"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Monday, July 12, 2010

Emmett Till versus Oscar Grant

At the recent SF Freedom School session, we had a very involved and interesting discussion that revolved around comparing the events and organizing surrounding the murder of Emmett Till (1955 in MS) and Oscar Grant (2009 in Oakland). As with most discussions of events that are very emotional and complex, we were only beginning to scratch the surface when we had to stop.

I am hoping we can use the blog to keep the conversation going.... Face to face is superior to blogs, but blogs have their place too.

Here are the notes from the  easel pad....where do we go from here?

news media focus:
  • ET = national/intl news on miscarriage of justice; local MS papers criticizing outside attention;
  • OG = media focused on "violence" of protests
Picture is work a thousand words:
  • ET = Jet Magazine (galvanizes black national community)
  • OG = cell phone videos (undermines white denial of cops' culpability)

jury deliberation:

  • ET = 67 minutes;
  • OG = 9 hours
defense argument:
  • ET = body was not Till's;
  • OG = Did Mehserle intend to kill Grant?
role of federal govt:
  • ET = refused to intervene;
  • OG = plans to file civil suit after criminal verdict
goal of organizing around murder:
  • ET = Bryant and Milam convicted of murder and kidnapping;
  • OG = disband/disarm BART police, civilian oversight of police; jail all cops involved, media stop demonizing Grant, jobs and education for minority youth, free all political prisoners, drop charges against SF 8, end gang injunctions, revise police bill of rights, end 3 strikes, review hiring and training practices of police, money to oscar grant's family, drop charges against those arrested in protest, federal government intervene to protect the civil rights of Grant family and Oakland community
immediate result of trail:
  • ET = Bryant and Milam acquitted, get paid to tell their story to LIFE magazine;
  • O.G. = Mehserle convicted of manslaughter.
other effects or lack thereof:
  • ET = In Friendship formed in response to Till's murder to raise money for civil rights activities, positioned to be able to support Montgomery Bus Boycott 100 days after murder; contributions to existing civil rights organizations (NAACP, FOR, CORE and local independents) rise dramatically; American Jewish Committee begins lobbying Congress to bolster existing Civil Rights legislation; black MS sharecroppers boycott Bryant's store and put him out of business; a generation of activists (e.g., John Lewis) are shaken out of their paralysis by the Till case to look for ways to make change, when they get to college, they discover workshops on nonviolent direct action being taught by employees of SCLC and FOR.
  • O.G. = Pirone and Doemenici are fired; BART police lose Tasers until they are retrained; legislation is pending in CA House for civilian oversight of Oakland cops; nonprofits work with city officials to find ways for youth to vent their feelings in a nonviolent way; anarchists continue to exploit peaceful protests to provoke police violence; initial groups creating coalitions like CAPE unable to sustain their activity beyond a few months; direct action not coordinated and sustained over time; not part of a national movement against institutional racism (such as police brutality).
Lessons???? drawn re: organizing from comparing two events in their contexts?
  • Make sure you share what's happened
  • work is never over (e.g., protests forced arrest of Mehserle and firing of Pirone and Doemenici, but after verdict, more organizing to ensure that civilian oversight happens and it has teeth, actually effects police training and behavior)
  • empowerment comes from being part of a group (need to get over our fears of speaking up today)
  • don't count on the media to support your cause
  • racism is institutional
  • One cannot look to the legal system for "justice" (decisions can be used to organize for institutional and paradigm changes)
  • To what degree are social justice organizations today working together?
  • What role did JET magazine play in successfully getting the word out about what actually happened to Emmett Till? What are the counterparts to JET today, are they as successful in gaining support for organizing against police executions today as JET was as successful in helping people organize against institutional lynching and terrorism in 1955?

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