In short, there are those who are automatically guilty and those who are automatically innocent,those who are automatically heroes and, to use a term frequently applied to Lovelle Mixon in recent days, those who are automatically “monsters.”
The Ambivalent Silences of the Left:
Lovelle Mixon, Police, and the Politics of Race/Rape
We began discussing this on a day dripping with hypocrisy. Local Fox affiliate KTVU is among many television channels broadcasting live and in its entirety the funeral for four Oakland Police officers who were killed in a pair of shooting incidents a week ago. News anchors speak at length, and with little regard to journalistic objectivity (a commodity which, dubious in general, disintegrates entirely in times such as these) about the lives of these “heroes,” these “angels,” and the families they leave behind. Trust funds for fatherless children are established, their existence trumpeted loudly at 6 and 11; one can only assume with such publicity that donations are rolling in. There is not a dry eye in the house, it would appear: the “community” has rallied around its fallen saviors.
Or so initial press coverage would have us believe. But while the press was on the streets pushing the message of unity in mourning, live shots from the scene found somber and serious reporters disrupted by words and gestures suggesting little sympathy for the police, and reports emerged (notably in the New York Times) that bystanders had been mocking and taunting police after the shooting. When the local Uhuru House hosted a vigil not for the fallen police, but for the other victims, Lovelle Mixon and his family, the press was forced to abandon its tune of unity, deploying instead outrage and shocked disbelief (especially by Bill O’Reilly), only to later realize that such sympathy was rather widespread and worthy of discussion.
Portrait of Oscar Grant, 22 years old, face down on an Oakland train platform, shot and killed by police on New Year's Day
The hypocrisy should be clear, but for some reason, it has gone largely unmentioned, with those suggesting anything of the sort booed and hissed into anguished silence. Any and all mentioning, however quietly, the name “Oscar Grant,” with reference to the young black man murdered in cold blood by BART police in the first hours of the New Year, have been made to regret it, but it is Grant above all others whose case shows this hypocrisy in all its clarity. After all, Grant was not deemed a “hero” or an “angel” by the mainstream press when he was gunned down by BART officer Johannes Mehserle, and despite all of the outrage at the shooting, liberal or otherwise, we have seen how the press and local officials were bending over backwards to justify or at least understand Mehserle’s actions. Oscar Grant’s funeral was not carried live on local television, and what meager trust fund was established for Grant’s daughter exists thanks to a small group of sympathizers, most in the local black religious community, and not thanks to the state, the media, or BART.
This hypocrisy began with Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, whose rapid reaction to the deaths of the four police speaks volumes in and of itself, since Dellums’ own week-long silence following Oscar Grant’s killing played a role in sparking the January 7th rebellion. In this case, however, Dellums was on television within a few hours preaching the inherent equality of all human life. But this was a magnificent display of liberal doublespeak, as Dellums’ declaration was meant to silence, not encourage, comparisons to Oscar Grant. But even this would not be enough to earn Dellums the support of the police union or the families, and the mayor was even refused permission to speak at the police funeral that had become the year’s must-attend political event, featuring such state political powerhouses as Governor Schwarzenegger, Attorney General Jerry Brown, and Senators Feinstein and Boxer. The reason remains unclear, but it is possible that even Dellums’ tepid sympathy for the life of Oscar Grant was too much for the families of the police, and it has even been suggested that Dellums’ equally tepid opposition to Blackwater-style privatizing policing in East Oakland is to blame. However, since no other black elected official was allowed to speak either, it seems that race was the deciding factor.
Kristian Williams, author of Our Enemies in Blue and American Methods, who was recently invited to give a public talk on the subject at the historic Continental Club in West Oakland, insisted that police funerals “have less to do with the grieving process of individual families, and everything to do with legitimizing past and future police violence.” According to Williams, policing is the only occupation which regularly exaggerates its own dangerousness (which statistically comes in just below garbage collectors). But constant reference to the danger and heroism of policing has the effect of stifling any and all criticism: police funerals as a public spectacle, according to Williams, “tell the public to shut up.” And shut up they have.
Farewell To the Spineless Left
Historically speaking, there is always a point at which the liberal and white left loses its nerve. As Ward Churchill demonstrates in his Pacifism as Pathology, it was a moment such as this one at which the white left abandoned the Black Panthers,
“When [Black Panther] party cadres responded (as promised) by meeting the violence of repression with armed resistance, the bulk of their “principled” white support evaporated. This horrifying retreat… left its members nakedly exposed to “surgical termination” by special police units.”
Under the cover of pacifism, the spineless left paradoxically cleared the way for the violent extermination campaign that the Panthers would face. Certainly, the case of Lovelle Mixon and OPD is not the same as that of the Panthers, but the response on much of the left has been the same: silence. And this at a time when speaking and acting and questioning are more necessary than ever, when the police have been granted a political carte blanche to step-up attacks on the black and brown community in Oakland. Fearing association with a “cop killer” (a phrase which itself betrays the unequal value placed on different lives) or a “rapist” (an allegation the OPD’s PR machine was quick to deploy), fearing being inevitably painted as supporting Mixon’s actions, much of the local left has refused to even ask the most basic of questions. In what follows, we will address the most pressing of these.
A “Routine Stop”?
We recently had the opportunity to see some of OPD’s so-called “routine stops” alongside members of Oakland’s nascent Copwatch organization. We spoke with two young, black men on the 98 block of Macarthur Boulevard who had been cuffed and detained for “matching the description” of subjects suspected to be in possession of a firearm. That is to say, they were young and black, and wearing black hoodies and jeans, just like everyone else around that night. Five minutes after Copwatchers arrived to document the stop, they were released.
We also observed more “routine stops,” in the guise of illegal DUI checkpoints by California Highway Patrol running the full length of International Boulevard and targeting largely Latino men. Several tow trucks were lined up to line their pockets with another’s misfortune, as CHP officers would stop vehicles, run their licenses and registration, perform on-the-spot DUI tests, and impound vehicles. We spoke with a young woman who was abandoned on the street at 2am after officers arrested her sister-in-law, towed their car (with the keys to her apartment inside) and sped off after telling her they would get her a ride home.
Such are the status of “routine stops,” and in a country where racial profiling is all but accepted practice among police, we should be wary of any claim to “routine-ness.” The only thing “routine” about such stops is the harassment that the black and brown community suffer at the hands of the police every day.
Lovelle Mixon, a "routine traffic stop" at 74th and MacArthur one Oakland afternoon leads to shootout that leaves him and four cops dead.
What Happened? Who Was Mixon?
What little we know is this: it was at a “routine stop” that Mixon allegedly shot officers Mark Dunakin and John Hege, before taking refuge in his sister’s nearby apartment. We also know that it was when the OPD SWAT team stormed into said apartment that Mixon, now allegedly armed with an AK-47, killed Daniel Sakai and Ervin Romans, wounding as well Patrick Gonzalez. We also know, thanks to interviews with Mixon’s family, the circumstances he was facing at the time: released from prison after serving time for a felony and previous parole violation, unemployed and unable to find work as a felon, and increasingly frustrated with his slim prospects for the future. According to his grandmother, equally frustrating was the shabby treatment Mixon received from his probation officer, who she claims had missed several appointments. Mixon, she says, had even volunteered to return briefly to prison if it would mean he could change probation officers.
In the face of such frustration, according to his grandmother, Mixon had himself missed a probation appointment, and so was facing a no-bail warrant and some jail time. Also, if it is true that he was carrying a gun, he would have been facing even more. These are the circumstances that Mixon faced when stopped, circumstances common to all too many under the regime of “Three Strikes” and the structure of policing in general. As Prisoners of Conscience Committee Minister of Information JR puts it: “To all the Three Strikes supporters, police sympathizers and prison industry businessmen, how does it feel when the rabbit has the gun? Welcome to East Oakland.”
Fast forward to his sister’s Enjoli’s apartment, where there is an additional question that needs to be asked: what was the SWAT team thinking when they stormed in, tossing stun grenades which injured 16 year old Reynete Mixon in the process? What seems to have clearly been a bad decision in retrospect brings us back to where we started: their fury at the news of dead police led them to risk the lives of many others rather than attempting to de-escalate. In all likelihood, the SWAT team expected to meet Mixon with the same handgun that had been used against Dunakin and Hege; in all likelihood, they expected to be at a tactical advantage in firepower terms, and to have an excuse to kill Mixon in response.
An Occupying Army?
Despite the efforts by the mainstream media, in close alliance with OPD, to paint a picture of a community unified in mourning four cops and equally unified in its hatred for Lovelle Mixon, this image of unity has been inevitably cracked, forcing a discussion of the very real divisions that exist in Oakland and the central position of the police as an instrument of that division. This position is best summarized in two words, drawn from the logic of colonialism: “occupying army.”
This certainly is the perception of many who were at the scene, telling police to “get the fuck out of East Oakland.” What is most striking is the fact that such spontaneous reactions by young black men in East Oakland are, in point of fact, quite true, because here is something else the press isn’t saying: not one of the officers killed lived in Oakland; all were residents of the suburbs. It’s difficult to find out exactly what percentage of OPD actually live in the city (the Uhuru House puts the number at only 18%), but with salaries beginning at $87,000 and often exceeding $200,000 with overtime, we could assume that the percentage is very low. It’s difficult to argue with the claim that OPD functions as an occupying army, since even the younger members of the black and brown community know full well that they are, as Fanon defined the colonizer, “from elsewhere.”
If this recognition of the role played by OPD was clear in the “taunting” at the scene, it has also played out in the more generalized racial breakdown of responses to the deaths of the four officers. A friend who works in the Eastmont area, but a block or two from the shootings, recently told us that:
“I have seen that white co-workers are speaking about it as if they were heroes, even ones who were pissed and annoyed by cops were suddenly sympathetic. Social workers of color, on the other hand, were talking about the 40-ish black youth killed in the last few years, and how suddenly, a few cops die (none of whom live here), and people act like their grandpa got shot.”
Rape and Race?
As the press discourse of community outrage began to disintegrate, it now appears as though OPD found it necessary to reinforce its waning sympathy. To do so, the police turned to the most traditional of means: accusing a black man of rape. These rape accusations have provided liberals and even so-called radicals a convenient excuse to distance themselves from the case of Lovelle Mixon, and the irony of the “discovery” of a “probable” (read: inconclusive) DNA link the day before the shootings provides a fulfilling belief that the shooting was tragically unnecessary as, supposedly, Mixon would have soon been arrested and taken off the streets. But it is here that we find the most disturbing of maneuvers by the police and the most infuriating silences on the left.
This is because few have felt the need to wonder aloud about this alleged “DNA evidence” which has miraculously circumvented indictments and jury trials. This begs a clear question: was Lovelle Mixon guilty until proven innocent? Even if there was “DNA evidence,” most in our society at least pretend to believe that the job of evaluating evidence belongs to the district attorney, judge, and jury, and not to the police and media. And it begs a further question: if OPD was so devoted to the safety of women in East Oakland, why were neighbors never notified that a serial rapist was possibly on the loose? Quite simply because OPD does not protect poor and marginalized women: the record speaks for itself.
One woman who attended the Uhuru vigil and rally last week describes her outrage and disgust at how white reporters treated the many women present at the march, essentially insinuating they were there in support of a rapist:
“The fact that many people were at the vigil to show support for Mixon’s family and community–who are largely women–did not cross any of the reporter’s minds… The serious issue of rape does not nullify the issue of a failed prison system. If we think historically, protection against sexual violence is a key reason often given to escalate the most racist and oppressive policing practices, yet violence against women continues unabated. We need to stand against violence against women and a racist police system equally, and not let one get used as an excuse to justify the other. The Mixon hysteria is going to be used to put East Oakland, women and men, on police lockdown and justice for the most vulnerable women who live there is NOT going to be a priority.”
As Angela Davis reminds us, “In the history of the United States, the fraudulent rape charge stands out as one of the most formidable artifices invented by racism. The myth of the Black rapist has been methodically conjured up whenever recurrent waves of violence and terror against the Black community have required convincing justifications…[Black women] have also understood that they could not adequately resist the sexual abuses they suffered without simultaneously attacking the fraudulent rape charge as a pretext for lynching… In a society where male supremacy was all pervasive, men who were motivated by their duty to defend their women could be excused of any excesses they might commit.” Painting black men as inevitable rapists represents a historical response to the sublimated guilt of white society, a society which for more than a century participated in the systematic rape of enslaved women. This much was recognized in a chant at the Uhuru rally:
Thomas Jefferson was a rapist!
George Washington was a rapist!
Let’s get that shit straight!
Who Were the Officers?
This question certainly feels taboo in a context in which the press refers openly to the “angels” that protect the community, who were in the words of a San Francisco Chronicle cover story (words cited verbatim from acting OPD Chief Howard Jordan) “Men of Peace.” But here again hypocrisy is palpable: we are told it is disrespectful to wonder aloud who the involved officers were, and yet racist slander directed at a dead man is somehow acceptable and expected. And while a couple of weeks ago, anyone would have told you that the OPD was a corrupt, inefficient force that routinely broke the law and brutalized city residents, such sentiment has faded into the background.
As (very limited) records from Oakland’s Citizen’s Police Review Board and the grassroots organization PUEBLO indicate, the officers involved are not the “angels” and “men of peace” that many have been suggesting. Officer Hege, for example, was listed in a 1995 CRPB complaint that involved breaking down a door less than 10 blocks from where Mixon was killed, and assaulting a resident who was kneeling on the ground, leaving him with a detached retina, broken ribs, a concussion, and missing teeth. Officer Romans is among those named in a pending lawsuit (docket #C 00-004197 MJJ) for assault and battery, civil rights violations, and conspiracy. Further, as JR puts it, Dunakin “long patrolled North Oakland, wreaking hell on young Black males,” and records indicate that he was implicated in a 1999 false arrest lawsuit which the city settled, and was more recently involved in the shady practice of towing cars under the city’s “sideshow ordinance.”
But perhaps even more interesting than the records of those officers who died is the record of the one who survived, and who has been only communicating with the press through his lawyer (with good reason): Patrick Gonzalez. Those paying attention will recognize the name instantly, since his rap sheet is far longer than was Lovelle Mixon’s: it was Gonzalez who murdered Gary King in 2007, shooting him in the back as he fled after being assaulted and repeatedly tased (King was suspected of being a “person of interest” in a case, nothing more, and his father suspects that the tasing would have killed him if the bullets didn’t). It was Gonzalez as well who shot another young black man dead, and left another paralyzed and in a wheelchair (all of these victims being under the age of 20).
But as a local community activist told me, “everyone focuses on the shootings, but he did some messed up shit with his gun holstered, too.” Specifically, Gonzalez has had a long list of complaints against him, and in one notable incident he was accused of assaulting 18 year old Andre Piazza in 2001. As the San Francisco Bay Guardian described the incident at the time:
“Piazza said that Officer Gonzales next turned to the front of Piazza’s body and “lifted and was looking under my sacks and stuff.” Piazza confirmed that what he meant was that the officer lifted and felt around under his testicles… During the search, Piazza asked the officer if he was “fruity.” Shortly thereafter, Gonzales reportedly smacked him in the face, dislocating his jaw. Docs in Highland Hospital had to put it back in place. The photos of Piazza taken in the ER aren’t pretty. Despite the photographic proof, charges against the cop were eventually dropped because of a lack of corroborating witnesses – it
was Piazza’s word versus that of the cops.”
These are the men paraded as “angels” in times such as these.
In short, there are those who are automatically guilty and those who are automatically innocent, those who are automatically heroes and, to use a term frequently applied to Lovelle Mixon in recent days, those who are automatically “monsters.” If the mainstream press was unwilling to make Oscar Grant a monster, it certainly did its part in digging up his police record and cultivating sympathy for Mehserle. The rest is left to the public, and as a recent commenter on the San Francisco Chronicle website puts it: “Mixon and Grant could interchange lives and there would be no difference. The only difference in their end is that Grant was taken out (however accidental) before he got a chance to murder someone.” And this comment, which has since been removed, was more than the ranting of an individual: by the time I saw it, it had received 250 votes from readers, more than any other response to the article.
As Crea Gomez has shown, even the Columbine shooters, who engaged in a premeditated massacre of fellow students, garnered more sympathy than has Lovelle Mixon, with a host of commentators struggling to grapple with what went wrong with these poor boys and to blame prescription drugs and bullying, while the very simple desire of someone like Lovelle Mixon to not spend one’s life in prison makes someone a “monster.” Interestingly, a similar effort to explain the inexplicable is currently being deployed to explain the massacre of immigrants in Binghamton, whose deaths have not led to their killer being labeled a “monster.”
To the inevitable accusation of disrespecting the dead, we must respond with a simple question: Where were you when Oscar Grant was murdered? There are some who are automatically respected in their death; there are others who are automatically disrespected and, in the case of Lovelle Mixon, demonized by a racist police department and press complicity. While some see moral equivalence, there was a difference between Grant and Mixon: the latter was able to foresee his impending death and fight back, so as to not meet Grant’s fate of catching a bullet in the back.
Raider Nation is a collective located in Oakland, California and the Bay Area more generally. We can be reached at raidernationcollective [at] gmail.com.
Links to more ground level coverage and debate to be posted on my next page in this series: an Oakland Resource Guide and Current History