Grave Robbery in San Francisco: Protesters Evoke Oscar Grant's Bloody Corpse to Flog their Causes in Gaza, Greece, and God Knows What Else
The Prison-Industrial Complex or the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy or whatever form The Man is assuming these days can rest easy in his bed. That's because the rabble-rousing radical left (aka white kids from the East Bay wearing hankies over their faces) can't stay on point.
Monday night's Civic Center protest was supposed to be about 22-year-old Oscar Grant, shot dead by a BART cop on New Year's Day. From there, it morphed into how we're all living in a police state. From there, naturally, pro-Palestinian chants rang out. And from there, somehow, it was tied in to whatever the hell is going on in Greece. In other words, this was a bald-faced, callous exploitation of Grant's tragic death to raise some hell, chant incoherently into a bullhorn, and tell some cops on their best behavior -- who everyone knew wouldn't lift a finger -- to go fuck themselves.
Of course, that's not how the protesters see it. "This struggle is a global struggle. This is not just about Oscar Grant," said one speaker. "The whole problem is connected to people in Palestine and people in Greece being violated," added another. "The media is covering this up!" ranted yet another speaker as eight TV trucks idled nearby and two helicopters hovered overhead.
I didn't get the chance to write down much in my notebook -- I was standing a good eight feet away from the speakers and most of them seemed to have trouble operating the bullhorn. But one fellow did, unmistakably, say that this is "the richest country in America," while another noted that "If I went out and killed someone today, I'd be immediately arrested for murder" -- showing he really doesn't know much about the San Francisco Police Department.
What happened Monday night was a farce that made my colleagues and I in the media look as shallow and foolish as critics of the so-called "mainstream media" say we are. Truth be told, none of us were there for any reason other than a posting on Indybay.org that intimated an Oakland-style riot was imminent. So those of us carrying cameras and notebooks shifted our weight from one foot to another as speaker after frothy-mouthed speaker took his turn attempting to do his best imitation of Rage Against The Machine frontman Zack De La Rocha while finding new words to rhyme with "Fuck the Police." But we were only there because we thought someone might break something, and everybody knew it.
At one point, a couple of protesters hit the floor and assumed the position Grant was in when he was shot dead by Officer Johannes Mehserle. The two demonstrators were then documented from every angle by no fewer than nine photographers. It was that kind of night. Incidentally, I'd be shocked if more than 100 demonstrators showed up (though stragglers did seem to join in from time to time).
After around 30 minutes of braying, the man with the bullhorn led the crowd on a march from Civic Center to Powell Street BART. The police lined the sides of the street the entire time, funneling the masses in a straight line like armed, helmeted border collies. And they took no chances -- the cops blocked the entrances and exits of every Muni station we passed and trains full of passengers rolled right through Powell station. The old men playing chess, however, didn't even look up from their games.
After yet more speechifying -- many in the crowd grew restless and became distracted when it became clear that no one knew how to end this thing -- the bullhorn man took off again, leading the crowd down Market, past Montgomery BART and then veering left onto Sansome Street. When the marchers hit Bush Street, everyone took off running and, like rotten banana with a firecracker within it, the crowd ruptured and scattered into various corners of the city.
Police who had been calmly marching along the side of the road began to run like hell and motorcycles whizzed through the street. "Set the skirmish line at Sutter! Set the skirmish line at Sutter!" one cop shouted into his walkie-talkie. A pod of demonstrators ran through Union Square and kicked and threw chairs belonging to the outdoor cafe -- the very chairs that had oppressed Oscar Grant for the entirety of his young life. A few others knocked over newspaper stands -- I think it was the Examiner. That paper always hounded Grant mercilessly when he was alive.
After the action had petered out, a pod of the self-proclaimed anarchists were buying five-dollar foot-longs at the Subway on Market Street; they'd taken off their kaffiyehs so they could eat. They confirmed that, yes, they were from Oakland -- and, yes, they'd come here on BART.
They did not see the irony in this, considering the ostensible subject of Monday's protest. BART, they pointed out, was there to serve them. When it was suggested that, perhaps on this night, they could have taken the Transbay Bus, one of the teenagers blurted out "Have you ever tried taking the Transbay Bus from Oakland?"
Yeah, it's hard. But, then again, so is having actual ideals and substantive ideas.