In the past weeks, participants in the ‘LA 2 the Bay’ sideshows in East Oakland involved hundreds of cars from across California and the US and showed unity among participants across geographical and racial lines. But the sideshows also took a remarkably political turn, and led to clashes with law-enforcement and sadly the police slaying of 39 year old Oakland resident, Richard Perkins. This killing is the 5th fatal shooting by Oakland Police this year and led to a walkout at Clastlemont High School and protests in the Fruitvale District and Downtown Oakland. Meanwhile, the topic of sideshows have generated further cries from politicians and the corporate media for a crack-down on black and brown youth living in poverty stricken neighborhoods, eyed for gentrification by developers. Wanting to know more, we talked with a member of Keep Hoods Yours, a graffiti crew that stands against police terror and gentrification to get their take.
Almost a year has passed since the black rebellion against white supremacy and police violence rocked the Bay Area in the wake of the Ferguson Uprising. In the months since, action has continued across the US in the aftermath of the racist Charleston massacre and led to a struggle to remove Confederate flags and symbols across the South. In the bay area recently, thousands of Berkeley High School students walked-out against threats of violence against black students earlier this month, shutting down streets and marching to UC Berkeley.
But while some may bemoan the lack of mass action in the face of insurmountable rising rents and gentrification, beneath the surface a chorus of struggles are breaking out in a variety of neighborhoods. From attacks against condos in the Mission District, rent strikes in Mid-Town San Francisco, heated protests in Alameda against attacks on rent control, to block parties against gentrification in West Oakland, and homeless people camping out in front of the old Berkeley City Hall against draconian anti-homeless laws, despite the receding of the riots, anger and action continues. But while these struggles appear separate, isolated and unconnected, they point to common frustrations at a larger system of white supremacy and capitalist hyper-exploitation.
And there is much to remain angry about. Since the start of 2015, Oakland police have killed 5 people and across the US, over 1,000 people have been slain by law enforcement since the start of 2015. One thing is clear, the same pressures and crises that fueled the revolt in late 2014: poverty, racism, and lack of access to affordable housing, jobs, and education, have only deepened and gotten worse. For young people that witnessed the riots last year and now are preparing to graduate high school, what does the future hold but uncertainly, precarious work, increasing state repression, and crippling poverty?
‘LA 2 the Bay’
Two weekends ago, hundreds of people in East Oakland gathered and participated in a large scale sideshow that media reports involved over 700 hundred cars, motorcycles, and other vehicles. Oakland police, already strained due to the Raiders game taking place, called in CHP officers to help quell the sideshows. As police attempted to shut down the events they were forced to pull back, leaving a vehicle unattended. Youth quickly pounced on the police car, in a scene reminiscent of the Oscar Grant riots. In the face of poor youth of color openly and defiantly attacking the police, various corporate media sources, police, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf the next day began calling for a greater crackdown, launching an anti-side show tip line for people to call in to the police. According to the San Jose Mercury News:
Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent said rainfall finally put an end to the mega-sideshow, which turned violent before petering out around 4 a.m. Sunday. Sideshow participants fired at a CHP helicopter, pelted police officers with rocks and bottles, and were videotaped stomping on an Oakland patrol car, which was badly damaged. Only two people were arrested, both by the CHP, authorities said.
— KenWayne (@KenWayneKTVU) November 16, 2015
Wanting to know more about the nature of sideshows in working-class neighborhoods, we caught up with Keep Hoods Yours, an infamous graffiti crew across the bay area. They stated how the ‘LA 2 the Bay’ sideshows, (which brought people from as far away as New York and as close as the Central Valley) were, “different than most and importantly to note, a collaboration between car clubs, bike clubs and individuals from Norcal and Socal, so it actually plays a role of promoting unity,” especially among working-class communities of color. The KHY member went on to state that sideshows have shown the “ability to organize on a large scale while still being decentralized and mostly non-hierarchical.”
They went on to explain in detail about why sideshows were important in East Oakland to generations of young people:
As revolutionaries working to spread mass rebellion and develop independence/autonomy from the system, it’s important to not only share our visions of the new world we carry in our hearts, but to also highlight/promote existing tendencies that already are, or have the potential to be, rebellious, anti-authoritarian & communal (even if such tendencies aren’t flawless; context is always important). Don’t just preach condescendingly at people, encourage what good is already there.Oakland sideshows are rebellious, self-organized activity of the working class:– Organized w/out centralized authority, institutionalized hierarchy or permission, & they easily/quickly gather dozens, hundreds of people.– Organized by mostly working class youth of color (but include folks of all ages & races, all united in having a good time).– Strong anti-police culture; pigs are always attacked verbally, often physically (throwing bottles, stomping cop cars, etc), commands to disperse are always challenged/ignored, sideshows often can’t be stopped until folks decide to stop.– Strong solidarity culture; nobody snitches on each other for anything, strong sense of unity when pigs come around, strong awareness of these being “our streets.”– Insurrectionary potential; sideshows are often accompanied by graffiti, rioting & public rebellion, folks are militant & often armed. Sideshows are also fluid & flexible, able to move from hood to hood quickly.– & they’re hella fun! Folks get to meet, kick it, network, dance, turn up & build a sense of community, which helps relieve the alienation, anxiety & depression that can come with living in hoods struggling w/ violence & poverty. (Yes negative things, like violence, do sometimes happen at these events, but they don’t happen because sideshows are inherently violent, they happen because sideshows already exist within a context of widespread violence in Oakland).
Police Kill Richard Perkins
— Mommy, M.Ed MA-MFT (@PushaTease) November 21, 2015
On Sunday, the sideshows continued and in the celebrations, police shot and killed 39 year-old Oakland resident, Richard Perkins. After the slaying, police claim that Perkins was brandishing a replica desert eagle pellet gun at police, which they ‘mistook’ for a real gun. Witnesses however, claim that police planted the gun on Perkins and that he was unarmed. Such a planting would not be uncommon, and would fit into a pattern of Oakland police tampering with evidence in order to secure a conviction or justify acts of terror.
— Brotha B (@BlakeDontCrack) November 18, 2015
In response to the killing of Richard Perkins, a call for an Oakland wide walkout at all schools was posted on instagram for Tuesday, November 17th. Responding to the call was Castlemont High School, where around 150 students took to the streets and rallied against the latest police killing. One student organizer interviewed later by FireWorks stated, “It’s like for as long as we can remember, they’ve been killing people.”
The day after the Castlemont High School walkout, students at UC Berkeley took part in a nationwide call to action, and walked out of the university and blocked streets in Downtown Berkeley.
This continued action of walkouts from both black and brown students at Castlemont, Berkeley High School, and UC Berkeley, points to the rising degree of confidence in young people to self-organize and take the initiative to call for actions. We assume that many of the high school students who watched the events of last winter’s revolt unfold are now thinking about what they can do and how they can organize in a real way and thus putting that desire into practice. For the rest of us, we must begin to ask what would it mean to support these students and also expand these actions into other avenues?
— AntiDisplacementCoup (@AsterZephyrIsis) November 18, 2015
— Occupy Oakland (@OccupyOakland) November 21, 2015
On Friday night, an FTP march was called at the Fruitvale BART station in response to the killing of Perkins and in solidarity with similar marches and demonstrations happening in Denver and in Minneapolis, which has lead to rioting and an occupation around the police station. About 50 people gathered and marched to Downtown Oakland in the face of a an almost doubled police presence before holding a rally at Oscar Grant Plaza.
According to our contact in KHY, it is possible that Oakland Police were running counter-information for the event and trying to stop people from attending. The KHY member stated, “There was a fake call online claiming that Friday’s FTP call-out was fake, that the “real-riot” was going down at Lake Merrit (nothing happened there) and at least 2 fake-looking instagram accounts that were loosely affiliated with the fake call talking hella shit to the KHY…”
— FireWorks (@FireWorksBAY) November 28, 2015
A week later, another demonstration happened in Downtown Oakland at Oscar Grant Plaza in solidarity with the ongoing protests, riots, and rebellion happening in North Minneapolis and in Chicago, in response to the police murders of Jamar Clark and Laquan MacDonald. At the same time, on the other side of the Bay in San Francisco, Black Lives Matter protesters shut down Union Square. Calling themselves the “last 3%,” in reference to the amount of African-Americans still in San Francisco due to gentrification, the group took to the streets to shut down Black Friday and was successful.
— Bay Solidarity (@BaySolidarity) November 28, 2015
Asking Questions, Linking Struggles
We must think about the recent walkouts, sideshows, and demonstrations in terms of both questions that they raise and lessons that they can teach us. First and foremost, the sideshows represent a vast amount of people that have the ability to self-organize and drastically out maneuver the police; more so than any Fuck the Police march, often with less arrests. In what ways can these actions link up and feed into revolts and organizing against white supremacy and the police? In what ways will the established order attempt to crush sideshows and what will that mean for those who resist?
In regards to the walkouts, we must ask ourselves why only Castlemont walked out and not other schools? What would it take for more students to become involved? What would it mean to support these walkouts in real ways and also make them expand? These are questions that we must think about while at the same time talking with people while in struggle and support revolt as it unfolds.
In regards to the FTP and solidarity marches, we must think about what it means to call demonstrations when we are able to only gather 50-100 on the streets. How can we act and still be powerful and reach out to everyday people in a real way? How does this inform our tactics and how we engage with each other and the wider world? How can we break out of a festishization of property destruction and street militancy yet still remain confrontational and powerful?
Hopefully those taking action in the streets, whether graffiti crew youth dancing on top of police cars, people holding banners in marches, or students walking out of class, can find each other and begin the process of getting organized across all of the separations which divide up within this world.