A good friend of mine, call him Z, paid me a visit last week. I met Z in graduate school in NYC close to ten years ago and he currently resides in Athens. As the child of Greek parents, he had an option to get Greek citizenship (sort of like a right of return) and decided to do so a few years ago. I have not seen him for close to two years so we discussed a lot of things, mostly our personal lives, the standard trials and tribulations, I was also able to pick his brain about the riots in Athens.
You probably know these riots started after the police killed a Greek teen. College students and other youth took to the streets and started breaking windows and clashing with the police. V has a soft spot for anarchism and libertarian socialism but he has little time for anarcho-vandals. Rather than seeing the riots as a replay of Paris 68, he saw it as an outburst or tantrum. This was an expression of political impotency rather than political strength and solidarity. He explained the riots provide a steam valve of sorts in a society that rarely charges the police officers involved in acts of brutality (and has never sent a single officer to jail) or the rioters who throw bricks and molotav cocktails. It is all business as usual over there. Almost like a game.
Another point Z made was that Greece has seen a influx of immigrants or “guest workers” from Eastern Europe and Africa. He doubted the populace would have been in such an uproar had the person killed been African. He said “no one would have cared.” So much for international proletarian solidarity.
The same week V was in town, I read about a police shooting in my former home, Oakland, California. Early New Year’s morning, an officer of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police shot Oscar Grant while he was being detained. The shooting was recorded by at least one cellphone and was subsequently uploaded to Youtube (I am not providing links to any of the videos).
BART police stopped the twenty-two year old Grant early New Year’s morning in response to a group of African-American males fighting on the train station platform. While the precise details of the incident are still emerging, videos show Grant detained by two officers when a third officer shot and killed him. Grant does not appear to be a threat to the officers or the public when he was killed. However, in contrast to those who call this a “police lynching”, judging by the look of shock on the officers faces, it seems more like a tragic accident than an execution.
The slow response and lack of action by the BART police led to frustration and in some cases anger. A demonstration was called for January 8 that ended in what is being described as a riot by the international press.
From what I’ve read and heard from family and friends a very small area was impacted. A few storefronts of small businesses were broken, a public teacher’s car was trashed, and a few Oakland PD cars were damaged (even though the OPD was not involved in the incident). The teacher noted a protester telling her, “fuck your car.”
The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
The roving mob expressed fury at police and frustration over society’s racial injustice. Yet the demonstrators were often indiscriminate, frequently targeting the businesses and prized possessions of people of color.
They smashed a hair salon, a pharmacy and several restaurants. Police in riot gear tried to control the crowd, but some people retreated along 14th Street and bashed cars along the way.
The mob smashed the windows at Creative African Braids on 14th Street, and a woman walked out of the shop holding a baby in her arms.
“This is our business,” shouted Leemu Topka, the black owner of the salon she started four years ago. “This is our shop. This is what you call a protest?”
“I feel like the night is going great,” said Nia Sykes, 24, of San Francisco, one of the demonstrators. “I feel like Oakland should make some noise. This is how we need to fight back. It’s for the murder of a black male.”
Sykes, who is black, had little sympathy for the owner of Creative African Braids.
“She should be glad she just lost her business and not her life,” Sykes said. She added that she did have one worry for the night: “I just hope nobody gets shot or killed.”
[Added: Ms. Sykes claims she was misquoted “grossly out of context”.]
Videos online (Youtube and elsewhere) show African-American teens and white anarchists in their 20s participating in vandalism. Anarchists also claimed responsibility for vandalizing the North Berkeley BART station the day after the demonstration claiming, ” From the East Bay to Greece – WE ARE EVERYWHERE!” Other protesters made a shameless connection between Oakland and Gaza.
As of this post, three miscreants have been arrested and formally charged:
A 28-year-old Oakland man was charged with misdemeanor possession of a concealed weapon and possession of a loaded firearm. He was arrested on the 2000 block of Broadway at about 11 p.m. and blurted out when arrested “I’ve got guns in both my pockets”, police said. Police found two semi-automatic pistols, one in each pocket.
A 20-year-old Oakland man charged with felony possession of cocaine and misdemeanor vandalism. He was one of those arrested for breaking windows McDonalds on 14th and Jackson streets.
The third person charged was a 30-year-old San Francisco man, who was arrested when officers saw him setting fire to a garbage can at 14th and Clay streets at about 10 p.m. He was charged with felony arson.
What is illustrative to me is how the story is framed. For example, I was listening to a public radio broadcast where the host referred to the “obvious instance of police brutality” in this case and a Canadian morning show that made mention of looting. Bear in mind there has been no investigation, let alone a trial, there was no looting, but the mainstream media was ready, willing and able to expect the worst.
Oakland Tribune: Not quite a riot, but terrifying
Stanley Crouch: A rage in Oakland
Ta-Nehesi Coates: Oscar Grant