[News] Outside Agitators & White Vigilantism: A Reportback from Oakland

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jul 23 18:01:43 EDT 2013

Outside Agitators & White Vigilantism: A Reportback from Oakland

* *

Written on July 22nd, by a Collective in the Bay Area

/"/I'm tired of the marchin', the rallyin', the protestin'
We hoopin' and hollerin', still we gettin' no justice/"/

/Dead Prez, '//Made You Die/ 

In the past week, the city of Oakland, along with the rest of the 
nation, has been shaken by a series of large protests and small-scale 
riots in the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal in Florida. The 
Oakland Police Department (OPD) and City Hall were largely taken by 
surprise by the massive outpouring of grief and rage of local residents, 
and both struggled -- as a result of several high-profile court 
which have forced the OPD to reconfigure its crowd control tactics -- to 
contain a growing unrest which picked up greater and greater momentum as 
each day passed.

Even as Oakland business leaders applied enormous pressure on the OPD to 
restore order, whether through the use of micro-policing procedures 
(such as the increased enforcement of pedestrian or minor traffic 
infractions, which closely resemble stop-and-frisk techniques) or full 
displays of force, (seen later in the week, in which mobile cadres were 
supplemented by snatch squads and vehicular surveillance units) City 
Councilman Neil Gallo lamented 
their inability to quell the sporadic uprisings, commenting that 
"protestors are better organized than our Police Department."

And, of course, we have seen the predictable return of the 'outside 
agitator' narrative, in which both 'white anarchists' and other 
'vandals' are characterized as representing an alien and invasive force 
whose interests lie only in terrorizing the residents of Oakland as a 
whole, and hijacking otherwise 'peaceful' demonstrations. Yet despite 
this focus on the threat of the white 'outside agitator' or 'anarchist,' 
the OPD continue to target and arrest more young black men than white 
'agitators.' For example, of the nine individuals arrested last Monday 
night, only two were officially arraigned on felony charges. These two 
men are black.

As was also predictable a large proportion of Oakland residents have 
accepted the onslaught of the state's TV, radio and newspaper campaign 
wholeheartedly and the effects of this strategy have, to some small 
extent, been witnessed in the dwindling signs of popular revolt - in the 
space of one week. Some of that was to be expected as an embryonic 
movement decides whether to grow or even to exist. But as a Bay area 
collective we have observed other things in the streets and in the media 
during the last week that need addressing. Specifically, we would like 
to tackle two key issues:

· The emergence of black youth as organic leadership and the attempt to 
deny this reality

· The emergence of white mob violence in the defense of private property 
and against black urban rebellion

We will, to the best of our abilities as participants and observers, 
attempt to provide a brief overview of the most significant events of 
the last week, address each of the aforementioned points individually as 
well as explain why they are significant and, finally, offer some 
thoughts on how we might best confront and overcome the difficulties we 
now face in the aftermath of these brief flare-ups.

*A Basic Clarification of Recent Events*

/"Fuck all that bullshit, protesting for justice/

/I feel like the Black Panthers, let's start a fucking riot!"/

/Zoeja Jean, 'All Black in My Hoodie'/

On the evening of July 13^th , 2013 several hundred angry and saddened 
demonstrators gathered at Oscar Grant Plaza in response to the 
announcing of the Zimmerman acquittal that same day. During a 
particularly emotional speak-out, one speaker expressed her distress 
over the verdict, but told the transfixed crowd she was encouraged by 
the diversity of attendees, and was happy to see everyone there, 
"whether white, black, or brown." After several other rousing speeches 
from attendees the speak-out began to taper off, and the crowd began to 
look around wondering what our next move would be. At this point, 
another speaker jumped atop the makeshift pedestal -- a young, unnamed 
black man -- and made a simple proposal: either we stay and continue 
talking, or we hit the streets and march. The crowd overwhelmingly 
responded that it was time to march. As we snaked through the downtown 
Oakland streets, numerous storefronts were smashed, small barricades 
dragged out and lit ablaze, and a BART patrol car destroyed. Folks 
driving by honked their horns in support and, on several occasions, 
individuals who had been waiting for the bus stood up and joined in the 
fracas. All told, the march would cause over $30,000 worth of damage in 
the downtown area and only one arrest was made.

On July 15^th , scores of protests occurred across the United States, 
with large demonstrations taking place in New York, Atlanta, and 
elsewhere. But the most shining examples of militant black self-activity 
would take place in Oakland, Los Angeles, and Houston. While some groups 
in other cities called for Department of Justice (DOJ) intervention, 
court reform, or the repeal of Stand Your Ground laws, for many angry 
black youth in these cities, calls for 'justice' rang empty. Instead, 
these places would erupt in clashes with police, sporadic flash mobs 
and, of course, highway shutdowns which occurred almost concurrently.

In Oakland, organizers had scheduled a rally and march in response to 
the national call-out issued by the Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee 
<http://trayvonoc.wordpress.com/> days earlier. However a struggle 
quickly emerged within a small group of collectives over the question of 
destination and goal of the demonstration. Following several speeches 
and some internal debate, the local black nationalist O.N.Y.X. 
Organizing Committee seized control of march logistics and explained to 
the crowd that we would march to the OPD station. Upon arrival, they 
told us, we would continue to rally, then return to Oscar Grant Plaza. 
As the crowd of one thousand approached the intersection outside of OPD 
headquarters a large cordon of riot police blocked our path, forcing 
demonstrators into the middle of the major downtown intersection and 
effectively blocking all lanes of traffic. However, OPD officers did not 
block off the I-880N freeway ramp, choosing instead to concentrate all 
their forces on preventing approach to the headquarters. As O.N.Y.X. 
spokespersons urged the crowd to stay put and allow the rally to 
continue as they had planned, a small group of black youth on 'scraper' 
bikes ignored their pleas. These youths broke away from the intersection 
and charged up the freeway off-ramp.

Some of the O.N.Y.X. organizers motioned with their arms to come back 
and seemed to disapprove with the decision to take the freeway, but 
hundreds in the crowd began following up the off-ramp with great 
excitement. Several cars honked in support of the exuberant crowd. Once 
on the freeway 
a large section of demonstrators formed a human chain across northbound 
and southbound lanes, effectively bringing traffic to an absolute 
standstill. After nearly a half-an-hour, OPD and California Highway 
Patrol (CHP) officers began to mount the freeway, and demonstrators 
scattered in a disorganized manner. When the police did not make 
arrests, concentrating on clearing the highway, marchers were able to 
regroup near Chinatown. This gathering weaved back through downtown 
Oakland, marched around Lake Merritt to Piedmont and eventually grew 
into a much larger march that would continue late into the evening, and 
culminated in an assembly before the steps of the Superior Court of 
Alameda County.

*We Are All George Zimmerman: Drew Cribley and White Vigilantism*

/"The police said, 'If they're breaking in your property, /

/do what you gotta do and leave their bodies on the side of the road."/

/'Roper,' White Vigilante from Post-Katrina New Orleans/

/"And the police are simply the hired enemies of this population. They 
are present to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business 
interests, and they have no other function."/

/James Baldwin, "A Report from Occupied Territories"/

As demonstrators filed back toward Oscar Grant Plaza following a brief 
interlude in front of the heavily guarded courthouse, a large section of 
black demonstrators began filing home. Some remained, though, and 
another segment of the march began to 'bloc up' to prepare for another 
run through downtown Oakland. Several windows were quickly smashed, 
including one belonging to the Men's Warehouse building. The OPD had 
quickly amassed near the courthouse, following behind the remaining 
protestors before launching a flash bang grenade and arresting several 
individuals, the majority of whom were black and brown. Following these 
arrests, a white man who was originally arrested on the most serious 
charges had them reduced to misdemeanors while a young black man would 
be arraigned on a felony.

Demonstrators fought back against OPD officers, and the police lines 
would soon retreat slightly. The march then continued its way back 
towards the 'Uptown' zone (a name given by developers to a recently 
gentrified section of downtown Oakland), where marchers would be met 
with a sight not seen in recent years. Outside of a nearby storefront 
along Broadway stood a string of predominantly white workers and 
business owners -- side-by-side -- wielding an assortment of blunt 
objects and weapons, including hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, bats, 
and Tasers. In an instant, a young 'bloc-ed up' youth sprinted out of 
the march and attempted to knock out the window of Flora, a local small 
restaurant. This individual was met by two white waiters, one of whom 
attempted to grab the protestor and the other following with his weapon 
raised high. The youth, in an effort to avoid being hit, swung their 
small hammer and hit the first waiter firmly across the side of his face.

Much has been said about Drew Cribley 
the young white Flora waiter who was hit with a hammer. In media 
coverage, Cribley is portrayed as an innocent worker who was trying to 
'deter' protestors from breaking Flora's windows when he was viciously 
attacked with a hammer. Even self-identified leftists and progressives 
have taken to Twitter and Facebook to condemn the attack as 
'anti-working class.' Yet, what the media didn't say is that Cribley was 
doing more than simply trying to deter protestors from breaking windows. 
In reality, Cribley and his co-workers decided to mob up and arm 
themselves with wrenches and hammers to attack protestors, the majority 
of whom, of course, were black youth.

In defending Flora - a self-described "Art Deco restaurant" in the heart 
of Oakland - from the rage of black youth, Drew Cribley was defending 
the private property of his boss. By doing so, Cribley made the 
conscious choice, a choice that many white workers have made before him, 
to organize himself and his white co-workers to violently police black 
people in order to preserve and protect the racial and economic order. 
In this sense, it was Cribley's actions that were 'anti-working-class.' 
Like George Zimmerman, Cribley has been portrayed as a victim who acted 
in self-defense when he decided to physically confront those who were 
breaking Flora's windows. But Cribley is neither a hero nor a victim. He 
is a white vigilante desperately attempting to hold on to what Dubois 
called the 'wages of whiteness' in the face of black rebellion and 
economic precarity.

So while we may never know why Drew Cribley decided to arm himself in 
order to defend the private property of his employer, we think it's 
equally important to ask, why didn't he join up with up those who were 
attacking Flora, or at the very least, why didn't he stand aside? Above 
all, what we find most important in Cribley's action is that he was not 
alone. On the night of July 15^th other white workers in 'Uptown' 
organized themselves not to fight their bosses or sabotage their 
workplaces but, rather, to defend the private property of their bosses, 
through the threat of violence. In essence, these workers acted as a 
vigilante mob, who took it upon themselves to do what they felt the 
police wouldn't.

While the media, the Chamber of Commerce and local business owners 
decried the Oakland Police Department's supposed 'hands off approach 
during the riots, they seemed to have no problem with the groups of 
white people who decided to arm themselves and patrol the streets 
looking for rioters. This contradiction can only be understood as tacit 
approval of the use of organized, white mob violence as a strategic tool.

*The Outside Agitator and the Invisibilization of Black Self-Organization*

/"...Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught 
in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of 
destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never 
again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside 
agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be 
considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds."/

/Martin Luther King, Jr. "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," 1963./

In recent weeks, we have seen several variations of 'outside agitator' 
discourse deployed by different state actors and agencies, all with 
similar strategies of fragmenting and separating-out the 'disruptive' 
elements from those recognized as engaging in more appropriate or 
legitimate political activity. The OPD (and even co-founder of the Black 
Panther Party, Bobby Seale 
pointed their fingers at violent 'anarchists,' many of whom, according 
to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, had most likely come from San Francisco to 
"get off" on the spectacle created by their actions. And we should not 
omit Kevon Paynter, Kazuu Haga, and Black Men United who, in a 
particularly disgusting reformulation of the illegitimate/legitimate 
protestor dichotomy, insisted that "radical" black protestors were 
portraying "negative stereotypes" about black youth, and that it was 
these same images or representations which ultimately led to Trayvon 
Martin's death.

But the most potentially destructive variation of the 'outside agitator' 
discourse has not come from the mainstream media or the OPD. In a recent 
Indybay article 
entitled "A Basic Explanation of Recent Events (July 13-15, 2013) in the 
City of Oakland (Classified)," the anonymous author (whether 
intentionally or not) uncritically takes up this discourse, essentially 
verifying an outright fiction -- what's more, a fundamental staple of 
counterinsurgency procedure -- to champion the actions of 'white 
anarchists' which they claim make it possible for black people to revolt.

/Given the brutal ways they are treated by the police, black people are 
less likely to commit random acts of vandalism in public. However, when 
people in a crowd begin to smash windows, write on the walls, throw 
rocks, burn garbage, and successfully avoid arrest, it encourages a 
sense of safety amongst all who wish to express their anger and rage. 
This sense of safety is founded on the trust amongst the crowd and the 
solidarity amongst them, but it is informed and shaped by the first acts 
of rebellion./


/Let it be clear, the white anarchist outside agitator is not always 
white, nor are they always from outside Oakland. But they are often not 
from Oakland, happen to be white, and have a fixation on the most basic 
actions that have come to signify rebellion. Freedom inspires freedom, 
but some people are freer than others. Those with more freedom in this 
country can choose to either use it or squander it./

Now, we are in agreement that it is necessary for white revolutionaries 
or insurrectionists to evaluate their abilities to move and act in 
certain political situations in relation to those who cannot (or feel 
that they cannot) always do the same. These are crucial conversations 
and should be given serious reflection. However, taken to its logical 
conclusion, the author's central argument boils down to this: without 
the vanguard activity of 'white anarchists,' black people would not have 
engaged in forms of militant protest. In this strange inversion of 
Fanon, what we are presented with is not just a profound erasure of the 
last half-century of political struggle in the United States (not to 
mention the last near-decade of revolt in Oakland), but simultaneously a 
re-articulation of the colonial relationship in which whites are 
recognized as active subjects or creators and 'non-whites' as passive 
objects, who can only become political subjects as a result of the acts 
of their benevolent gatekeepers.

This is a terrible falsehood. How can we accept such an absurd 
proposition when the events of July 13^th and July 15^th , not 
coincidentally the occasions in which the most militant demonstrations 
took place in Oakland, tell us different? How could the author, if they 
were in fact present, so willfully ignore and invisibilize the most 
significant emergence of black self-organization and organic leadership 
since the Oscar Grant rebellions? We must be clear about one thing: if 
there was any feeling of 'safety' or power created in the streets of 
Oakland in the last week, it was largely made possible by the 
self-activity of these presumed 'fearful' black youth -- not by a 
self-appointed white vanguard force.

This is not to say that black youth acted monolithically, nor are we 
attempting to diminish the acts and leadership of our 'white' anarchist 
comrades. But we hold that it is this re-emergence of self-organization 
of black youth in Oakland that will, as we saw during the Oscar Grant 
rebellions, help reshape the trajectory of class and social struggle in 
the coming years. Additionally, we believe it is an unavoidable task for 
all those consciously engaging in a revolutionary or an insurrectionary 
project to encourage, learn from, participate in, and help to strengthen 
the autonomous, organic self-activity of all working-class and poor 
peoples. And if we make the mistake of positioning ourselves on the 
wrong side of these developments, we will be faced with great 
difficulties indeed.

*Some Concluding Remarks*

/"Sick of the ride/
/It's suicide/
/For the other side of town/
/When I find a way to shut 'em down"/
/Public Enemy, '//Shut Em Down/ 

Throughout the course of this long-form reflection and analysis -- 
however incomplete or fragmented -- we have attempted to clarify and 
explain several issues which have been distorted by a number of sources. 
We have tried to emphasize the spontaneous self-organization and 
activity of black youth as crucial formative elements of recent events. 
Without reservation, we believe that if it were not for this leadership 
we would have been faced with an entirely different set of circumstances 
- or defeats. No one who was present in the streets in the last week 
feels like these were battles without a cause.

Therefore, just as we fight to establish a counter-narrative to the 
state and mainstream media discourse which deliberately distorts the 
nature of a struggle for vengeance, we also feel compelled to fight 
against a false characterization of these uprisings amongst our own 
comrades, if necessary, especially to the extent that they persist in 
invisibilizing the self-directed activities of people who are also 
comrades, friends, and family.

We have also sought to demystify the actions surrounding and involving 
the attack of white vigilante Drew Cribley. The emergence of white 
working-class mob activity and the establishment of strategic 
partnerships with management against working-class and poor black 
rebellion are not -- historically speaking -- altogether new 
developments. Yet these moves, set against the backdrop of a continuing 
crisis in city leadership and policing, are likely to open up new and 
complicated terrains of political conflict which will require careful 
conversations about how we engage future campaigns and how best to 
defend one another in the process.

These questions take on a greater relevancy in Oakland as we quickly 
approach July 26^th , a day which has been declared a national day of 
action to "Block for Trayvon <http://block4trayvon.wordpress.com/>."

/The murder of a black teen is not the exception, but the norm; we are 
coming to fists with normal life in America. Hence, #hoodiesup must 
disrupt the places that sustain this normal: cities, highways, trains, 
ports, social media---all the flows that compose the false harmony of 
America. The sit-ins in Pittsburgh and Florida, the marches blocking 
streets around the country, the highway takeovers in Oakland, LA, and 
Houston, all share a wisdom: every place that politics and commerce 
carry on as if nothing has happened is ripe for disruption. Block 

While we wholeheartedly support actions and calls that to disrupt the 
flow of labor and capital, we also know -- as direct participants and 
observers -- what it took in 2011 to mobilize for a general strike in 
Oakland and, later in 2012, for a shutdown of the West Coast Port 
system. It was an effort of thousands of people, of scores of planning 
meetings and hours upon hours of outreach. This call to action leaves us 
with less than a week to cobble together a coherent strategy and plan 
for attack, one which must be especially well-honed if we are to find 
ourselves in direct conflict with a police force (aided by a growing 
manifestation of white vigilantism) becoming increasingly concerned with 
losing control of the Oakland streets.

We can't help but wonder if, in our particular context and political 
situation, whether it would make more sense, strategically, to exercise 
patience and wait for the beginning of August when BART workers 
will likely strike for a second time in several months? We ask all in 
Oakland to seriously consider this question. Such an approach, properly 
navigated, would open up many opportunities for a much wider social 
strike and establish crucial linkages between the BART worker's 
struggles -- many of whom are black -- and the recent ruptures created 
by the actions surrounding the Zimmerman verdict. At the junction of 
these seemingly unrelated political battles we see the operation of a 
similar logic of economic exploitation and white supremacy and, if we 
hope to offer a serious challenge to this power, we must seek creative 
and potent mechanisms of resistance that sustain and embolden us in our 
fight. We hope that we have constructively provoked our comrades, and we 
look forward to discussing and debating these issues in the coming days.

See you on the barricades.

Contact: Oaklandunity510 at gmail.com <mailto:Oaklandunity510 at gmail.com>

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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