Walking With Oscar Grant - From Tejas to Oakland
I had only been in California for six days when I attended the protest against the release of Johannes Mehserle, the BART cop that killed Oscar Grant. I'd heard the story online from my friends in the Bay Area, so I knew that I wanted to be there at the Fruitvale BART station to make my voice heard along with the voices of so many others from my new community. I didn't realize, however, that when Bay Area folks protest, they give it their all.
Getting my pre-protest nap in was of primary importance. I was still a little tired from adjusting to my new home in North Oakland, with the two-hour time change from Texas still affecting me, so I took a disco nap before heading to the Ashby BART station. It took me about fifteen minutes to walk to the station, because I have chronic pain and I have to take it slowly. I ended up having to wait about fifteen minutes for the train, which is good considering I come from a town with barely any public transportation at all.
When I got to the Fruitvale station, the first thing I noticed was the number of people, especially the amount of police, which I thought was really unnecessary, even for a protest in Oakland. I looked around and noticed the diversity in the crowd---Socialists, Communists, Quakers, queer folks, anti-war peeps, punks, people from the Nation of Islam---it reminded me of the demonstrations I attended when I lived in Austin. People were passing out fliers, in all sorts of colors, of different events and organizations.
There were several speakers, but I really couldn't hear much except for a lot of applause. It was a little frustrating trying to make out words and phrases, and my learning disability decided to manifest itself at the most inopportune time, so I walked around for a bit.
When it came time for the march, I found myself close to the front, because I was watching a geeky, bespectacled, radical guy in a thrift store suit. After a few blocks of marching, I asked him how much longer the march was, and that I was from Texas, where we didn't march for very long distances. He looked at me funny and said that we had many more blocks to walk. At that point, I realized that "chanclas" were not appropriate protest wear, no matter how popular sandals may be in Texas, and I should have left my Hello Kitty mochila at home---a backpack was totally unnecessary.
We marched past panaderias, taquerias, carnicerias... I was reminded of Magnolia Park, Montopolis, and Oak Cliff back home.
"We are all--- Oscar Grant. We are all--- Oscar Grant. Oscar Grant--- Oscar Grant."
I tried not to focus on my blistering feet. I found the marching band and my band geek self came back for a while. Whenever I hear drums, I start to get in rhythm and pretend I am some kind of hippie drum majorette.
Then I heard people chanting "Fuck the Police" and I joined the group, shouting and reflecting on how I could not express that sentiment at a protest back home without ending up in the Del Valle jail, watching Maury, eating "cat food" (ham salad), and drinking expired milk. I thought of all my friends back in Texas, progressive as they may seem, and how to them, "Fuck the Police" is just another NWA song (or Rage Against the Machine, depending on the friend). I realized that I am a lot more radical than the people I hang around, and that my time in California will forever change me. I also thought of growing up in Texas, where cops have had a long tradition of genocide against people of color. I always thought that it was wrong to treat people badly just because of who they might be. I thank my mother for enrolling me in culturally diverse schools so that I might learn a different way from her generation, though I know she wouldn't approve of my being at this demonstration---she's more of the "write letters to the editor" type.
The closer we got to downtown, the more I resolved to make it all the way to the end without quitting. My feet were incredibly torn up, after several suburban months of being totally unused to walking distances longer than from my partner's car to our front door.
I kept thinking of how Mehserle can go on with his life, while Oscar Grant and others like him cannot, and how the system just doesn't care. I started screaming along with the others chanting, and I found my second wind, albeit briefly.
Once we got to the BART station downtown, my disabled body couldn't take it anymore. My muscles and joints had flared up, so I needed to go home. I entered the train station and once again noticed a large amount of cops. They didn't notice me as I took the escalator to the train platform. I thought that if I hadn't been a light-skinned person, then they might have given me shit, and about how much I hate "passing oppression."
Silence followed me like a nighttime Texas wind all the way home.