Justice for Derrick Jones

December 15, 2010

OAKLAND, Calif.--Some 75 protesters gathered at a City Council meeting on December 14 to protest the killing of Derrick Jones and the inaction of the city government in the face of racist police murder.

Derrick Jones was murdered on November 8 while running from police--he was shot eight times. It has been over a month since Derrick Jones was killed, but there has been no discipline or prosecution of Oakland police officers Omar Daza-Quiroz or Eriberto Perez-Angeles.

The Oakland police department had allegedly harassed Derrick ever since his family won a suit against the police 20 years ago, which resulted in the firing of two officers.

The rally was organized by the civil rights activist group By Any Means Necessary. Participants came from a number of groups, including many who have been organizing around the case of Oscar Grant, an unarmed man who was shot and killed by BART transit officer Johannes Mehserle in the early morning hours of January 1, 2009.

The protesters held a rally outside Oakland City Hall and then went inside for public comment. Inside, only 15 people were allowed to speak to the City Council--while the council allowed speaker after speaker from the Fruitvale Merchants' Association to ask for more police patrols in their neighborhood.

This was too much for those protesting Derrick's murder. Many could not keep silent and interjected with shouts of "No police!" and "Police don't make me safer!" After all of the merchants spoke, the council cut off public comment. Activists then raised fists and chanted "Justice for Derrick Jones." We flooded up the aisles to the front of the room.

The council would still not let the anyone from the crowd speak, but promised to have a meeting about Derrick Jones and police bias on December 16. The Council shut down discussion, saying that there "wasn't time."

Then, councilors proceeded to what they thought was the more important business--singing Christmas songs. A local choir filed into the chamber and led the city officials in song, complete with audience and council members jangling keys like bells. Those fighting against police murder regrouped outside to the sound of merry caroling and put their names down again to comment on the next item.

The council got an earful. Council member Desley Brooks and Jean Quan, the newly elected mayor of Oakland, couldn't muster the courage to look anyone in the eye. Ronald Cruz, a lawyer representing Derrick Jones' brother, Michael Jones, spoke to the Council about the case.

According to Cruz, police picked up Michael after a recent rally for his brother and charged Michael with driving while intoxicated. According to Ronald Cruz, "Then Oakland police told Michael Jones 'We'll kill your whole family,' and called him the n-word." Oakland police allegedly used similar tactics in the Oscar Grant case, with police repeatedly arresting, threatening and harassing Oscar's family and friends who witnessed his murder.

Derrick's family friend, Madison, also came to the stand. She talked about how well liked Jones was in his neighborhood. Jones ran a barbershop that was a community gathering point. Madison talked about Derrick's barbecues, the way he was "goofy" and how he used to feed homeless folks. She compared the treatment of Derrick Jones to the treatment of a pit bull recently shot by Oakland police. The pit bull was shot in the leg and survived, while Jones was shot eight times.

The Oakland police department is conducting it's own internal affairs investigation, but internal review is a sham. Even an independent review board (like exists San Francisco) or a police auditor (like exists in Sacramento) frequently do not punish crooked cops. In San Francisco, police will often quit before being judged, and then are able to keep their pensions and avoid sanction.

But as the Oscar Grant struggle has shown, mass mobilization can force the state to grant us a small bit of justice. Oscar Grant's murderer Johannes Mehserle received a sentence of two years in jail. This is, of course, not nearly enough. However, the fact that he was locked up at all is a rarity in police shootings.

If we win any justice for Derrick Jones it will only come through the same protests and mobilizations. This will have to start with people getting the word out and mobilizing--in churches, in streets and in schools. It will come through not being afraid to stand up and speak out, even if we have to yell over carols at City Council meetings.

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