National Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan came to Oakland this week to lend his powerful voice to the rising chorus of protest in the death of Oscar Grant III, telling an overflow audience of more than a thousand at West Oakland’s Olivet Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday night that “Oscar Grant’s assassination stirred up something that was building in Oakland for a long, long time.”
Both the Oakland and San Francisco Nation of Islam mosques have been active in the coalition that has been organizing the Oscar Grant protest actions.
In an hour-long speech interrupted several times by standing ovations, Farrakhan took special aim at Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff and BART Police Chief Gary Gee, familiar targets of the BART protesters, saying that “they have sewn the wind, but they will reap the whirlwind. To Oscar Grant’s grandfather, to his mother, and to the beautiful woman with whom he fathered a child, don’t fret. Don’t grieve. Don’t think they can get away from that universal law that’s not dependent on crooked law and prosecutors and police chiefs who don’t do their job.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, organizations in the Grant protest coalition announced they were going forward with plans to try to recall Orloff, saying they were kicking off a petition drive to collect the 80,000 signatures needed to put a recall vote on the ballot. Grant protest coalition organizations are also calling for the firing of Gee and of BART Police Officer Tony Pirone, who is seen on cellphone videos punching Grant in the head prior to Grant’s shooting, and is the officer with his knee on Grant’s face when Mehserle shot grant.
But Farrakhan also criticized African-American organizations and individuals who only mobilize around deaths of African-Americans by whites. “I don’t know how you can march on Orloff and not march when day after day we are killing each other,” Farrakhan said. “You mean it’s only bad when a white man does it, but it’s okay when we do it? How many grandmothers have to take their grandchildren to their final resting place, not because of Orloff, not because of the police chief, but because of one of us?”
However, CAPE and many of the organizations protesting Grant’s death have also been working in violence prevention projects in the East Bay’s African-American and Latino communities, and have called for the establishment of healing centers in Oakland and other East Bay cities for youth who have been affected by the rash of violence in the East Bay.
Earlier, Oscar Grant senior, the 63-year-old grandfather of Oscar Grant III, called for patience from community members looking for justice in the Grant case. “Something good is going to come out of all this,” he said. Grant Sr. also renewed the Grant family’s call for activists not to engage in violence in their protests. At least two of the Grant protest marches in early January ended in vandalism and rioting in downtown Oakland.
But Tuesday night’s meeting showed signs that the various groups working in the Oscar Grant movement are attempting to heal the split over the January violence that had threatened to derail the various Grant coalitions. Blackmon had publicly criticized the rioters last month, but on Tuesday night, she signaled that she now understands the reasons for the rioting, while not specifically endorsing it as a tactic. “A lot of people were whispering in my ear, giving me advice and counsel, telling me we should distance ourselves from the rioting,” Blackmon said. “But leadership comes from the community, and it was the people who were out there in the streets those nights, angry. I humbly apologize for whatever condemnation [of the violence] I got sucked into.”
Members of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights & Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), one of the groups that had been trying to straddle the gap between the anti-violence and support-the-rioters wings of the Oscar Grant coalitions since the January rioting, announced a March 4, 7 p.m. “independent tribunal” at Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland at which they promised many witnesses to the Grant shooting—including some of the men who were on the platform when Grant was shot—will tell their stories in public about the shooting for the first time.
Meanwhile, the Oscar Grant coalition groups are rapidly broadening their scope into other areas of concern. On Thursday, coalition groups planned to be part of a Caravan For Justice set to send several busloads of citizens from the Bay Area to Sacramento to lobby legislative leaders for a broad collection of legislative goals, including an end to the Proposition 209 “three strikes law,” to “address California’s high school dropout rate,” and to protest what they called the “criminalization of urban youth” and the “prison industrial complex.”