News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

June 04, 2020

Students say it’s time to “disrupt” to stop police brutality

By Stephanie Hung

On Monday, June 1, student organizers drew thousands of people in Oakland to protest the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis. Youth took the stage and sent a powerful message to the world: they demand justice and they are not backing down. A crowd of approximately 15,000 marched through the heart of Oakland from Oakland Tech High School to Oscar Grant Plaza.

Xavier Brown, 19, is back from his first year at UCLA and is spending his summer in Oakland, where he was born and raised. Growing up in Oakland, he was heavily influenced by the city’s long tradition of civil rights activism. “As a Black youth in Oakland, you can’t help but be inspired by the Black Panthers,” said Brown. He also cited the Occupy protests in Oakland in 2011 as a turning point for him, especially seeing police arrest peaceful protestors: “I think it was seeing a family friend being arrested that showed me how serious it was.”

Jacqueline Azah, 19, another student organizer who helped to raise funds for the George Floyd Memorial Fund and the Anti-Police Terror Project’s bail fund, addressed a sea of protesters and called for the arrest of all four officers involved in Floyd’s death and for Chauvin, the officer who killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck leading to asphyxiation, to be charged with first degree murder. Azah, who goes to school in Atlanta, GA, is also back home for the summer. Growing up in San Jose and Mountain House, CA, she remembers being impacted by the death of Oscar Grant. She was also inspired by Parkland student organizers and activists, who received national attention over their call for gun reform after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.

Students were determined to “give the community a voice and to disrupt the peace with [their] words” — a “peace” that has condoned the status quo of police brutality for too long. Although a global pandemic has made in-person organizing difficult, these student activists believe it is still necessary to be in the streets. “I think people should have a way to take action in this time,” Brown said. Azah agreed: “If the government says it’s safe enough for people to go get haircuts, why can’t we safely social distance while doing a march with lots of precautions?” 

Brown and Azah both indicated that these protests over police brutality, specifically police violence towards Black Americans, are deeply personal. “What’s on TV is my reality… I don’t have the luxury of saying ‘oh, the news is bad right now. I’m going to turn it off”, stated Azah. Brown shared a story about being pulled over by police in Berkeley while he was with a friend. “They questioned us for little to no reason. It stuck with me.” 

On June 3, Attorney General Keith Ellison upgraded Chauvin’s original charge of third-degree manslaughter to the second-degree. He also announced that the three other officers at the scene of the murder, who failed to intervene, had beencharged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. This decision came on the heels of the mass protests that erupted over the weekend.

Despite sensationalist media coverage of the protests so far, with a focus on looting and property damage instead of the tens of thousands of people demanding justice, people are still flooding the streets. Protests have continued in Minneapolis, Oakland, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago. People, especially young people, are fed up with politicians from both parties who have staunchly defended law enforcement and provided a continuous, robust funding stream for police departments while cutting budgets for public services. Protesters are tired of the establishment’s only paying lip service when police brutalize working-class people and people of color, instead of taking steps to stop the violence — like demilitarizing and defunding the police.