FREE BART! Oscar Grant & the Potential of Freedom

“We as a family denounce violence in the street & destruction of property.” –Cephus Johnson (Oscar Grant’s uncle waiting for the final verdict of the now ex-police officer Johannes Mehserle who killed the 22 year old African American at the Fruitvale BART station in East Oakland).
  • Is it ok to consent to someone who could enact violence for us in the name of “the law”?
  • How do we as a community develop true security?
  • Is the firing of Tony Peroni, Marysol Domenici and Johannes Mehserle bringing justice to Oscar Grant?
  • Will the state’s scapegoating of these police officers bring harmony to the 6 year old without a father?
  • Are these officers, locked in prison, going to restore the damage they did to the community and Oscar Grant the father, the brother, the friend, the worker?
  • Regardless of the verdict, are we going to have a more secure public transportation system?
  • Is this going to stop the prison industrial complex, a system that makes profit out of human disgrace?
  • How does true civil disobedience look like?
  • Is all this about punishment and retribution or is about love and healing? Will punishing these officers heal the heart of Oscar’s partner and his daughter?

These are some questions to ponder before we get caught in the old retributive (in)justice system–engrained not only in the failed state/system but also in our minds–and thus perpetuating ourselves the violence we are trying to eradicate from our communities.

The community in Oakland, hermano Oscar Grant’s community, has to own the restorative justice process. Not some court in Los Angeles. It is ludicrous that the case was moved so faraway from the affected community. Not only that, the jury has no people with black skin. No African Americans in the jury. Justice being not colorblind indeed. These facts only show how far the current justice system is from addressing the root of the problem.

You don’t need Gandhi to tell you that violence begets violence, and that love, courage, fearlessness, kindness and respect beget love, courage, fearlessness, kindness and respect. Just try it at home. The scientific basis for this phenomena is in our mirror neurons, the cells in our brain that connect us–most mammals, if not all–to our shared experiences.

I see victims in both sides of the gun. On one side, a young African American from Oakland victim of the physical violence of the state. On the other side, a young  man with  white skin and Traumatic Stress Disorder victim of the structural violence of the same state. In what kind of system we live in that our youths are killing each other? Why is the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) encouraging violent practices in their trainees?

Hermano Oscar is gone. It is impossible to ask him about his perspective on justice. But I, as an afflicted citizen of the world deeply concerned by this violent tragedy committed by the BART police, would like to draw a courageous fearless picture about how we can take care of the security of our communities. From my perspective, this is a pragmatic idea about how we can “free” BART:

1. Discipline
What are we facing? Racism and the monopoly of violence. The state represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the state is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owns its own existence. If this is what the state is doing on BART stations with plenty of witnesses, I don’t want to even imagine the horrific things–all paid by the taxes of U.S. citizens–done to our brothers and sisters in the parts of the Planet we call Iraq and Afghanistan (well, I watched the latest wikileaks on Iraq, I know what dehumanization is doing to the people on the Earth Community).

As the same old racist issues of the Empire re-surface in Oakland, in Arizona, in Palestine, in Chiapas and elsewhere, there are millions of citizens of the World who are ready to delegitimize racism once and for all. Our strength comes through diversity. This will require more than non-violence (notice the hyphen). To be non-violent is to cause no harm, is to not injury someone. But to challenge and eradicate the monopoly of violence, it will require to get rid of the hyphen. This means to be fearless, to be humble, to be self-governed, to be nonviolent. And in order to be nonviolent we require to be consistent with the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the thoughts we have, the things we do, the words we say. It is time to delegitimize violence too.

It will require hard work, courageous hearts, still minds and plenty of patience. It is a life time endeavour. But the (r)evolution is not microwaveable.

2. Proactive Security
Do we have an alternative system that provides real safety to our communities? The challenge is to have a community based security. A Shanti Sena, a Peace Army.

Before disbanding the BART police, we need to be self-reliant and to form groups of people willing to be part of the common security of our communities. We need to get organized big time. Constructive program at its best. A  Bay Area Restorative Team! (BART!) could be formed to rapidly respond in case of emergencies–reactive mode. This team could operate in proactive mode too: people need to learn how to participate and, eventually, to facilitate restorative circles. If we would like to eradicate prisons and the presence of the police in our communities and public transportation, restorative circles have to be the way to not avoid conflict but to address it. This is enlightened Anarchy.

I firmly believe that we all are responsible of the security of our communities. A person contributing to the security of society, needs to bring peace and harmony to it.

Are we secure enough in our minds and hearts to know that within our communities we are not  going to hurt each other? Does it make sense to have an armed person responsible for the security of our families? It doesn’t make sense to me.

If the police officers are bravenough to still want to provide security to our communities, they must drop their guns, and join the civil based security armed only with the freedom from fear: Bay Area Restorative Teams! That might be the transition between the BART police and BART! If truly committed to long term justice and courage, officers of the regular police force will follow.

3. (True) Civil Disobedience
What’s the first step to start a successful campaign of civil disobedience? From my point of view, it is respect. And because a satyagrahi is fearless,  she can be transparent. When we own a deep commitment to truth, transparency is another form of respect.

Needless to say, not only one has to be respectful with the authorities breaking the law of love, but also we must avoid to be disrespectful within our own lines. Many times this is not acknowledged when we adopt the false philosophies we are fighting against: patriarchy, racism, sexism, secrecy, hierarchies, and totalitarianism.

We can always address our (ideological) opponents with respect. Actually, the more we respect them as human beings the more we can stand up against their inhumane laws/behaviors, and therefore, stand by the side of the law of love. These opponents are inside and outside “the movement”. The presence of people who brings negative energy to meetings, conferences and direct actions is, if you pay attention, clear. The same goes for the positive energy of enthusiastic organizers, ARTivists and courageous fearless (kind) rebels. The question is: violence can be contagious–but so can love and peace of mind. Which do you want to spread?

And please don’t get me wrong—violence can never lead to peace, but a violent person is much more prepared to start nonviolence than a coward, passive or apathetic person would be.

I. Petition
Then we can respectfully request for

a) the removal of police officers that are harming our communities.

b) a commitment from BART to restore our communities from the damage caused by these officers.

c) the removal of all guns and weapons from officers on BART.

d) a real sentence: a restorative circle including, but not limited to, the actor of the murder and Oscar Grant’s family.

If the requests are not met (as it happened in 2009), then escalate…

II. Satyagraha
Satyagrahis will block BART stations and trains’ doors, will refuse to leave and we will serve time in jail. It is through our own example that we will awaken the hearts of the now somewhat-apathetic public/authorities. This needs to be done not just with one isolated day and avoiding jail by signing a ticket. It needs to be systematically done week after week, by many groups to fill the jails until they break. Will the state support the lock up of nonviolent, productive members of our communities? We’ll see.

At the same time other group of satyagrahis (or all of them!) can stop paying BART tickets (after all, this is _public_ transportation, isn’t it?). Some BART Police officers (specifically Tony Peroni, Marysol Domenici and Johannes Mehserle) have been paid during the Oscar Grant case. Let’s calculate the amount of money the state has used in them and use the equivalent as a “Oscar Grant Justice BART Pass”. We will refuse to pay BART until our requests are met and we are going to use that money for healing our communities and to print the symbolic tickets (we might use tree leaves for environmental purposes with a stamp of brother Oscar).

If still there is no response to our requests, then Boycott BART. Are we bravenough to not use BART and walk instead? A massive boycott by the so called people of color and sympathizers. Let’s find alternative transportation to commute (i.e. carpools, shared bikes, walking, etc). The challenge will be to do it in a environmentally responsible way, we don’t want to hurt more the Earth Community–our means are our ends in the making. Our means are to create a healthy community and sustain it.

4. Conclusion
The best way to protect our communities and BART is to serve the people who use BART.

We dream of connection, of justice, of beauty.  Just as we do not smash a honey beehive with a hammer in order to eat from it, our relationships are even more fragile than that wax from which the beehive is made of. Further alienating and breaking apart our fragile connections by justifying violent means before other solutions are thoroughly exhausted, does not appear to be the sustained answer if we want to find nourishment with one another, in our homes, our schools, our streets, and our BART stations. The state has the “smoking hammer” in its hands, and part of our honeycomb has been systematically destroyed. What are we going to do?

Police with guns and weapons only represent our collectively held sentiment that we are safe in a society that perpetuates and rewards violent behavior. It inheres violence, namely, we are too powerless, too ignorant and too weak to do anything to protect ourselves from, well, ourselves. That’s when an armed police force does nothing to end violence when it justifies shooting in the name of public safety. In the past, there have been many Oscar Grants that have been unnoticed by the corporate media and many of us. How many more Oscar Grants to prove this aberration to the spark of life?

We are a part of something infinitely greater and we owe it to each other, and to our children, to make the Earth Community more stable and harmonious, but attending to the surface won’t do it. We must encourage ourselves and each other to believe in a higher reality, namely that we sabotage our efforts for a better future by staying solely on the the surface level appearances of our problem. We might want to explore the possibility to be radicals (i.e. getting to the very root cause of our suffering) and we must be patient and nonviolent if we are to eradicate violence for real. Don’t believe it because I said so, try it at home. The children and women you interact with, will know the answer.

For those of us who practice a religion–I personally practice secularity–please not only pray and send good intentions to the Oakland community. The proper way of upholding Hinduism or Christianity or Buddhism or Islam or Judaism or any other religion is not by quoting isolated texts but by acting through the inner voice of conscience. Nothing opposed to truth and love. Awake! Arise! Act!

An injury to one is an injury to all. We are on that corner where the Universe bends towards (restorative)justice. The avenue is called Freedom.

May all become compassionate, courageous and wise.

Chino Valley, Arizona, July 1, 2010

About Pancho

To live in radical joyous shared servanthood to unify humanity.
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10 Responses to FREE BART! Oscar Grant & the Potential of Freedom

  1. Judith Katz says:

    Dear,
    Thank you for these timely thoughts on the BART police and also for the Bay Area Restorative Team concept. I love how they both have the same acronym.
    As you know, the Empathy Team, a project of Bay Area Nonviolent Communication (BayNVC), is giving away our fold-over business card-sized feelings and needs lists to help people prepare themselves and others for a verdict.
    Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a practice of empathic reflection that has, more than any other practice in the world, helped me to talk to people who have a different point of view than me. For the last year and a half, I have been on a journey to bring the magic of this practice to the community in partnership other dedicated NVC practitioners and enthusiastic volunteers.
    This weekend, in advance of the verdict, I am organizing a list of people who want to be part of a rapid response network of empathic first responders. The idea is to swarm the areas of Oakland that are in most need of comforting and healing, and to attend to their experience using specific NVC tools passed down from the nonviolent tradition of Gandhi and King. If anyone is moved to be part of this mobilization, please email your name, phone and whether you receive text messages, and your Twitter feed if you have one to connectionproject@baynvc.org. Our Twitter is @baynvc.

    Pancho, I am edified reading about the distinction between the Constructive and Obstructive programs. Thank you for helping me to learn, querido hermano.

  2. Carwil says:

    Um, this is just false:
    “On the other side, a young Iraq Veteran with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) victim of the structural violence of the same state.”

    I’m sure you meant the best, but can you counteract the false rumors it’s creating?

    See the bio at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BART_Police_shooting_of_Oscar_Grant#Johannes_Mehserle

    Also, according to his defense testimony:
    Mehserle had never really shot a gun before he became a cop. “Maybe once,” Mehserle recalled, looking up toward the ceiling thoughtfully. “My dad took me to the shooting range, at about thirteen, and that was it.” He didn’t own any guns until he became a cop.
    http://www.colorlines.com/archives/2010/06/ex-bart_cop_im_imperfect_but_no_murderer.html

    • Pancho says:

      Many thanks for the kind comments of all, in particular to the correction of brother Carwil.

      I couldn’t find the site where I read it. I already made the corrections accordingly. Thank you so much for being a conduit of truth hermano Carwil. I only hope all the readers of the article (248 by now), can have access to this correction.

      In the meanwhile, I will do a vow for my lack of mindfulness. For 248 hours–a reader per hour– I will closely follow the DailyGood and leave a thorough researched comment there, as a reminder to verify information as much as I can in this electronic communication era.

      Have a ONE-derful day hermano Carwil!🙂
      If you want to be a rebel, be kind. Human-kind, be both.
      In big smiles + big hugs + service + solidarity + insurgent learning,
      Planetizing the Movement of the Ahimsa (R)evolution from some corner of our round borderless country…
      Pancho

  3. Michael says:

    Thank you Pancho. Love and courage have filled your cup and is now overflowing. Your vision is our vision. Let us make it happen.

  4. Carwil says:

    I want to highlight that there have already been actions taken along these lines, most dramatically with the April 8, 2010 “No Justice, No Rush” action that demanded BART Police officer Tony Pirone be fired, and that BART police be disbanded. See http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/04/11/18644367.php

    Pirone was fired exactly two weeks later.

    Also, on the night of the Oscar Grant uprising, people who might otherwise have been targeted by a police beatdown, defended themselves in the brilliantly nonviolent way of filling an intersection, lying on their stomachs with hands behind their backs, and chanting, “We are all Oscar Grant.”

    By the way, I don’t see such a deep opposition as some philosophical (as opposed to tactical) advocates of nonviolence do between nonviolence and destroying property. Nor between rage and compassion, or anger and love.

  5. Pancho says:

    We must act meaningfully for peace, broadcast positive images for peace to break the chains created by apathy, by ignorance and by fear. If these chains were gone, everyone will be speaking and living the way of peace. This is oner of the many ways we can be of service: to inspire people from their apathy with courage; to dispel their ignorance with truth; to allay their fear with positive thoughts/feelings that Universal Love works.

    The welfare of the human family must be above the welfare of any nation. The best security is not national security but human security. We must to act for peace in every way we can, to think of peace, to speak for peace and to live the way of peace.

    But there cannot be peace without justice. And no justice without liberation. And no liberation if there is oppression. In short, there cannot be peace in the face of oppression. Occupations (physical of psychological) are forms of oppression.

    If we dont’ heal as community, we have the risk to recreate the oppression. We must enact liberation by healing and forgiving. Enacting liberation is shown in what we do, in the relationships we develop, in the food we eat, in the cloths we wear, in the thoughts we have, in the words we say.

    Let’s emancipate our true spirits by enacting liberation… who we are as human beings.

    Oscar Grant… Oscar…Rest in Peace, and know that
    tonight, your city is restless: http://ow.ly/29019

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