Filed under: Critique, Repression, Southwest
After the Golden State (ahem… the East Oakland) Warriors won the 2015 NBA championship game, many were certain that full-scale mayhem would pop off on the streets of Oakland and San Francisco. Smart and Final in downtown Oakland, which was looted the night that Darren Wilson was exonerated after the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, boarded up their windows while swarms of police staged in the nearby Marriott building and throughout downtown. And certainly, huge crowds came together after the Warrior’s victory, but to the pleasure of the city—and perhaps as a shock to many—downtown was not burnt to a crisp.
— L E F T, PhD (@LeftSentThis) June 17, 2015
This is not to say that the Warriors victory celebrations were devoid of any subversive elements; fireworks were shot off for hours and a number of bottles found themselves flying through the air towards police officers, but unlike May Day and the demonstrations of late 2014, property damage was practically absent and some segments of the crowd remained entirely hospitable towards the city and law enforcement.
Many have already drawn comparisons with the recent crackdown against street demonstrations, suggesting that the city tolerates rioting as long as it’s not “political.” In many ways this is correct, however we would make the point that in reality it is very much more manageable. Fans enjoying themselves in the streets are easy to contain, but a crowd directing its rage at capitalist infrastructure, (either by attacking banks or shutting down freeways), and the police are not.
In recent emails leaked on twitter, Libby Schaff details the current ‘political curfew,’ to a cohort. She states that mass political arrests are undesirable, and instead calls for a ban on unpermitted nighttime demonstrations, in which protesters would be scared off the streets by cops. Schaff writes, “I feel like restricting unpermitted marches on the city streets after dark is a reasonable time/place/matter restriction.”
The key point here is that what is important for those in power is control over a given situation and the management of large bodies of people – not stopping people from being in the street or breaking the law per say. Those in power know that after a large sports event thousands will fill into the streets, drunk and full of excitement, spray paint #WARRIORS on the ground, maybe even flip a car, but then go home and go to work the next day. As long as things “don’t get out of hand,” (i.e., attack capital or the police) such actions are never a problem. This gets to the heart of the irony, at the end of the day, the mass breaking of the law in this context is easily permitted, while the breaking of the law in a political situation, such as at a nighttime march, is not.
Thus, for those downtown, clearly the curfew was not in effect. Tuesday night, while hundreds partied in the streets, lighting off fireworks, the police stood nearby, between fans and the windows of Chase Bank, for example, and other businesses. In many ways, police funneled the people into the streets, while they stood by to protect the infrastructure of the downtown. Noting this contrast in policing catches on to something important before it’s usual derailment at the lambasting of the rioters for not caring about “real issues.”
— Trash Night Heron (@hyphy_republic) June 17, 2015
Police wore standard uniforms, their helmets and riot gear likely close by, out of sight. They maintained a presence that was both visible and non-confrontational, which allowed them to prevent outbreaks of vandalism but without the repressive appearance of the riot line that could possibly incite the crowd. So, in a way, this could be seen as toleration for the rioting, but a far more useful analysis would see it as containing it. It contains it by diminishing any “political” implications in the crowd; vandalism against corporate or gentrifying business, large-scale confrontations with the police, etc.
— Dave Id (@DaveId) June 17, 2015
Despite the media narrative of “fun out of control,” things in East Oakland, on the other hand, went down a little differently. While crowds converged in downtown, fireworks and gunshots rang out across East Oakland, and soon the streets were filled with cars doing donuts. Unfortunately, the police were not far behind. The sideshow at International & Seminary was declared an unlawful assembly, traffic was blocked going eastbound on International, police swarmed the area with helicopters for hours, and even called in mutual aid from other East Bay departments. In many ways, the police response to the Warriors revelry in East Oakland was much more like the repression of the post-Ferguson protests this fall, complete with police-state occupation, high-tech gadgets, and cops on the streets, roads, and in the sky.
Typically, attempts to shut down sideshows are responded to with flying bottles and occasionally gunshots, and Tuesday night did not deviate very far from that norm. Fireworks are a standard expression of celebration, as many holidays are accompanied with officially sponsored fireworks displays. Channeling the rebellious energy from the Warriors victory into a harmless celebration is quite frankly a genius move of counter-insurgent police work.
On the other hand, the sideshow cannot be made sense of; it appears illogical to the outside world, and therefore cannot be recuperated. So it follows then that it must be shut down before it could spread. Wednesday, the sideshows were erased from the previous night’s activities by the corporate media reports, instead detailing the champagne popping in downtown and selfies with officers.
Cops clear out East Oakland celebration but let Downtown white hipster party rage unperturbed. pic.twitter.com/kdaKurf4ZD
— Occupy The Port (@occupytheport) June 17, 2015
The reasons for the crack down in East Oakland and the facilitation of revelry in the downtown is clear: in the plantation of Oakland, the East remains mostly black and brown and overwhelmingly poverty stricken. Mass rioting there could lead to the poor coming together and fighting the police – or at least fan the flames of its potential. Furthermore, out of the eyes of the media and the flash of smart phone cameras, police there are much more free to come down hard; as they do day in and day out. People often speak of “two Americas,” and after the Warriors victory, this was more clear in Oakland than ever.
Amazing. Policing for the black-brown East, riot facilitation for mostly white crowds downtown https://t.co/4NN9C4gIrn
— Trash Night Heron (@hyphy_republic) June 17, 2015
The final irony is all of this, is that after all the celebrations, all the parties and the huge parade, after the basketball season is over and the games are finished, the Warriors (and the Raiders) may both move from Oakland. Millions of dollars in public funds were used to build the current stadiums, and public infrastructure was corralled in order to bring people to the games.
Speculation and development around the arenas also accelerated gentrification; making millions for a select few developers. But now the teams want even more money or they plan to move on to greener pastures. The very thing that brought people together in reality could disappear very quickly.
Downtown Oakland they shooting off fireworks but they declared an unlawfully assembly in deep east Oakland??
— Davey D (@mrdaveyd) June 17, 2015
The facilitation of large crowds in downtown Oakland shows the Mayor’s curfew – if there was to be any doubt – to be an attempt to stop political protest after dark and nothing more. The city and police planned and executed the facilitation of the celebrations very well. But their aptitude at crowd management also shows very clearly the racist and colonial nature of modern policing and city governance as a whole, as police stood guard over banks, prepared for possible freeway blockades, and turned East Oakland into a police state. Those that wish to see even bigger crowds storm the halls of power and be done with this system of exploitation, racism, and control should take note.