For more than 3 years [since 2010], the last Thursday of each month, some of us have been participating in what we call BART to HEART–an hour of receptive silence on the platform of the Fruitvale BART station were brother Oscar Grant was killed by BART police officer, brother Johannes Mehserle. It is a way to celebrate the life of brother(son-father-friend-husband-neighbor) Oscar and to send a message not only to Tatiana, Oscar’s daughter –who we met once already– and the rest of the Grant family, but also to all East Oakland and the Bay Area community.
It is a message of love delivered by the Great Silence: We forgive this catastrophe of the human family, but we don’t forget your life brother and those like: Andy Lopez, Alex Nieto, Alan Blueford and Trayvon Martin just to name a few others. As the sign we put by the Earth Flag reads: “I’m Oscar Grant and my life matters“.
While the murder of this 22 year-old was done in “private property”, my approach has been that I won’t pay a penny to the BART system to celebrate the life of brother Oscar in this way. Most times we were able to do it very smoothly –even having incredible deep conversations with BART staff– and some other times not. And this last time, June 2014, clearly was on the un-elegant side of nonviolence😉
It’s been almost a year since the premier of the film: Fruitvale Station and many more people are starting to grasp what feels to be a person “of color” living in this neighborhood, and in this part of the Planet in general. With dear sister Chinaka Hodge’s play: “Chasing Mehserle“, now there is even more awareness around this issue and the increasing problem of gentrification. At first glance, it seems that killing young people of color and gentrification are disconnected but I invite you to look deeper.
In a way, BART to HEART is another attempt to disarm (the-institutionalized-gang)police, public transportation and our neighborhoods.
True harmony doesn’t come with guns and threat power, but with quiet minds and joyfully nurturing our relationships with neighbors. True harmony comes not with guns but with friendship.
What Happened at Last BART to HEART (June 26, 2014)
Sometimes we have 20 people, other times is only one person. This Thursday it is only sister Nina (who is visiting Casa de Paz at the Canticle Farm) and I.
The sister operating the BART booth is new in that position. It is the first time I have ever seen her in these years. Nina and I are carrying a luggage and a backpack with cushions, blankets and a meditation bell. As I’m crossing the “employees only door” and I’m wearing my usual smile, a yellow ruana and carrying an Earth flag. Just right before reaching the stairs to go to the platform, the sister from the booth yells at us: “excuse me!? where are you going?”
I walk towards the booth, introduce myself as a neighbor of 36th ave, “my family calls me Pancho” and ask for her name. Negative. I begin to explain the purpose of BART to HEART. She barely makes eye contact. In fact, she is back inside the booth, with the door closed, as another 3 young youth with black skin get intrigued by the brief “celebrating-Oscar-Grant’s-life speech” and linger by the booth inside the station. One of them, in her early twenties, and with shining eyes says: “right on brother, much respect, but she is not even listening, look at her, she doesn’t care.”
But what is really happening is that the sister in the booth, who never gave me her first name after our ~20 minute interaction, cares too much. She is scared and she is “doing her job” and what she is supposed to do in such instances, by the book, if she doesn’t want to risk loosing her job.
I miserably failed to connect with her at the heart level. And things just escalated.
I know this time am not doing it for me or as my-daily-second hour of receptive silence. I know this time my heart is saying, or better singing: “Go all the way. This one goes for these youth, for these Oscar Grants watching at you, right now, to see if you are for real. How does your ‘I-love-you-all’ look like now?”
[Little did I know that Oscar Grant’s aunt, sister Lanedria Grant, 47, was killed in East Oakland the same week. Now that Oscar Grant’s father is suing BART, Johanes Mehserle and others, “mysteriously” her sister, Lanedria, was shot, joining Oscar Grant’s best friend Johntue Caldwell, 25, who was murdered back in 2011.]
I try to convince sister Nina to leave and go outside to avoid any confrontation with her or the cops, but she refuses. I feel her presence and love. The other youth empathize clearly with us.
It is my experience that as tension increases listening decreases. I’m trying to get the first name of our sister in the BART booth. I fail. I say: “I understand where are you coming from sister, and…” “no you don’t” she interrupts, “if you knew you would get a ticket to be inside of the station. If you don’t leave I’m going to call the police.” If you know Pancho, threat power is not-likely to work with him. So I say: “I understand you sister, if that’s what you need to do, go ahead and call them.” Now she is definitively calling the police. The three youth know is no joke and, as “people of color”, this could get pretty ugly. They leave.
I’m glad they leave and feel nourished by our mutual solidarity.
Our sister in the booth: “You can do your thing outside the station, inside, it’s private property.”
I reply: “Oscar was killed in public transportation, so we are doing a public demonstration of love to celebrate his life, in that same spot, to facilitate our collective healing.”
I know she hears that last piece. For the day, our work is done with her [am so looking forward to tagging her with random acts of kindness, anonymously, in so many different ways ;-)]
Then one police officer all geared up with weapons shows up. Brother Albert. Then a second one. Much younger, brother Pablo. Then three more.
Incredible opportunity to connect with BART police officers in the Oscar Grant/Johanes Mehserle context. First time ever happening for me at the Fruitvale BART Station. Brother Albert listens with attention what this BART to HEART is all about. He is a bit tense but respectful. In the meanwhile Nina is engaging with the other three cops.
We go back and forth with the same arguments around private property, needing permits and IDs.
A crazy idea flows through me. “Brother, let’s have an agreement. What if you come with us upstairs and join us in silence for 10 minutes? Then, we leave the station, what do you say?”
Brother Albert smiles: “I can’t, I’m in duty, but you could do it out of the station.” And then he grabs a citation notebook and asks for my name: “My family calls me Pancho, Pancho Ramos”, address: “1978 36th ave, Oakland 94601” ID: “I don’t have and ID, in fact I’m in the middle of a 2.5 year long immigration trial, I’m just one of the ~11 million human beings without documents in this part of the Planet”; age: “aha! we are 13.7 billion years old brother! Our cosmic age, we better act accordingly!”🙂 He smiles and shows me the exit with a hand/arm gesture. This time am willingly going out the station to start the mediation in front of it.
But, as soon as I cross the exit to go with sister Nina who is engaging outside with the other three brothers, he pulls me and says: “you cannot go there and you are arrested”.🙂
“I thought we had an agreement” I say. “No we don’t” says brother Albert.
So, I put the Earth flag on the floor, sit on the floor and say: “Your job and my job is to bring peace and harmony to this neighborhood. We just have different means.” He asks me something about my “real” name and I reply: “you already have the information you need from me, from now on, am exercising the 5th amendment, our right to remain in silence.”
And start doing some loving-kindness meditation.
Great energy been meditating escorted by four BART police officers or so!🙂
After 20 minutes or so, the young police officer, who’s name was Pablo but who didn’t speak Spanish, practiced one of his first arrests on me.
I ask for the charges and get no clear answer. One of them says something about “fare evasion” and when I ask for a written copy of the charges they say “later you’ll get one”. At this moment I don’t have a copy of it.
I’m unclear why they change me from one patrol to another.
The police is more gentle than usual and they let sister Nina approach the patrol to have a word with me. In her sweet smile she is giving me one of the heart pins from the part of the Planet we call India –even Mike Tyson and Samdhong Rinpoche got one! The police says she is not allowed to give me anything. We smile. Our hearts smile🙂
[Update: On Saturday as we were composting, sister Nina told me that she has a citation for “fare evasion” and that when she wanted to join me for the meditation, the cops didn’t let her, so she sat a few meters from where I was.]
Why red? What Charges?
I was then taken to the jail in Downtown Oakland where I was finger printed and all of the sudden they have all the rest of my information and a different energy towards me. They made me to cut the strings of my pants and shorts. Now I was looking like one of those teens walking with the pants half-way through. Not because I wanted to but because gravity won. Pretty stylish. Specially when they put me the handcuffs and a chain around my waist, if only that chain was holding my pants!😉 All along the way from there to (the-jail-more-like-a-prison)Santa Rita two questions were in the air:
1. Why I was, again, dressed in red and been held in “ultra dangerous” security?
2. What are the charges?
Deputies in jail could not understand either why I was dressed in red and sometimes chained. But I always had the response: “in a pollution-violence-greed based system, kindness, generosity and compassion are the must dangerous tools to dismantle it.” Inevitable when they asked me and I answered that, we all smiled🙂
A challenge with this isolation, from my perspective, is that I couldn’t connect and serve, as much as I wanted, with the general population of prisoners –in reality all people in those facilities are prisoners, including officers of course, hard to imagine having a more dehumanizing job than that of mass incarceration in the prison industrial complex: attempting to steal the freedom from another human being. So while I had “my private” place to meditate in the multiple places I was transferred –at least to 15 different cells– I couldn’t connect much with the majority of prisoners.
Despite all the activities for this Friday and Weekend, I was willing to serve time in Santa Rita for “fare evasion” and be in court on Monday, but then a deputy officer came with another four of them, and told me that there were people trying to bail me out. Once again, I asked for the charges and two of them said something like:
“There’s no new charges in your record. Perhaps you didn’t show up in court for other times you’ve been arrested and this seems to be an old warrant that showed up in the system.” Really?
Over the more than 24hrs in jail, exposed all the time to artificial light, I asked several officers and the closest it got was: “Resisting Arrest”. Really?! Arrested for “resisting arrest”, that doesn’t make any sense!
Now I see this wasn’t accurate either. So next time I have to memorize one of your cellphone numbers!
As some of you well guessed, if I knew these were the charges –interesting that there was no “fare evasion”:
PC 148(A)(1) M: OBSTRUCT/ETC PUB OFCR/ETC [resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer] and
PC 853.5 M [refusing to present a driver’s license, other identification, or submit fingerprints. Penal Code 853.5 allows an officer to arrest an individual refusing to give “proper” identification.]
I’d be still in jail serving time for whatever it takes to commit a “crime” for not having an ID. It is ridiculous and because of it a win-win for a satyagraha and the movement to eradicate the imaginary lines humans draw in the dirt. Good to know this, when the time comes for the long pilgrimage of citizens of the World.
Besides the ambiguity, another factor that had a big weight in my decision to say yes to be bailed out, was that I was all the time away from the general population of prisoners. I had just a couple interactions with inmates –in the van and when we were picking our personal belongings. Both were great connections and both happen to be youngsters with heritage from the part of the Planet we call Latin America.
I’m definitively planing to show up in court and say that if these are the charges, am willing to serve time. I’m supposed to be in court for this issue in July 21.
It was interesting to see how very little “ICE” was triggered, and thus our efforts to get rid off S-Comm, the “trust act” and our “pray-ins” are working.
The Gift for Tatiana
And so, after all this, as I’m signing the “release form”, the sister working at the last gate of the Santa Rita jail, in charge of facilitating the transportation of former inmates, asked me: “Do you need a BART ticket?”
What one can do but to say yes and smile🙂
If only brother Oscar Grant knew what it took me to get a BART ticket paid by the “system” for her daughter, Tatiana. The Universal Love works!😉 and now we have both the heart pin and a BART ticket with $4.65 in conventional currency but full with love, the real currency🙂
Looking forward to giving and explaining the gift to Tatiana.
May all become compassionate, courageous and wise.
May we continue to reach out to the hearts of all people.
Love you all! See you on and off the cushion!😉
In radical love,
Fruitvale, Oakland, Earth, June 2014.
[July 21st, 2014]: I went to court and the charges were reveled! Arrested For Telling Your Name?
“My family calls me Pancho”… as you may know, that’s the way I introduce myself when people ask me “what’s your name?” Last month, was no exception when I answered the same way. This time I added my lastname. I even told them that I was one of the ~11 million human beings without documents in this part of the Planet.
But there were too many “Pancho Ramos” in the system and the brother police officer needed more information to comply with the procedure after a BART employee called them earlier…
So called “people of color”, such as your humble servant, know that at any point _anything_ can be used as a pretext to exert what is called “system power” at the discretion of those who have access to it. Lo and behold, been ~30 hrs in the Santa Rita jail and the latest arrest during BART to HEART a month ago, shows what is at stake: to follow the Law of Love and to no longer submit to a racist status quo enforced by violence, pollution, greed and unexamined laws of men. [Let alone a system that is fueled by killing children in the part of the Planet we call Palestine… in our own ways, we must boycott, non-cooperate and disobey this system with Great Love, locally and abroad, always remembering that those brothers and sisters working for it, need an alternative to step out with dignity –as these 50 brave soldiers did recently. Until then, we’ll be stuck in obsolete paradigms that exacerbate hurt.]
The great news is that we don’t have to wait to live in a way that honors life, compassion and our interconnectedness.
So what does the nightmare in the Middle East have to do with police using weapons in public transportation in East Oakland? I wear my heart lens that honors all life, treating each other as family, and then I see that all this is about honoring our dead with respect and beauty at the the same time as we challenge the crumbling Western Syndrome –as opposed to Western Culture– without saying a word, like the powerful #GazaNames initiative or, well, BART to HEART. It is a form of, what our elder Gustavo Esteva calls, joyous militancy. It is an ecology of joy🙂 [La ecología del gozo :-)]
As you can see in this photo, these are the charges of the misdemeanor that was finally read by a judge of the superior court of California last (silent)Monday, July 21st. It reads: “giving false information to a police officer”.
I understand that our siblings, both, the sister operating the BART booth and the police officer, were doing the usual procedure when someone is out of the norm and/or doesn’t appear in the system. And that’s the problem: 1. Why are we relying in an institutionalized gang, the police, to address our conflicts? 2. How is it that people loaded with lethal weapons –and who can barely walk because of them– are tasked with bringing more harmony and peace to our neighborhoods? 3. Why are we spending all this time, energy and resources to jail people who are meditating?
In a way, BART to HEART could be seen as an organic way to create the Bay Area Restorative Team! (BART!). At least in Frutivale. And disarming people is another step on the way to eradicate prisons and the presence of police in our communities and public transportation.
I firmly believe that we all are responsible for, not just the “security”, but responsible for the harmony and peace of our communities. A person contributing to the “security” of society, needs to bring peace and harmony to it.
I’m showing up at the court in Oakland on Monday, August 4th, at 9am for the pre-trial. The address is 661 Washington Street, Oakland, CA 94607 in Department 104. All meditators and people doing silent prayer and contemplation are welcome to join us at 8am.
May all become compassionate, courageous and wise.
Jai Jagat! ¡Gloria al Planeta! Glory to the Planet!
Fruitvale, Oakland, Earth. August 1st, 2014.
[1300 hrs, Aug 4, 2014]: While people were waiting for the Oakland court to open and pass through the metal detector –without missing some of the realities in this city— some of us sat in receptive silence under a tree outside of the court around 8am. Then we went inside the court. The phenomenal sister Yolanda Huang, who is key in the movements to Stop the Gang Injunctions and farming/gardening/greening our hoods and also part of the team of brother Dan Siegel— who also represented us when the regents of the University of California sued a bunch of urban farmers for what? “malicious mulching and wicked watering?” ;-)–, talked with the District Attorney and, somehow, the charges were dismissed. I was “exonerated”.
Right before, we were able to read 3 BART police reports and it amazed me that none of them mentioned the most important two words: Oscar Grant. Unbelievable. I can’t tell you how emphatic I was about honoring Oscar the father, the son, the friend, the brother, the neighbor… every time I spoke with each one of our brothers working for the police.
The reports, missing the heart of BART to HEART, made me chuckle a few times like when one of the police officers wrote: “I asked for his date of birth and he replied that he was thousands of years old”🙂 What I said –besides inviting them to Casa de Paz in 1978 36th ave, Fruitvale, Oakland 94601 CA– was that I was ~13.7 billion years old, our Cosmic Age and that we needed to better act accordingly, just as I responded in this YES! Magazine panel: What’s Love Have to Do With The Apocalypse?
Here are some photos from July’s BART to HEART, last Thursday, when we sat in receptive silence to continue to disarm our hoods and to facilitate the healing of our community. We had our youngest satyagrahi on the platform, meditating with us with only 19 weeks in the uterus of sister Astha!🙂
May we never forget that only moved by love we are going to be able to survive as the human and non-human family.
Jai Jagat! ¡Gloria al Planeta! Glory to the Planet!
Love you all!❤
[1200 hrs, Jan 1st, 2016]: Every year, people from all over the community gather at the Fruitvale BART station to celebrate the life of brother Oscar. During the 7th anniversary of this celebration of community, I was able to closely meet with three generations of brave loving women and gave them another gift –an Earth Flag: Oscar’s Grandmother (Bonnie Johnson), Oscar’s Mother (Rev. Wanda Johnson), and connected with the sweet Tatiana again, Oscar Grant’s Daughter. These are some photos of them including how Tatiana looked 7 years ago and now.
Indeed, brother Oscar still feels strong through the light coming out of her daughter’s eyes and our collective community heart…
Strong communities –lead by strong courageous and wise women– make police obsolete.
Jai Jagat! Gloria al Planeta! Glory to the Planet!
Fruitvale, Oakland, Earth. January 1st, 2016.