Coast ports to free Mumia in 1999, and conducted similar shutdowns to oppose apartheid, oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, support May Day as the international workers holiday, support immigrant rights; and most recently, oppose the blockade of Gaza by boycotting and picketing an Israeli ship.

The rally is being organized by community support groups for labor outreach, community outreach, publicity and so forth. Supporting organizations include: Oakland Education Association (OEA—the Oakland teachers’ union, which held unauthorized teach-ins on Mumia and the death penalty in 1999), ANSWER Coalition, Barrio Unido, Code Pink, actor Danny Glover, United National Antiwar Committee (UNAC), Campaign To End the Death Penalty, the Mobilization to Free Mumia, and many, many others.

While the primarily Black and Latino longshore workers were outraged by the murder of Oscar Grant, the family of Oscar Grant was also inspired by the union’s history of resistance. When Oscar’s uncle, Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson came to the Longshore Hall in San Francisco and saw the outline of two longshoremen on the pavement who had been shot in the back by police during the maritime strike of 1934, he was moved. “That mural shook me because that’s exactly what happened to Oscar,” he said.

Because of these deaths at the hands of police, the longshore union is unique among unions today in not allowing police to be members of the ILWU or its affiliates. (See Jack Heyman, “Longshoremen Will Shut Down All Bay Area Ports,” Counterpunch, 18 October 2010, also in this issue of Socialist Viewpoint.)

The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther, award winning journalist, behind-bars commentator on critical social issues—and an innocent man on death row.

On November 9, 2010, at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, Mumia faces what in all likelihood is his last hearing. But this hearing isn’t about his innocence; it’s about his sentence only. In April 2009, the Supreme Court upheld his 1982 frame-up conviction without comment. It did this despite more than two decades of court rulings that ignored overwhelming evidence of Mumia’s innocence, and that violated numerous precedent-setting rulings in order to screw him.

Then, in January 2010, the Court acted on a prosecution petition seeking to reinstate Mumia’s death sentence. The Court “vacated” a lower court stay on Mumia’s sentence, and sent the case back to the Third Circuit for a new ruling. That led to the hearing that takes place on November 9th. In one stroke, the Supreme Court reinforced the death penalty, and brought Mumia closer to being executed for a crime he did not commit.

Demonstrations will be held in Philadelphia at the Court, at 6th and Market at 12:00 Noon, and in Oakland at 14th and Broadway, also at Noon.

The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is important because he represents in one case just about everything that the criminal justice system can throw at a person. While Oscar Grant got what they can give all at once—instant death at the hands of a cop who has the protection of the legal system and gets off with a virtual handshake, Mumia has had it drawn out for 29 years now on death row, a slow process of one denial after another, heading toward a legal death in the chamber. The result is potentially the same, unless we mobilize now to save Mumia.

For instance, in a handful of other cases (96 between 1976 and 2001), one or more of the following considerations, called “release factors,” has resulted in a death penalty conviction being thrown out:

• Perjured testimony by prosecution witnesses—30 cases

• Deliberately destroyed or withheld evidence helpful to defendant—27 cases

• Insufficient evidence to sustain a capital murder charge—26 cases

• Someone else confessed—18 cases

• Misidentification of perpetrators eyewitness error—15 cases

• Perjured, bargained or snitch testimony—11 cases

• Ineffective assistance of counsel—11 cases

• Coerced (or fraudulent) confessions—11 cases.5

All of these factors apply to Mumia’s case, yet the system is jumping through every hoop to keep him headed to the death chamber.

Innocence is no defense, in U.S. courts!

Courts in the U.S. have shown that the “rule of law” is a fraud, both by not locking up obviously guilty killer cops such as Mehserle, and by refusing to recognize an “innocence” defense of anyone considered an enemy or threat to the state. Supreme Court decisions such as Herrera v. Collins, and laws such as the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, signed by Democratic President Clinton in 1996, make it literally possible to execute the innocent. Courts can say that your appeals have run out, or that you had a fair trial even if you didn’t. While there is no statute of limitations on murder, there is a statute of imitations on proving innocence of murder! If they want you badly enough—as they do Mumia—you can be legally murdered, or get life in prison without the possibility of parole, despite your innocence.

The system is designed to preserve the rule of the most powerful, not to uphold law, so legal precedents can mean nothing. In the anti-Mumia vendetta, major rulings such as Batson v. Kentucky—in which the U.S. Supreme Court allegedly outlawed racism in jury selection—have been ignored, including, in Mumia’s case, by both the Third Circuit and the Supreme Court itself. In Batson, a ruling that was supposed to be retroactive, the immense volume of cases that could be opened up by a rigorous application of this precedent is in itself a threat to the system.

“Innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” is another casualty. Appeals courts have deliberately ignored the facts of Mumia’s 1982 set-up conviction. Cops framed Mumia for killing a police officer because he was an ex-Panther and a journalist who told the truth about police crimes and racism in Philadelphia, such as the brutal police crackdown on the MOVE organization. Prosecutors ignored many witnesses who said they had seen the likely real killer run away. Police also forced the two chief witnesses against Mumia, Cynthia White and Robert Chobert, to testify to complete fabrications of evidence, under threat of long jail terms for outstanding warrants and other legal vulnerabilities.

A key witness, William Singletary, said Mumia didn’t do it. He was threatened, his businesses were attacked and destroyed, and he was warned in no uncertain terms not to be in town for the trial. He was effectively run out of town by the cops because he refused to lie.

A false confession, and a real one...

Faced with the need to firm up their so-called “case,” the prosecution asked for some help from police. The cops obligingly manufactured a false confession over two months after the fact. The judge helped by preventing the appearance in court of a police officer who had reported at the time, that “the Negro male made no comments.” Known as a “prosecutor in robes,” the judge, Albert Sabo, was also an out-and-out-racist who was overheard to say privately about Mumia, “Yeah, I’m gonna help ’em fry the n____r!”

Some years later, another man, Arnold Beverly, came forward and said he was paid to do the killing by mobbed-up cops who needed one of their own rubbed out to protect their graft. Since Daniel Faulkner was shown to have a long and heavily redacted FBI file, this confession provided a key to the case, by suggesting the real motive for, and the real perpetrators of, the murder. This was covered up, and ignored, even by Mumia’s own lawyer at the time, Len Weinglass, and ignored by the courts, like all the other evidence of Mumia’s innocence.

A political bandwagon...
to kill Mumia

The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) are falling all over themselves to execute Mumia, but they’re not alone. Targeted since he was 15 under COINTELPRO—the FBI’s murderous disruption program against the left—Mumia Abu-Jamal is in the crosshairs as an enemy of the state.

Politicians of both parties prove their loyalty by vowing to kill Mumia. Philadelphia DA’s, Pennsylvania governors, national politicians—they’re all on board. Republican Tom Ridge read Mumia’s mail, then signed a death warrant in ’95. The current governor, Democrat Ed Rendell, presided over Mumia’s frame-up as DA in 1982. In 2008, the FOP questioned presidential candidates, and both passed the anti-Mumia test. Later, Obama’s top-cop candidate, Eric Holder, won FOP backing to head the Justice Department. He swore fealty with a public threat against doing “harm” to police: “We are coming to get will be sentenced to the full extent of the law.”

Mumia is still targeted under Obama, so petitions pleading with him and the Justice Department to “investigate” civil rights violations in Mumia’s case have led discouragement. The petition to Eric Holder has been flat-out rejected three times now.

Oscar Grant and Mumia,
same enemy, same fight

While they are largely outraged at the chilling casualness with which Oscar Grant’s life was snuffed out, most liberals can’t get past the notion that this was essentially an accident, or an act of a “rogue” who was out of step with the system. Certainly the police are there to protect the system, but where’s the percentage in a senseless killing like Mehserle’s shooting of Oscar Grant? The expense alone of dealing with all the protests, not to mention the negative reporting that manages to squeeze through here and there in the controlled media, would seem to be just too counterproductive. Why not just push for better civilian oversight and control over the police, as advocated, for instance, by the more left-leaning council members, such as Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan?

Mumia’s case, and a quick look at history, should shed some light for those who can and want to look deeper. Think of where the criminal justice system comes from: enforcement of slavery, the catching of runaway slaves in northern states, the suppression of strikes and rebellions by working people, and the repression of immigrants, anarchists, communists, and anyone else that posed a challenge to the ruling class—those that own and control the means of production, distribution, and finance. Did I leave anyone out? Yes.

No end of targets

The most recent organizational addition to the list start with the Black Panther Party, which was targeted by the FBI as extremely dangerous. Federal and local police forces, working in some cases with penetration agents, literally conspired to, and carried out, cold-blooded murder. Fred Hampton, the Chicago Panther leader, was gunned down while he slept in his bed, in an organized police hit. More recently still we have the “terrorists,” which since 9/11 have provided a fanciful, but compelling reason to shut down civil rights, and launch a new round of persecutions of leftists (as seen in recent FBI raids in the mid-west) and Muslims.

Then there’s the on-going story of immigrants, who are now victimized by armed militias, as well as federal and local police forces.

Jumping back a bit, we should recall the Palmer raids of the post World War I period, which targeted leftists and immigrants in one blow, launched the career of a police tyrant named J. Edgar Hoover, and produced the frame-up trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, which was one of the worst in U.S. history. Sacco and Vanzetti, and now the case of Mumia, show that when the political system, the direct political agents of the ruling class, get a lock on a bulls eye, nothing, no law, no precedent, no democratic principle is going to stand in the way.

This is just an outline of what is a bloodline in history. Such “lines in the sand” will not be erased by “community control” fantasies. It took a second revolution, the Civil War, to eliminate chattel slavery, but that was only the beginning, as slavery’s racist remnants are still deeply imbedded in this society, and in the criminal justice system particularly.

This is why the murder of Oscar Grant is no “rogue” event or accident, and the framing of Mumia to cover up police corruption and murder is the system playing hardball against all of us. The capitalist system needs to maintain the armed guardians of its power in an unfettered state. It needs to have “crime” as an enemy to be feared in the public eye, so that it can prevent outrage against its crimes (like the mass impoverishment of the American people that is now going on) from getting out of control.

Hardball from the top requires a hardball response. It took a second revolution to abolish slavery, and it will take a new, workers revolution, with a strong, Black-centered leadership, to liberate humanity from the death grip of modern imperialist capitalism. What better place to start that with the example of the ILWU port shutdown and rally for Oscar Grant pointing the way to a new alliance of the working class and minority communities who are under the gun. We’ll need to work toward a mass, workers revolutionary party, with a strong anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and internationalist program. Saving humanity from the dark devastation that now awaits us, as well as saving the planet, will require the over-throwing of capitalism in a socialist revolution.

Chris Kinder is an Oakland resident, socialist, and coordinator of the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu Jamal

1 Compiled from Jack Bryson Jr.’s testimony as recorded in “Jack Bryson Hits the Stand,” by Minister of Information JR, SF Bay View, 23 June 2010; and as reported by Jack Bryson Sr., in interview with the author.

2 George Ciccareillo-Maher, “Oakland’s Not For Burning?” Counterpunch, January 9-11 2009. In his next piece for Counterpunch, dated February 3rd 2009, Ciccareillo-Maher recounts how his up-front reporting led him to be tackled, severely beaten and arrested by police, and sent to (Alameda County jail at) Santa-Rita along with other similarly treated protesters, in the demonstrations following the bail hearing for ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle. Arriving in Santa Rita, Ciccareillo-Maher reported that “...everyone in our holding cell knows about [the murder of Oscar Grant], everyone has seen the video... [and] everyone knows what side they are on.” When he tells others there that he is a writer, “ is not but a few short moments before I am handed the small pen and the disheveled stack of paper with which I am writing this very document. ‘At the very least you are in here on some real shit,’ one remarked, fist in the air.” (“Fired Up, Can’t Take It No More,” Counterpunch, February 3, 2009). With reporting like this, journalism, through struggle, still exists.

3 George Ciccareillo-Maher, “Oakland’s Verdict,” Counterpunch, 12 July 2010

4 The so-called “Great Skeedaddle” took place in the middle of the Civil War, in 1860s Savannah, Georgia, in the heart of the Confederacy. Rumors that Union troops were landing out on the Georgia Sea Islands sparked a panic amongst the slave-owning aristocracy, whose glorious vacation mansions still line the streets of the old town. Rather than face the hated Yankees, they packed up their carriages and high tailed it out to their plantations, which were well inland. Hence, “The Great Skeedaddle.”

5 “Why Mumia Abu-Jamal Should Be Released,” remarks of Sam Jordan, AFSCME Local 1107 forum, New York City, 14 June 2001