Eating popcorn in bed for dinner while watching The Times of Harvey Milk sometimes just seems like the best idea.
Earlier this week I played a show at El Rio with Chicken and Jen and Rae Spoon. (I forgot to practice again.) The last time I played a show at El Rio and forgot to practice, it was a benefit for the New Jersey 4. This time around, those of us who found ourselves on the too-big dance floor of El Rio's back room were notable for where we were not - downtown Oakland, protesting the January 1st murder of Oscar Grant and the DA's and local authorities' mishandling of the case. All of these events - the immediate arrests and subsequent convictions of 3 and a half to eleven years for each of the four young black lesbians from Jersey, and the close-range shooting of a young unarmed black man with his hands behind his back, as well as the two week delay in arresting his assailant Johannes Mehserle - are not unrelated. They are both ultimately about power, and how it plays out in our justice system - rooted as it is in the post-slavery scramble to keep black youth outnumbered and outgunned.
On the one hand, seven women who knew of Sakia Gunn and understood the threat their young black and queer bodies posed, defended themselves. They were not unarmed and pleading "Please don't shoot" with their hands behind their backs. They were immediately arrested for the un-fatal stabbing of a violently homophobic misogynist, the original testimony of the "victim" was erased from the record, and the supposed weapon was never tested for DNA. On the other hand, a man was on the ground and pleading when he was shot by a cop (protected by his fellow cops on the scene) in front of hundreds of Bay Area Rapid Transit users. The killer was allowed to roam free - roam all the way to Nevada, in fact - despite the fact that several witnesses caught the shooting on video tape. On the one hand, we can defend ourselves and get locked up; on the other, we can lay on the ground helpless and get shot. We can get locked up or we can die. It is an old and familiar tale.
The first time folks out of the west coast really heard about Oscar Grant was not when Oscar Grant died. It was when Oaklanders rose up in the streets a week later, burning trash cans and jumping on top of cop cars. It was not until then that the national press found any reason to talk about the shooting death of a young black man, and even then it was only in passing, a side-note to the real point of the matter which was/is property destruction. Maybe if New Orleans had burned over Adolph Grimes' murder, we'd be hearing about it over here. (Although I think not, considering the national press' moratorium on non-hurricane related stories in New Orleans post-Katrina.)
At the conclusion of The Times of Harvey Milk, we are told that Harvey never wanted any violence over him, that he would have been unhappy with the riots that ensued after Dan White was convicted to just a few years with the "Twinkie defense." And then there's Harry Britt, Milk's reluctant replacement on the SF Board of Supervisors, saying that "We were responding with anger. We were angry." Riots are what happen when angry people are not listened to.
We are again at a moment, in 2009, of anger. There is a movement against the options - to be locked up or to be laid down - that is being ignored, like a pot of soup on high heat. No one seems too interested in history repeating itself. I wonder what will happen this year.
*special shout out goes to riotstorebellions for this one.