Everyone can’t protest.
It’s your American right to gather peacefully in protest. But everyone can’t protest.
Last night, we saw images from St. Louis, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and here in Oakland, where hundreds gathered to block the 580 Freeway and express their outrage that Darren Wilson was not indicted by a grand jury for shooting Mike Brown, an unarmed teenager.
During Oakland’s protest in solidarity with the people of Ferguson in honor of Mike Brown, I saw people. Lots of people: White people, Asians, African Americans, Middle Easterners. Oakland’s multicultural folks put their best foot forward. But the numbers were slanted. It was easily majority white people voicing their frustrations with the system.
I saw folks in full cloaks—masked up, with North Face jackets zipped to the neck, necks wrapped in black rags or scarves, beanies and sunglasses. If it weren’t for white hands poking out, I wouldn’t have known their race. The people burning stuff and spray-painting weren’t just white kids from the suburbs. I saw a group of young Hispanic men, one of whom is a student of mine at a local high school, set fire to a piece of cardboard at a bus stop near Grand and Lakeshore. The fire was stomped out by a brawny white woman with a short haircut.
I even saw a couple of young Black men I know, they were spray painting the words “Black Lives Matter” on the concrete of an overpass near Grand Ave.
But not everyone who was outraged could be on the streets. The burden of violence in Oakland is not distributed equally across the city. Most of the homicides occur in East Oakland—in some years, more than 70 percent of the killings occur east of 35th ave. Those are the neighborhoods that are normally full of police presence. That's about five miles from where the protests took place. Some people call that part of East Oakland the killing fields.
And yet, the neighborhoods east of Lake Merritt were quiet; or at least no louder than usual.
I grew up in Oakland. I know it's not because no one is paying attention.
There are people in East Oakland who have been following the Mike Brown saga since the news of the shooting broke on August 9, 2014. Those people are mad, but they couldn’t go downtown and “fight the system.” There might’ve been transportation issues, kids to watch, or a job to prepare for in the morning.
You have to have some type of privilege to protest. Hell, you have to be able to get downtown—and the busses weren't running on a normal schedule. The people from Deep East Oakland were few and far between. The numbers at the protest didn’t reflect Oakland’s demographics. Instead, they were more like the voter turnout, older and whiter than the actual population.
My question: how does the rest of America deal with this? That portion of America that didn’t get out and exercise their rights, how do they exorcise their emotions?
There are angry grandmothers in Brookfield, bottling up emotion because they aren’t able to go where they can be heard. There are mothers in Maxwell Park—fearful that America’s justice system might come down on one of their children. And because they have to feed their children, they can’t risk getting arrested for protesting.
There is a young man somewhere in East Oakland who feels like he can do nothing to tell America that he matters. He might have a warrant, be on parole, or just plain scared of being around cops. He doesn’t walk downtown to burn stuff. Instead, he walks to the corner store at the end of his block to buy a cigarillo, so he can burn one. Just like Mike Brown.
"I write about the future (Associate Producer at @ThisIsFusion).
I write about the past (publisher of #OGToldMe).
Oakland, CA raised me."