A young man was shot and killed near the Occupy Oakland encampment last night. His name hasn’t been released, but Occupiers believe he was called “Alex,” and they set up a candlelight vigil in his honor. How did Oakland’s embattled mayor, Jean Quan, react? She joined other local officials in calling for Occupy Oakland’s occupation to end, saying, “The risks are too great for having an encampment out there….It’s time for the encampment to end.”
At question, of course, is whether Occupy Oakland, the site they’re occupying or the politics involved had anything to do with this young man’s death. The protesters denied as much, reportedly shouting “This is not Occupy Oakland!” Mayor Quan argued that the encampment in the 160,000-square-foot plaza unofficially renamed for Oscar Grant III is “straining” the city. Judging by their letter delivered today to Occupy Oakland, the police agree.
You could reasonably argue that if not for Occupy Oakland, we might have never known about “Alex.” A veteran whom journalist Aimee Allison interviewed shortly after the shooting makes a compelling case. (Caution for expletives.)
Yes, people can be shot anywhere. Would we be paying attention if “Alex” had been shot in a neighborhood with a large amount of both poverty and melanin, and not on the doorstep of Occupy Oakland (and Oakland City Hall, and Police Headquarters)?
The poet and essayist Ishmael Reed, in a New York Times op-ed today, notes Oakland’s long and ugly history of police brutality, particularly against people of color and recently against Occupy Oakland. But he also shines a light on the fact that a lot of those police (and Occupy protesters) are from out of town, and both are raising the ire of Oakland’s locals:
All of this has left Oakland’s blacks and Latinos in a difficult position. They rightly criticize the police, but they also criticize the other invading army, the whites from other cities, and even other states, whom they blame for the vandalism that tends to break out whenever there is a heated protest in town: from the riots after the murder of Oscar Grant by a transit police officer in 2009, to the violence of the last two weeks downtown and, most recently, near the port.
Someday we may discern the deeper historical meaning of these latest events. For now, what’s striking are the racial optics. How did Asian-Americans respond to the sight of a diminutive Asian-American mayor being hooted off the stage by a largely white crowd at an Oct. 27 rally? And where was the sympathy when, in years past, unarmed blacks and Hispanics were beaten or killed? Why did it take the injury of a white protester to attract attention?…
The Occupy movement has important things to say. But in its hurry to speak, it risks shutting out those who have been waiting their turn for a long time.