A year of fighting for Alan

May 23, 2013

François Hughes reports on the Justice for Alan Blueford Campaign, one year after the killing of a young African American man in Oakland.

SOME 200 people turned out on May 6 to mark the one-year anniversary of Alan Blueford's murder by Oakland police officer Miguel Masso.

At the candlelight vigil for Alan, the crowd marched with banners from Oakland's Sunnyside Park to between 92nd and 94th Avenues and Birch Street, where Alan was gunned down while pleading for his life one year ago. Local Occupy activists chalked a mural on the ground. Haitian drummers drummed and led chants. Pastors led a prayer for Alan, and Alan's mother Jeralynn Blueford released doves to commemorate Alan's life.

The many activists and well-wishers assembled reflected on Alan's life. Many of those struggling for justice have never met Alan, but from the stories from his parents comes a portrait of a young man who brought light to others in his life.

Alan was one month from graduating Skyline High School in Oakland and a football star. He tutored kids in his spare time, and the one thing that everyone commented on was his warm smile. He got that smile from his parents, Jeralynn and Adam Blueford.

Alan Blueford's family and supporters rallying outside Oakland City Hall
Alan Blueford's family and supporters rallying outside Oakland City Hall (Daniela Kantorova)

The last time his parents spoke to Alan was on the night of May 5, 2012. Alan had been watching a boxing match with friends and was hanging out waiting for a
ride. Alan's friends called a couple of hours later, tearfully telling Adam and Jeralynn that Alan had been shot by Oakland Police.

It was the start of a nightmare of racism, murder and lies for the Blueford family. It was also the start of Justice for Alan Blueford Coalition (JAB), a group of activists struggling to force those in power to admit their lies, and to win justice for Alan.

THE STORY of Alan's death that the Blueford family and the coalition was able to piece together is horrifying. The police appear to have attempted to stop Alan and his friends for no other reason than they were Black. Alan panicked and ran for two blocks. JAB later discovered through multiple witnesses that Alan's last words were "I didn't do anything."

Officer Miguel Masso later claimed that he saw Alan reaching for his waistband. Masso claimed there was a "gun battle," along with witnesses that police conjured up. Masso claimed that he was shot in the chest by Alan, yet a week later this "chest wound" turned into a "leg wound" and then migrated to his foot.

Then the claims of a "gun battle" simply disappeared. The police were forced to admit two months later that Alan's hands had no gunpowder residue. The police "found" a gun near the scene, but it had none of Alan's fingerprints. In the end, the only bullet that struck Miguel Masso was the one Masso fired into his own foot, with his own gun.

Alan's life ended when Masso was taking an ambulance ride for this self-inflicted wound, leaving Alan to bleed out.

In the weeks following Alan's murder, activists organized street marches, a rally at City Council and JAB assembled. It took multiple protests by hundreds of people for over two months to just get a simple coroner's report. The police allegedly illegally told the coroner not to release it, because it showed that Alan had no gunpowder residue on his hands, nor drugs in his system.

Police seemed to hope that if they could sow lies and drag out every small release in the media, the press would eventually lose interest and the movement would lose steam.

Politicians have also played their part in this defense of police.

Some of the more progressive local Democrats promised the Blueford family help following Alan's death. City Council President Larry Reid attended Alan's funeral and, seeing the thousand people in attendance, offered to help the Bluefords. Yet no help was forthcoming.

Fast-forward five months and, with hundreds of people shutting down City Council meetings demanding justice, activists in JAB were able to pry a severely redacted police report from Larry Reid's own hand after Reid became frustrated by the shutting down of City Council business.

Larry Reid's attitude is a lesson for activists: while some politicians may talk about winning justice for victims of police brutality, it takes a movement to force them to deliver on their promises.

In particular, the overarching project of Democratic Party politicians in Oakland is the same racist "tough on crime" agenda. They can't find money for social services, but seem to be able to find plenty for hundreds of police officers and SWAT teams to occupy the ACORN public housing.

In the past decade, a quarter of Oakland's African American population has left the city.

It will take an immense mobilization to force these tough-on-crime Democrats to let go of even the worst cops. JAB has come very far, however. It is the strongest anti-police brutality coalition since the Justice for Oscar Grant Coalition that forced the courts to convict officer Johannes Mehserle for his killing of Oscar Grant at an Oakland BART station on New Year's Day in 2009.

The support from unions has also been important, with resolutions supporting JAB from the San Francisco and Alameda labor councils and multiple local unions. Jeralynn and Adam have spoken at several union membership meetings.

THE JUSTICE for Alan Blueford Coalition is a multiracial gathering of disparate activists who came together in common struggle around the bedrock that is the Blueford family. JAB has held many events and rallies, and shut down City Council twice.

The Coalition also held an amazing forum with Angela Davis and built up the network of families fighting for justice for their loved ones against police brutality in Northern California.

After one year, however, Officer Miguel Masso is back at his job. JAB looked to the firing and conviction of Johannes Mehserle as a model for what some measure of justice would look like. Protests however, haven't been as large as in the spontaneous Oscar Grant protests and their more organized aftershocks.

JAB has yet to win its main demand to bring Alan's killer to justice, but the campaign's yearlong siege of city officials has had side effects on Oakland politics. The drumbeat of police killings has slowed, and the constant pressure of the coalition has added to the turmoil now engulfing the Oakland Police Department, which is so corrupt that it is the first department in history threatened with federal receivership.

Judge Thelton Henderson, using the threat of receivership, brought in former Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier to "professionalize" the department. Frazier forced out two police chiefs in one week and the monitor said his office may revisit past cases of police abuse.

No one should be fooled into thinking that the federal monitor and the city government are seriously challenging Oakland police racism or putting forward real solutions to Oakland's violence and unemployment.

Yet this is an opportunity for JAB activists. At a press conference on May 16, JAB activists spoke out about Frazier's report, which lends weight to what the community has been saying for years now--that the Oakland Police Department racially profiles people, brutalizes them, and its officers lie to cover their crimes.

Frazier wants to tinker with Internal Affairs and may open a case or two. But one thing that JAB activists know from the past year of unending struggle is that everything we have won has come from by pressure.

Miguel Masso is guilty--now, the question is how to build a movement that is strong, smart, and fierce enough to win Alan Blueford one year after his murder. And then, how to build a movement that makes sure there are no more Alan Bluefords in the future--and that Oakland can be free of racist police terror.

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