Revolution #173, August 16, 2009

Serial Killers of the Oakland Police Department Strike Again

Eight months after the murder of Oscar Grant by BART police—after protests in the streets, after several meetings about a citizen’s review board, after saccharine official apologies mixed with vicious official threats against the people—the police are still shooting people on the streets of Oakland. On August 1, a Saturday night, Brownie Polk, a 46-year-old father, was shot to death by an Oakland cop. This is the second killing of a Black man by the Oakland Police Department in less than a month. Parnell Smith was shot by OPD on the same street, International Boulevard, about 55 blocks away, on July 15.

A woman officer shot Brownie Polk multiple times at close range. The police claim he was advancing on the cop and threatening her with a hatchet. But Brownie’s friends and relatives say that Brownie carried tools everywhere he went, and would not threaten anyone. Police say that the liquor store owner called them because Brownie was creating a disturbance, but the store owner denies that he had called police, saying that Brownie was well known at the store, came there every day. A clerk there told Revolution that he was shocked to hear about the shooting, and couldn’t believe that Brownie would threaten anyone. Another clerk told the media that it was the officer who charged at Brownie—and then shot him. Brownie Polk’s sister told the San Francisco Chronicle, “He would never charge at police with a hatchet. He would never do it. I would bet my life on it.” The OPD says the shooting was justified, and that a surveillance video from the store backs their story, but as of the writing of this article the police refuse to release the video.

Revolution newspaper, the Revolution Club and others went to the East Oakland neighborhood shortly after the incident was reported, to investigate, to expose the system behind this murder, and to build resistance, as part of building a revolutionary movement. The revolutionaries distributed the statement “The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have,” and pointed people to the part which reads: “It is up to us: to wake upto shake off the ways they put on us, the ways they have us thinking so they can keep us down and trapped in the same old rat-race…to rise up, as conscious Emancipators of Humanity. The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world…when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness…those days must be GONE. And they CAN be.”

Five minutes on the street and you knew two things: Brownie Polk was loved. And people were angered at his unjust execution. “It was murder. It was something we always feared growing up, being killed by the police,” said Tony, a childhood friend. “I loved Brownie, and every day I go to the memorial [outside the liquor store] to light the candles.” Another friend wrote a statement about how she loved Brownie, and sarcastically referred to the cops’ lies in the Oscar Grant case, asking, “Was this a mistake again? Maybe they thought they were reaching for their taser, but instead they reached for their gun. Did their finger slip and accidentally shoot him four times instead of one? Do you think that a hatchet could travel as fast as a bullet?...No, I don’t think so. It’s his line of work, that was a tool of use to do his job and I don’t think it would have been as fatal as a bullet...oh excuse me...four bullets!”

Brownie grew up in Oakland, and had lived in the same house in that neighborhood for many years; everyone knew him and relied on him as a handyman; he did construction, painting, fixed the kids’ bikes. He was always working and always ready to help.

Friends said Brownie had a playful saying, his way of talking about the oppressed, he said it all the time, “Don’t forget about the little people.” And this appeared on tribute t-shirts and on memorials inside and outside the liquor store, and outside of Brownie’s house. “Don’t forget about the little people.”

The revolutionaries distributed the statement from the RCP in front of the liquor store where he had been killed. People stopped to talk about their outrage against this latest police murder. Soon a small number of revolutionaries and people from the neighborhood took off down the street toward Brownie’s house, chanting, fists in the air: “Justice for Brownie Polk” and “No More Stolen Lives, Enough is Enough.” By the time they marched back to the store there were about 50 people.

People from the neighborhood spoke on the bullhorn and talked of Brownie’s love for his neighbors: Black, white, and Latino. And they loved him. An older Mexican couple told us that they were one of the first Mexican families to move there many years ago, and Brownie was the first one to break the ice, to welcome them to the neighborhood, and called her “Ma.” “The police think they can do whatever they want. And that can’t go on anymore. We have to do something,” said an older Latino man. “We need a much better future for our little ones.” Women pointed out that Brownie respected them, and would escort the women wherever they had to go. In front of the house where he had lived, many people cried as others spoke out about Brownie and against what the police had done. One man talked about the hopes that Brownie had for the “little people” changing the world. The revolutionaries agitated that we need a revolution, and that we have a plan, organization, strategy and a leader, Bob Avakian. The chants became: “What do we need?—Revolution! Who’s gonna make it? The little people. Who’s gonna lead it? Bob Avakian.” Some people already were familiar with this revolution through the newspaper, and one woman had worked with the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation, but many were just hearing about the RCP and Bob Avakian for the first time. People wanted to know who Bob Avakian is and more about him, and the revolutionaries summed up there’s lots of openness, but that we have a lot of work to do to help people delve into materials like the statement and the DVD—Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About. A man from the neighborhood told people to find out for themselves by getting the newspaper and urged them to “get with this revolution family.”

The next evening we returned and many people welcomed us again. People were still grieving, hurting, but quite a few wanted to give expression to their outrage. So there was another march through the neighborhood, and young women from the neighborhood played a big role, taking up the bullhorn, and challenging people to come off their porches and join it. They led chants in English and in Spanish. We soon ran out of the posters we had made with the excerpt from the statement with the faces of Brownie Polk and Oscar Grant. Some people in the neighborhood who had been active with the RCP in the past embraced us as old friends, and spoke out, answering some of the political questions others had, about revolution, about Bob Avakian, and whether revolution, and this party is for real, like the stickers say. As the evening continued, some Cuban neighbors played a rhumba on congas, cowbell and shekere in front of the house. Friends and family had a barbecue in Brownie’s honor and generously and warmly invited the revolutionaries to eat, and stay and talk some more about ending police murder, about revolution and about the far better future that is possible as well as urgently needed.

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