SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The father of Oscar Grant III, whose death at the hands of a transit police officer in 2009 sparked widespread protests and led to police oversight reforms at a Bay Area public transit agency, told a crowd of protesters in downtown Oakland Wednesday to keep fighting for justice.
“I want to thank you for pushing the issues and standing up for what’s right,” Oscar Grant Jr. told a crowd outside Oakland City Hall on Wednesday afternoon.
Grant Jr. was convicted and imprisoned in 1985 for the murder of Anthony Epps, 24, in East Oakland. He told the San Francisco Bay View newspaper in 2013 that the shooting resulted from a drug deal gone bad. He said a rival gang paid witnesses to testify against him, securing a false murder conviction.
Grant Jr. served more than 30 years in prison for what he maintains was a false murder conviction. Meanwhile, the officer that shot his son was released in 2011 after serving half of a two-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
“I’m going to continue struggling and fighting,” Grant Jr. said in brief comments to the crowd. “I’m going to make sure they pay for it.”
JR Vallrey of East Oakland also addressed the crowd Wednesday, telling demonstrators that he doesn’t like the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” That has become the slogan for a movement against the well documented tendency of law enforcement to target people of color with violence and deadly force.
“Black lives always mattered,” Vallrey said. “I don’t need a validation of that.”
The 42-year-old black man equally dislikes the terms “good protesters” and “bad protesters.” Whether opponents of racial injustice are “handing out lollipops that say ‘Fuck the police’” or throwing rocks, they are all “soldiers on the battlefield,” he said.
After delivering those comments, Vallrey explained in a brief interview why he disagrees with those who criticize protesters who break windows or insist that property destruction is counterproductive to the goals of fighting systemic racism.
“Violence doesn’t happen against unliving things,” he said. “To equate the destruction of a building or window with a life, you can’t equate the two. You can replace a window. You can’t replace somebody’s life.”
Vallrey believes the resistance must fight on many different levels. He is not married to one particular tactic, but he is married to the objective of ending racist oppression.
“If passive means don’t achieve the objective, then more radical means become necessary because we are not accepting no on our survival and wellbeing,” he said.
Also addressing the crowd Wednesday was Markos Gonzalez, a 32-year-old Oakland resident. Gonzalez recalled feeling powerless when he watched the disturbing video of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, knowing he could do nothing to stop it. He later realized that people lifting their voices against injustice are powerful, he said.
“As long as you have a voice, you’re not powerless,” Gonzalez cried.
Succatti Shaw, a 46-year-old black mother, said what upsets her most is having to train her son on what to do when he walks outside, knowing he must follow a different protocol to avoid being harmed by police because of his skin color.
“Some people say ‘Bad things happen,’” Shaw said. “Bad things don’t happen. Racist things happen.”
Shaw urged people to vote and to research candidates and ballot measures before they vote. She said not voting helps enable police unions to maintain their grip on power over government officials and policies.
“If you didn’t vote, you were a key factor in George Floyd being murdered,” Shaw said.
Glancing at all the faces in the crowd, Shaw said she expects to see each and every one of them at City Council meetings and County Board of Supervisors meetings “because they don’t care about us until we stand up.”
A diverse crowd of more than 100 people spent four hours listening to presenters speak their minds about racial injustice on a hot and sunny day in downtown Oakland. The rally was organized by Bay Area Community Services, which offered free water bottles to those in attendance. Taqueria Los Pericos, of San Leandro, also gave out hundreds of free burritos to demonstrators.