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From Oscar Grant to Lovelle Mixon: Oakland's Troubled Legacy
(This story originally appeared at New America Media.)
Editor's Note: Lovelle Mixon might not have been thinking about Oscar Grant when he shot the police officers in Oakland. But in a community with a long troubled history with police, many are making that connection, says David Muhammad. A native of Oakland, Calif., Muhammad now co-directs Washington, D.C.'s juvenile detention system as chief of committed services, Department of Youth and Rehabilitative Services.
Four Oakland Police Department (OPD) officers killed, another shot, and a young assailant dead. This is tragic and unfortunate. Period.
I begin this way to make sure that message is not lost as I also explain how so many others in Oakland saw this story. I received a barrage of phone calls, text messages, and emails shortly after the initial shooting of two officers, and the messages kept pouring in after three more officers were shot and the suspect killed.
Every one of the people I spoke with, young and old, all merged this tragic incident with the killing of Oscar Grant on New Year's day by a BART police officer. It is quite possible that Lovelle Mixon had no thoughts of Oscar Grant. Lovell was a parolee out from prison for assault with a deadly weapon. He had apparently violated his parole, and a warrant for his arrest was issued. Maybe he just didn't want to go back to prison. But in the minds of many Oaklanders, the two horrific shootings – that of Oscar Grant and that of five OPD officers – were connected.
After the announcement of the death of the fourth officer, I received one very disturbing text message from a young man who was incensed by the Oscar Grant murder: "Us: 4 - Them: 1"
I was born and raised in Oakland. I grew up, like most of my friends, with a fair dose of fear, distrust, and animosity toward police. I was a teenager in 1988 when NWA released its controversial hit, "F*** the Police."
One night that same year, I was hanging out with a very large group of friends and fellow junior high school students. There were approximately 25 of us standing on the corner when, unbeknownst to me, four of the guys tried to take the car of a couple who had pulled up in a nearby parking lot. Now, I participated in my fair share of delinquent acts as a juvenile, but this crime I wanted no part in. I walked off with my cousin.
While walking home, an OPD car pulled up alongside of us – I immediately ran off. I sprinted through several back yards, jumping over fences and leaping over bushes. I ran right into a waiting cop on the other side of a fence. It was pitch black, in the back of an apartment complex, and I had angered the pursuing officers. I stopped and put my hands up – I anticipated being badly beaten.
The officer slammed me onto a bed of rocks, busting open my lip. He stepped on my neck with his boot and when his partner arrived he stomped on my back. And though that was clearly excessive force, when I was then picked up, handcuffed and led to the car, I was astonished that it ended there. The officers took me to the couple who had almost been carjacked and when they said I was not involved, I was let go. (Ironically, one of the handcuffs wouldn't come off so the officers took me to the fire department to have it cut off before they drove me home)
I had many friends who were not nearly as fortunate as I. Oakland is a town long known for the animosity between citizens and police. Such strained relations gave birth to what the city is best known for in many parts of the country – the Black Panther Party.
And it was that spirit of the Panthers that had so many people I spoke with connecting what Lovelle Mixon did to Oscar Grant. Many in Oakland are still furious that three months after Johannes Mehserle murdered Grant that he has not been convicted and sent to prison.
The death of four police officers, who seemed to have been honorable servants of public safety, has the potential to fuel more disdain among cops for the black community. This will, of course, create greater distrust of police within the community. It can become like the deadly gang rivalries that go back and forth for generations that these same officers try to stop.
There is great need for healing in Oakland. A leading cause of on-going street violence is the lack of trust between the community and law enforcement. The tension in Oakland since the murder of Oscar Grant had amassed into a powder keg, and it ignited.
Whether Mixon lit it intentionally or not we may never know, but it was lit. And now, before it gets even worse, a deliberate, public, sincere healing is needed in Oakland
David Muhammad is a contributor to New America Media.