On Oscar Grant, Violence, and Outsiders

July 21, 2010 at 9:17 pm (Actions, Events) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Oscar Grant Mural

Photo by Brooke Anderson

OK. Here is what I have to say about Oscar Grant.*

There are lots of really important discussions to happen here about police violence, racism, etc. I don’t want to talk about that right now. What I want to talk about is coverage of the “riot.”

The day after the verdict and mini “riot” of July 8 2010,  The SF Appeal — and, subsequently, many other outlets and blogs — reported that only 19 of the 78 who had been arrested were from Oakland.  These figures were widely repeated and discussed, with many people using them to support the idea that troublemakers and instigators from outside of Oakland came to town to cause problems. Many of these same people blamed the violence on white anarchists wearing black hoodies and bandannas.

Let’s unpack this a little bit.

It was “outsiders” causing the problem.

A local establishment** wrote a post on Facebook saying, “What turned an upset-but-mostly-peaceful crowd into a smash-and-grab mob? At least partly: lots of folks who don’t even live here. People, we have enough problems of our own – next time, stay home and break stuff up in *your* hometown. for real.” This sentiment was echoed countless times and in countless ways.

This is what that sentence (and the others like it) tells me: Next time a cop kills someone in Oakland, I should put on my blinders and think it’s not my problem because I don’t live in Oakland. And ditto for any other kind of injustice going on not in my backyard. That Chevron refinery in Richmond? Who cares if they expand it! War in Iraq? Whatever! Not my problem!

This sentiment is antithetical to how I live my life, and how I want the world to function. It took me a long time to boil down why those statements hurt me so much, and now that I figured it out I don’t know how to emphasize it enough.

Here are some other, additional reason why I think this “it was outsiders” narrative is a problem:

  1. Who is really an outsider? I ride BART most days, yet I live one block from Oakland.  Does this mean that I don’t have a right to be outraged at BART police for killing someone? If there are organized rallies on the day of the verdict in Oakland but not where I live, should I not go? Grant, by the way, was from Hayward. Does that make his family and friends “outsiders”?
  2. Under what context were people arrested? Where they actually doing someone illegal or where they just standing in the wrong place at the wrong time? Do you think that prominent Oakland attorney Walter Riley was arrested doing something illegal? Since the city only filed charges against 9 people, does it really matter where those other 69 people were from?

“Anarchist” is not a synonym for “rioter.”

I didn’t go to downtown Oakland because I had heard a lot about the large number of police going there and I really didn’t want to be in a situation where I might accidentally get arrested for just standing there. I think I spent most of the evening arguing with people on Twitter about using the word “anarchist” to refer to people who were breaking windows and looting. As I said, the kind of story that people were perpetuating was that white anarchists wearing black hoodies and bandannas had come from outside of Oakland to fuck shit up. I was actually really surprised to see that kind of generalizations and language coming from smart people. For example:

LudovicSpeaks: “Lemme also say-white anarchistsare often behind instigating ‘riots,’ and we have many of them in Oakland. They cause lots of trouble”

Egratto: “Already seeing white guys on bikes forming and dissolving their packs, and black bandannas. Anarchists, please get the hell out of my home.”

This photo essay from the Oakland Tribune (approximately 100 photos) clearly shows that first, the violence was perpetrated primarily by police, and 2nd, that a lot of people looting the stores were neither white nor wearing black/black bandannas.

While I still think that my discussion earlier that only 9 people were charged with crimes is important and applies here, the additional points I want to make here are:

  1. Focusing on a few window smashing incidents takes away from focusing on the larger issues. This video shows that there was a lot less violence than people are talking about, as well as the role of the police in escalating.
  2. Let me say that again: we cannot underestimate the role of the mainstream media hype and the police in escalating the situation. There were tons of media reports ahead of time about how the authorities were gathering 20,000 police from around the Bay Area, that they may use a sound cannon, etc – and later reports talked about police “kettling” people: ordering them to disperse, but not allowing any way to leave. I appreciated that my friend Sarolta called the police the real outside agitators, the “blue bloc.”
  3. There are people unconnected to communities, social movements, or political activists, who will always come to hotspots to “fuck shit up” because they can and they think it’s fun. Ascribing political significance to them is a mistake.
  4. I know some people think that making generalizations is part of human nature, but it’s dangerous. In this case, how did you know that anyone there was an anarchist? (or from Oakland, btw). Maybe there’s some kind of “gaydar” for anarchism that I just don’t know about that these other people have, but aside from judging a book by it’s cover, I didn’t know that you could identify people’s political affiliations by how they look.

Violence v. Non Violence

Whether or not property destruction is a legitimate tactic is a huge debate among not only anarchists but other activists as well. I just want to say that this post has nothing to do with that discussion, and that I am only talking about one specific incident here and how it is being framed by people who are commenting on it.

If you do want to have that discussion, here are some places to start: Advance the Struggle and The Vancouver Media Coop


I have more to say about the contradictions of what working for justice means when you don’t trust/support/believe in the criminal justice system. On one hand we criticize the system for how the police acted on July 8, and on the other, people want the system to deal with Johannes Meheserle. They’ve failed in both cases, and I hope more people start to understand that this system – and by that I mean the whole thing – is not working for very many people. Maybe more on that another time.

End notes:

* The background: Very early in the morning on New Year’s Day 2009 Oscar Grant was fatally shot by BART officer Johannes Mehserle. On July 8 a jury convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a 2 to 4 years sentence, with a sentencing enhancement of up to 10 additional years for using a gun. On the day the verdict was announced, protests in Oakland started peacefully and after dark devolved into some window smashing and about 80 arrests. For more background and recent update on the case, check out Colorlines’ excellent coverage of the case.

**I’m not naming them because I like their business, and I’ll continue to patronize their establishment. But seriously, every time I read this comment, I just can’t believe that someone would say that.

More Information



  1. more unpacking said,

    Jen–Thanks for this.

    Let’s look again at the “only 19 of 78” figure. If you live a block from Oakland, you would have been counted as “not from Oakland,” even though that’s totally arbitrary. The figure doesn’t give us any sense of whether the supposed anarchists in question all lived a block away or were flown in from Toronto by the Canadian police department.

    Second–as a person who has been in more than my share of inconveniences with police, I know people sometimes give an address other than their actual home address when they are arrested. In some towns, for example, the corporate media will publish not only the names but also the addresses (!!) of arrestees–in that situation, you want to have given a far-away address, so you don’t have journalists or goons showing up at your house.

    So not only is this statistic a case of classic delegitimization, but taking it seriously also ignores how the power differential (between arrestees and the powers that be, including the media) inevitably affects the collecting of information.

    I’m sure there are lots of other worthwhile considerations on what this statistic could mean, but I’ll leave them to others. The bottom line is that people who have a certain agenda will often grab any “data” that seems to support their point. “Anti-anarchist” journalists and bloggers, especially those who have never been threatened by police themselves, should be ashamed.

  2. Hanna said,

    Yes, this whole “outsider” thing has been driving me crazy. Thanks for your points – I’d like to make a couple more.

    First of all, if protesters weren’t from Oakland, SO WHAT? This is not an Oakland issue; this is a Bay Area issue. This wasn’t OPD, it was BART Police. It seems to me like everyone from Daly City to Hayward to Walnut Creek SHOULD be there. I understand that some Oaklanders feel that it’s unfair their town had to suffer the impact of the protests, but they had to happen somewhere, and Oakland is not only where the incident happened to take place but also a central location that’s easier for everyone to get to.

    Second, those arrested may not have been representative of the crowd at large. It’s likely that protesters who do live in Oakland were better at avoiding arrest, due to their greater familiarity with the streets.

    Lastly, I think the motivation for harping on the “outsiders” theme (which started up well before the protests even happened) is to drive a wedge along racial lines. In some cases this was not even a subtext; commentators flatly referred to black residents and white anarchists. So let’s recognize this for what it is, and let’s ask ourselves why it has been so effective, and not just among mainstream consumers of capitalist media. It’s got people doubting themselves and each other, and instead of solidarity we’ve got suspicion and division. Why? Because it capitalizes on existing tensions and fears, and questions people have about how white people should engage in struggles against racism, POC leadership, and who bears the biggest burden of violent police response and future repression. There are real differences in opinion about tactics and strategies of resistance, but we shouldn’t let our solidarity be splintered so easily by a wedge campaign like this.

  3. The Inadvertent Gardener said,

    Thanks so much for the Twitter heads up that you used my Tweet in this post, and for this thoughtful analysis of the situation. As I Tweeted back to you last night, though I think you’re absolutely within your rights to use public Tweets as stand-alone primary source material for a post, I think it would have potentially been a much more interesting conversation if you’d contacted me (and perhaps @LudovicSpeaks, although I can only speak for myself here…) to get a little more context for the Tweet. We still might not share the same vision of what happened and how the world works, but it might have deepened your reporting and your thinking on this. Perhaps not, but I just put that out there for consideration.

    We absolutely agree on this: injustice in this world does not see jurisdictional boundaries. We should all be outraged about injustice, wherever it’s happening and whatever form it may take, whether that be racial profiling, or police brutality, or genital mutilation, or environmental disaster, or whatever….we should all care, we should all act, and we should all take action in our own communities, in the communities in question, wherever it is appropriate and within our abilities. I don’t think smashing up the windows of local businesses or writing graffiti all over walls and windows of a town is EVER an appropriate way to take action against injustice and, in fact, I think it has the absolute opposite effect, because it hardens the injust against the cause of those who are working for the right and the good.

    We also agree that there was MUCH less violence than the media made it out to be. I think the local news media was expecting and hankering for a story. Broken windows make good B-roll for the TV cameras, even if there are very few of said broken windows. As a former reporter, I know the difficult line to walk between the pressure to turn in a compelling story and the occasional responsibility to say to an editor: I’m sorry that you’re holding column inches or broadcast time for this, but there is no story here. (And, in this situation, there was definitely a story…I just don’t think it was the story that got told.)

    Side note: We have a business near my office that is a small mailing shop owned by African immigrants. I can’t imagine their margins are huge, and they are STILL closed as of 30 minutes ago in the wake of the events of July 9. All their windows were broken out and they’re still cleaning up the shop and trying to reopen. I find this incredibly tragic…and an example of how this kind of behavior hurts exactly those who cannot afford to take the economic hit, nor who contributed to the injustice.

    Where we disagree is the police department’s role in escalating or deescalating anything. Honestly, I was unbelievably impressed with the evidence I saw of a measured police response, and, in fact, signs that they were holding back and showing amazing restraint. When I saw how many cops were flooding in from so many jurisdictions, I was actually fairly worried that high spirits and tension would erupt into bad behavior on the part of the police. I’m certain there’s plenty I didn’t witness, so I’m speaking from what I saw on the media and what I saw firsthand and secondhand reports from friends and acquaintances (mostly photographers, often of many of those photographs to which you refer in your post) who were actually in the middle of things that night. But fundamentally and taken as a whole, from a policing perspective, the response and reaction was appropriate, restrained, and reasonable. I’m not speaking sheerly from opinion, here, either — I worked with a police issues think tank as they were putting together after-action research and reports following the WTO riots in Seattle and figuring out better ways for officers to keep the peace without infringing on the right to free speech and assembly. Many of the riot and crowd control procedures you see in effect today arose from that work.

    You are correct that most of the photos of people looting the Foot Locker store were not in what has come to be associated with anarchist clothing (black clothing/black bandannas). I can, however, report what I saw. When I went to Ogawa Plaza on my way home from work, I saw plenty of people (Oakland residents and others) who were using words, gestures, drawings and signs to express their opinion on the verdict. There was a lot of righteous anger. There was yelling. There was cussing. There was palpable anger at the media and the police. This is all perfectly right and OK and reasonable and good — we live in a country where we ALL should get the right to express ourselves in this way.

    But I saw, around the edges of the crowd, several people dressed in hoodies and who already had bandannas over their noses and mouths. They weren’t engaging in protest. I have no idea where they live — I didn’t check their IDs. They were, to a person, young white males. All of this is circumstantial evidence, and I didn’t follow any of them to see what their actions were later. But in light of what I saw happen to my town in January 2009, I made the assumption, based on the evidence before me, that these people were there for the entertainment value of a potential riot.

    No, anarchist and rioter do not mean the same thing. But let’s not be obtuse about it: they’re not always mutually exclusive, either.

  4. Jen Angel said,

    Hey everyone – thanks for the really awesome and thoughtful responses.

    First I want to say that I’ve been having some side discussions with a couple people about the property destruction/vandalism issue. I was trying (unsuccessfully, obviously) to avoid getting into that here and focus on the “anarchists = rioters” and “if you don’t live in oakland get out” narratives that I view as particularly damaging, but I’ve found the side conversations to be very interesting because it’s about asking hard questions – why didn’t people take their frustrations out on the BART station or headquarters instead of at local businesses (locally owned or not)? I don’t know the answer to that question.

    I also recognize that businesses, vandalized or not, and particularly locally owned/small businesses, suffered disproportionately during the “riot” and the lead up to it as the fear-mongering by the media and the build up by police scared people away from downtown.

    Also thanks Unpacking and Hanna for the additional perspectives on why the arrest figures and how they were publicized were misleading.

    And Inadvertent Gardner – I think it’s okay to interpret Facebook and Twitter posts for what they are – out of context 140 character updates that kind of float across your screen not attached to anything. That’s the nature of what they are, and since a lot of this post was about how I emotionally reacted to being told I was an outsider and I should “get out” – or that anarchists like myself were responsible for the looting – I think including a couple of the things that helped me feel react that way was fair and appropriate.

    I appreciate you sharing your experiences and what you witnessed there.

    I have been getting a lot of responses via email so as I have more thoughts, I’ll post them.

  5. solidad decosta said,

    1500 words later…

    Effectiveness, Ethics and Community
    A reply to Jen Angel’s “On Oscar Grant, Violence, and Outsiders”

    In looking at this situation, three questions come to mind:

    Effectiveness: What is obtained by a given action for oppressed and marginalized peoples?

    Ethics: What is the impact of a given action on oppressed and marginalized peoples?

    Community: What is the response from oppressed and marginalized peoples who are most directly impacted by a given action?

    More at http://www.boomcrash.net/2010/07/22/effectiveness-ethics-and-community/

  6. Carwil said,

    Thanks so much for putting your thoughts out there, Jen…

    My thoughts are a bit more complex, but I’m almost totally with you on the outsider question… although I think that Solidad is onto something with the “for oppressed and marginalized peoples” phrasing.

    Simply put, a measure of our activism is the likelihood that we will create a context of securing justice for Oscar Grant, deterrence for future shooters of people like him, and safety for all the people who will be in his place in the future. Anyone who has those goals in mind is not an outsider. I agree of course that some in the protests are far more or less likely to become a victim of an officer-involved shooting, but I want all those less-likely but more pissed-off members of the public out there with me, if you’ve got that priority screwed on straight.

    I have some big doubts about this claim of yours, though: “There are people unconnected to communities, social movements, or political activists, who will always come to hotspots to “fuck shit up” because they can and they think it’s fun. Ascribing political significance to them is a mistake.”

    I’ve met a lot of people down to ´fuck shit up,´ and I’ve seen some real evidence of cops or informants who are even more down. And I’ve seen some drunk fratlike folks who would burn a couch in defense of a drinking party. But I’ve never met or seen positive evidence of riot tourists who aren’t political. I think we have to own, at least as activists, the riot tourists are out there. Including whoever tagged, “Tonight downtown is our amusement park.” That person, by all evidence, is an activist (if Oakland PD planted someone to tag that, they are operating on way too cerebral level to meet their past behavior). And (s)he and I need to have a conversation. ‘Cause I’ve read the kind of literature that makes that slogan sound like a political statement. And such a slogan works great, say, at the 2005 Palo Alto Reclaim the Streets, in a context where boredom really does seem like a major form of capitalist oppression. But those of us who are bored with people who look like us being shot in the back or in the head, might be able to wait until that’s no longer the case to be amused. What works to build liberation is joy enough.

    That said, I’m in some way glad that white folks with their own agendas (whether to “live without dead time” or to end the police state) were part of the breaking of downtown objects. For one reason, at least. Every time there’s an urban uprising, the powers that be are quick to drag out the “race riot” card. Never mind that race riots (think Tulsa) have largely been a white on black affair in this country, and black riots have had a pretty sharp focus on property. The media story has almost always been: white folks, black rioters are coming to get you. That was the story in Cincinnati ten years ago, even as white residents of Over-the-Rhine streamed audio of what was actually going on to Indymedia. No such problem in Oakland last January or this June. I think the “outsider” media spin may have been primarily targeting this kind of crossracial alliance of the fired up. It would be consistent with the prosecutor’s decisions on the January 2009 riot: http://supporttheoakland100.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/video-the-oscar-grant-rebellions-hands-off-oakland-rebels/

    As far as the anarchist-but-not-rioter community, I think we’ve gotta represent for ourselves, by getting out there and visibly and effectively challenging this kind of injustice. Anarchist led efforts in Cincinnati included a Reclaim the Streets to call attention to the racist nature of the police curfew, a jail support camp that moved from supporting 12 RtS prisoners to supporting 600 “riot” prisoners, and a range of other activities. Surely, an anarchist occupation of BART HQ is a possibility, as is a committed involvement in the Justice for Oscar Grant work (which might be happening, for all I know). It seems clear to me that the Oakland 100 Support Committee has had a pretty big anarchist presence, as did the largest nonviolent action so far, disrupting Embarcadero BART. Now if anarchists can’t figure out another way to be visible than to block up in black…

    • solidad decosta said,

      Thanks for your insights, Carwil. Always a pleasure. :)

      I agree with you about riot tourists. I don’t think isolating people and saying “You threw a rock, begone” is going to yield much in the way of constructive improvement as per community building — it sounds like a solution — maybe — but it also rings too much of “weed out the troublemakers,” which always signals trouble from a variety of angles. Dialogue and building actual alternatives is a better way to suggest approaches other than “Riot? Party!”, which as you noted, many people are already doing.

      PS: I dig “What works to build liberation is joy enough.” Food for thought.

  7. ludovic said,

    I appreciate your post. FYI-if you quote me or someone else i expect a heads up–i think that’s just online etiquette.

    I any case–where is your race analysis? Can you unpack with a race lens (you can put class in there if you need to) “a lot of this post was about how I emotionally reacted to being told I was an outsider and I should “get out” – or that anarchists like myself were responsible for the looting “? is there any history that might lead POC community leaders to expect and declare white anarchist involvement in property destruction, separate from property and human destruction of cops? Is there any history in Oakland that would inform black folks to tell white folks that they are outsiders and to get out?

    In my 20 years of experience i have encountered white self-proclaimed anarchists disrupting events they have no role in planning. So have many of my friends of color. So have many people who responded to my tweets, including many white allies. So unless we’ve been hallucinating anarchists have a bad rap for a reason. Note, and please don’t derail using this tactic, i did not and never say ALL anarchists, or all problems are caused by anarchists. I am saying it is a significant enough problem that it’s something that i and many people i know who work in communities of color plan for, just as we plan for another mostly white privileged group–police.

    And the folks that i spoke with who organized the vigils, speak outs, trauma therapy, performances and other responses to what was likely going to be at best a disappointing if not infuriating verdict were incensed that what appeared to be white folks in black bandanas (which is how self-proclaimed anarchists often dress) doing what seemed to be coordinated actions that ran entirely counter to what those leaders had planned.

    If your post had copped to that perceived reality, and opined that you either agreed with it or think we’re al hallucinating, i might have more confidence in the rest of your analysis. But without some nod to at least the possibility of POC communities and leaders responding to white privilege, white gentrification of oakland, and other racialized facts, i’m unsure you are a reliable ally.

  8. Jen Angel said,

    Hi Ludovic – I apologize about not giving you a heads up, it was an oversight as I intended to let everyone know and thought I had. Also for the record I never thought you said “ALL anarchists.” Finally, I would not count myself as a reliable ally. I appreciate your thoughts here.

    Carwil and Solidad, thanks also for your input – a lot for me to process and maybe I’ll have more thoughts later.

    • ludovic said,

      Thanks for your frank response.

  9. more unpacking said,

    Speaking of unpacking…

    I know Jen wanted to stay on a specific topic, but if we’re going to go where Ludovic is taking the conversation, there’s a lot more unpacking to do. For example:

    “In my 20 years of experience i have encountered white self-proclaimed anarchists disrupting events they have no role in planning. ”

    I’ve heard this frequently in my (nearly twenty) years of organizing, too. Sometimes it was a fair criticism. Other times events went something more like this: some organizers planned one event, “self-proclaimed” anarchists planned another (I don’t like the qualifier because it recalls the language corporate media use to delegitimize), and controversy erupted from the ways the parallel planning panned out. Sometimes this is an organizational question–does everything have to pass through one structure, or are parallel planning structures acceptable in some cases? Which cases?

    I don’t mean to leave race and privilege out of this analysis–just to emphasize that there are multiple vectors in every discussion, not just race and class. An analysis that takes racialized power disparities into account but doesn’t ultimately offer the possibility of the decentralization of power and legitimacy leaves me cold.

    • solidad decosta said,

      “Sometimes this is an organizational question–does everything have to pass through one structure, or are parallel planning structures acceptable in some cases? Which cases?”

      Good question. I think there’s also a third category: group A starts a public event, then a call goes out that’s more militant in nature than what group A announced, then conflicts result on the day of the event. This happens so often at large anti-war rallies that it’s all but predictable.

      Please understand that I’m not saying that protest A is “legitimate” and protest B is not, just that I’m not sure it’s always the best of ideas to have both things overlap at the same time/location/etc. from start to finish. I think the idea of having different levels of engagement at protests, a la DNC 2008 etc, is a way to avoid “I didn’t sign up for this, and my kids didn’t either” vs. “Liberal sellout culture, whatever” sorts of conflicts. Thoughts?

  10. solidad decosta said,

    One more thing. There’s also the question of what to do when a large event is not going to be a diversity of tactics sort of situation, as per above. I think showing up *and* pushing the envelope at such times is part of what gets up a bad rep in some circles. It’s a more basic issue than race/class/et. al. dynamics, it’s a fairly fundamental respect issue as well.

  11. Cynthia Morse said,

    I was not at the Oakland protest but live close to Oakland, in Berkeley. I’ve participated in protests and demonstrations in San Francisco, in Oakland, in Berkeley, and in New York.

    At many of these events, seemingly-young people (definitely white) wearing scarves across their faces watched the proceedings in groups. They followed when there was a march, but did not become part of it. At the end of the action, when some participants were drifting off and some gathered in conversation, those scarf-wearing individuals began what they obviously were there for–destroying property.

    They always identify themselves as “anarchists,” and I always let them know that anarchism is a political philosophy and doesn’t include property destruction. They insist that the principle involved is to protest capitalism, but this is always after the fact. What I’ve seen is a lot of enthusiasm and enjoyment of the window-breaking and random property destruction.

    I have never heard of these people organizing a protest to make their points—they always do their thing under cover of organized and thoughtful demonstrations. They did it in Seattle, and in New York, and in San Francisco, and in Oakland. This is their normal practice. They aren’t involved at all in the purpose of the protest. In fact, I’ve been told by some that they don’t have to respect any part of the actions they take advantage of, because “we’re anarchists.”

    They aren’t, they’re acting-out hoodlums who enjoy the destruction. They purposely have no connection with the demonstrations they sabotage. Call them “outsiders” or “anarchists,” but always use quotation marks because what they do has no connection to either of those terms.

    As for the pictures of looters that were publicized, that’s all they were. If they broke any windows it was instigated by the “anarchists.” The thieves pictured were taking advantage of the situation already created. Those that started the window-breaking and random destruction move fast; I’ve only seen a few news pictures of them in action.

    • solidad decosta said,


      Far be it from me to defend a tactic I don’t especially espouse, but there’s almost no way to respond to that comment. It’s not a criticism as much as a declaration of how wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong someone is. Thanks for your opinion though.

    • Andy said,


      I understand your frustration. You’re definitely justified in being upset at the people who came to cause property damage. But there’s more at work then what there appears to be in my opinion.

      I think that the image of white, scarf-clad anarchists showing up to destroy property and then leave is one that the corporate media purposely conjures up. In my home town we anarchists are involved with and organize collective houses, community gardens, infoshops and lending libraries, free schools, solidarity unions, protests, and giving assistance to groups who are new to direct action. In most major cities across the U.S. and Canada it’s the same too. The fact that some of these anarchists choose to wear black and cause property damage leads to the creation a new identity in the eyes of people in the community. That person who was teaching a workshop on canning salsa or organizing workers at a starbucks franchise is not seen as the same person who was smashing a Macy’s window. But can you blame them for hiding their identity?

      I think the problem lies in the fact that “black bloc” anarchists and folks who come to or plan protests have become completely separated by the corporate media. At the WTO Seattle ’99 summit the media portrayed it as “anarchists smashing windows” and “ordinary folks being hurt by cops who were trying to stop the riots.” They didn’t talk about how various black blocs actually protected protesters when there were confrontations with the cops. Or how plenty of anarchists acted as medics in the marches, helping people who had been sprayed with tear gas or beat up by the cops. This image resonated with community organizers around the U.S. and Canada, and at every large summit since then the “planned” protest has been afraid of and angry at the black bloc. There’s no trust between the groups anymore, so the mutual aid that existed before is gone now.

      I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with the actions of black-clad people who committed property destruction in Oakland, I’m just trying to deconstruct the situation we can all learn from it and maybe move forward from this so-called “split” between anarchists and protesters.

  12. solidad decosta said,

    @Andy: Thanks for saying what I couldn’t wrap my fingers around. Appreciated :)

  13. Jen Angel said,

    Thanks for bringing up that really great point Andy, about how the media has led to a stereotype of anarchists – and was really part of what I was trying to get at without discussing whether property destruction/vandalism is a valid tactic or not. Or the fact that as a tactic, it can be used strategically and not strategically.

    I’d like to emphasize again that allowing the media and the police to tell us who are the good guys and who are the bad guys is giving up control to them – and it also trusting the people who we also oppose. Do we trust cops to make good arrests but also to shoot unarmed people? Can we question the structure that makes us oppose and rely on the same institutions?

    I was about to say, in reflection of Andy’s point that anarchists in most cities do great and helpful projects too, maybe they need to be more “out” about our identities – but we all know that anarchists can be as “out” as they want to be and corporate media will still choose what story to tell.

  14. Mike King said,

    This whole trope of outside agitators stretches back to the civil rights movement where Northern “outside agitators” were disturbing the so-called peace of the Jim Crow South. Although the context of white supremacy has changed, there are certain parallels here.

    The other piece of this Oaklanders vs. “outside agitators” is the obvious inequality that exists in the city. Like most cities, there are 2 Oaklands: one of the working class/lumpen and one of the upper middle class. The people making this “outside agitator” claim are almost exclusively middle/upper-middle class or police or corporate media. What do those people have in common with residents of East or West Oakland? What kind of experience does this class of people have with police violence?

    These people want to convince themselves and others that these very real contradictions do not breed real resentment, anger, violence, etc. This class of people seeks to assure itself that everything is really fine, with the exception of “outside agitators”, seeking to ignore the ‘powder keg’ (as Malcolm used to call it) within their own house.

    • solidad decosta said,

      @Mike: This conversation continues to be both accurate and useful. Thank you.

      What do they have in common with residents of East and West Oakland? You mean other than breathing air? ;)

      What experience do they have with police violence? Most likely none, save for possibly the occasional BS at a rally or such; while this can be a transforming experience, it can also be rationalized away in a number of ways, instead of placed within a larger context of police violence.

  15. Joe No Se said,

    While I don’t disagree with much of what has been posted and blogged here, I am uncomfortable with what has become a common occurrence around these debates. Someone with a whole lot to say about dynamics at the rally will casually mention well into a tense discussion that they were not at the Mehserle verdict rally for … reasons. One of the most amazing recent such comments had an incredibly pressing commitment to go on a bike ride which they explained prevented them from coming out in solidarity, another had to go rock climbing. At least the author admits they just were not willing to risk arrest but still it seems like folks who stood home should not be the voices I hear from most about July 9th.

    I did go. And I went for reasons similar to the argument Jen laid out about the way I live my life, with the exception that I will not have police presence intimidate me from expressing myself freely. I was there with my wife and two kids ages 2 and 4. To follow the logic of Jen’s argument imagine what would happen if every time there was a threat of significant police presence everyone stood home. Don’t worry Jen, I’m certainly not one of the one’s saying “stay home outsiders”. I’m saying let’s all be Presente. But if we are not Presente when it counts, let’s not try to be the most Presente on Monday morning.

    One comment dismissed the concerns of Oakland residents by describing the Oakland boundaries as arbitrary and evoking the one block away argument (which may apply to 2 people who went to the protest).

    I’m sorry, but I have to say that yes there is a significant difference between the experience of Oakland Bart Patrons and say Berkeley Bart patrons (I know i have been both). How Bart cops react to an incident in Downtown Berkeley versus Fruitvale is measurably different. How crowded the train ride is, how many bike parking spots are available, is the Bart station in a residential community or a commercial one, the list of issues is too long to lay out here. Let’s not pretend like local folks of color don’t have legitimate reasons to have some resentment when they perceive that privileged folks who don’t live in their community are the vanguard of actions that further injure their community. Is that what happened? We may never know. But what most people noticed and it is not right to pretend it away is that during the vast majority of the rally there was a large crowd of folks very engaged in the speak out with community members. There was also a significant crowd whose demographics were much whiter than the other group hanging back paying no attention to the community speak out and many wore garb to hide their identity. Is it jumping to conclusions to assume that those cats were opportunist, just there to have a good thrill and not terribly concerned about Oscar Grant his fam, or local folks of color and what they do tomorow, Yes totally! But can you expect folks not to jump to those conclusions given the race and class realities in this country and region?

    At Walnut creek there was no property damage which should be another reminder that the experience of various communities connected by BART is very different and class and race matters. Local Oakland folks who have a right to be pist at folks rallying in defense, yes in defense of Mehserle went to Walnut Creek and no local businesses in Walnut creek have to pay any price for this. So, low-income communities of color have to carry the burden of hyper policed communities with constant police violence and then in the struggle to resist this the same community is asked to shoulder the broken windows.

    Let me be clear, i do not condemn the choice to damage property or loot. Frankly I keep my finger pointed at the police and the justice system that was the catalyst for rage and property damage (whether it was opportunist or not). But having folks try to dismiss POC’s resentment and sense of injustice about privilege and disproportionate bearing of consequences is a little to easy of a way out for the young white kids who did come in significant numbers and rode the adrenalin because they have the privilege to do so and bare minimal consequences.

  16. Jen Angel said,

    Hi Joe I really appreciate your comments and think you are really right on a lot of things, thanks for asking challenging questions.

    I want to be clear that I was not arguing for or against vandalism as a tactic, nor do I deny that white people were involved in or might have instigated the vandalism. I was only attempting to say, however ineloquently, that “anarchist” and “rioter” or “looter” are not interchangeable, and I think we are all mostly agreed on that point.

    I agree that Walnut Creek and downtown Oakland are totally different scenarios, (and that my experience in those places is totally different than others’ experience in those places) but I appreciate you putting some of the blame on police – I mean, the Mehserle support rally wasn’t proceeded by weeks of build up by Police saying they were going to be there with 20,000 officers and maybe they were going to use a sound cannon.

    “I’m saying let’s all be Presente. But if we are not Presente when it counts, let’s not try to be the most Presente on Monday morning.” Who decides “when it counts”?

  17. Infinite City & Other Books « Aid & Abet said,

    […] San Francisco, san francisco bay area, sf moma, stieg larsson, uc press) And now on to much less controversial topics (hopefully), maybe a few book reviews? And then I want to talk about economics. And […]

  18. Jen Angel said,

  19. Jen Angel said,

    Every time I read Kate Raphael’s blog, Democracy sometimes, I have more and more respect for her and her knowledge and how thoughtful she is about sharing that with everyone. Her post two days after the “riot,” “How Oakland’s Leaders Started A Riot” is here:


    Where she calls out the systemic reasons as well as deliberate choices of city leadership that lead to the window smashing and looting. Here’s a couple paragraphs from the end:

    “Yes, there were people who came from Berkeley and San Francisco and probably Walnut Creek, and even maybe a few from Oakland who planned to loot and break windows. That’s what they do, it’s what they believe in. Some of them are even friends of mine, but in this context, they’re the disrespectful assholes who spraypainted “Oakland is our amusement park tonight” on the side of a building –NO IT’S NOT, GUYS! But even those people, or maybe especially those people, would not have bothered destroying stuff if there hadn’t been an audience or anyone to give them counterattack.

    “It’s true that if the cops and the City had not been out in force, if they had not been guilty of overplanning, and there had been one window broken, the media and the white pundits would never have let them hear the end of it. What the media and the pundits are not pointing out, now that it has passed with the tedium of a badly scripted play, is that all that overreaction did not prevent any looting or property damage. The businesses that wanted to avoid having their windows broken knew what to do and did it – they boarded up. I watched a Vietnamese restaurant throwing up plywood sheets over their storefront as their last customers walked out with bags of takeout. It took them about 20 minutes and doubtless saved them a thousand bucks and a lot of heartache.

    “Anyone who was seriously interested in looting would have known that any other street in the East Bay was a better bet for it that night than downtown Oakland. You could probably have knocked over banks in Fremont and Hayward that night and gotten away with it, since nearly every cop in Alameda County was in that ten-block area of Oakland. So the people who chose to break the windows of Footlocker and Subway in downtown Oakland did it because they wanted to provoke a reaction. If the police had not obliged them, they would have gone home and the less privileged kids who followed their example, whether lured by the appeal of new shoes or the excitement of the conflict, would not have been left to pay the price.

    “If Oakland’s leadership, political and civil, spent as much time trying to prevent the periodic recurrences of the Rodney King-Sean Bell-Oscar Grant killings as they spend trying to prevent people’s anger at injustice from overflowing in unproductive ways, we might not be doomed to keep playing out this pathetic scenario over and over again.”

  20. Jen Angel said,

    And here’s a response from local anarchists to some coverage in the East Bay Express:


    My favorite quote: “Like all the others squawking about the ethnicity and residences of those arrested, Gammon presumes they are already guilty of whatever crimes for which the police decided to arrest them. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence? Gammon knows that the innocent (in this case chess players) also get arrested, but blames that too on the anarchists.”

  21. Twitter: How-to and Who to Follow « Aid & Abet said,

    […] news on the other. Want to know what’s going on at the Wisconsin State Capital? Twitter! Oscar Grant verdict protest? […]

  22. Florencia said,

    I actually have a tendency to go along with pretty much everything that is posted inside “On Oscar Grant, Violence, and Outsiders | Aid & Abet” goodpays .

    Thanks a lot for all the actual tips.Thanks for the post,Christopher

  23. FAG bearing said,

    So this brings us back to the shoe lace I am tripping on for the second time. They had all been reared in the same home under the same conditions. A lot of grease while in the bearing will cause the grease stirred excessively in order that the temperature will be too higher.

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