Op-Ed: POA Misses Mark with Black Lives Matter Critique

Recently, the San Jose Police Officers’ Association questioned the legitimacy of Black Lives Matter, accusing the movement of inciting protests over violence committed by police while failing to condemn violence against police.

The POA’s statement shows that the organization fundamentally misunderstands the mission of Black Lives Matter. And it makes me in turn question the POA’s legitimacy.

Where was the POA’s outrage when one of its own, San Jose police Officer Phil White, threatened violence against Black Lives Matter supporters on Twitter? What about the systemic violence by American law enforcement that disproportionately claims the lives of black people? Has the union lost its moral compass?

Since the 1960s, in response to a range of perceived threats, law enforcement agencies across the nation at every level of government have been blurring the line between cop and soldier. Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment, the San Jose POA seems to have adopted an “us against them” mindset that should be reserved for the battlefield.

When the people appointed to serve and protect become a force that kills more than 1,000 citizens in a one-year span, then we need to take a critical look at how we got here.

An officer-involved shooting that took place just after 2am on Jan. 1, 2009, at the Fruitvale BART station changed my life forever. BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle un-holstered his Sig-Sauer P226 to fatally shoot my nephew Oscar Grant. My unarmed nephew, murdered at point-blank range by a man sworn to serve and protect.

When I heard the news, I fell to the ground in my mother’s home. Though I was furious, I was so grateful for the last text message I had sent to Oscar before he died: “Uncle loves you, God loves you, and God loves your family.”

The shot that took Oscar’s life an hour-and-a-half after I sent that text helped galvanize the movement that later became known as Black Lives Matter.

The Black Lives Matter mantra is not new to Oakland or the Bay Area. When black families migrated to the East Bay during the WWII industrial era, the Oakland Police Department began openly recruiting officers from the Deep South to impose an unjust Jim Crow-inspired rule of law.

In 1950, the antagonism and brutality waged by law enforcement against African-Americans in the Bay Area led the California State Assembly Committee on Crime and Correction to host hearings on police violence.

Those hearings decades ago were part of a larger, community-based struggle against police brutality in the Bay Area. The civil rights activism in the 1940s and 1950s—especially the organizing against police brutality—led to the emergence of 1960s activism in the Bay Area and eventually of the Black Panther Party in Oakland in 1966.

Remember that Black Lives Matter was built upon that legacy of civil rights activism and the advocacy of families directly affected by police brutality.

The Oscar Grant movement paved the way for Black Lives Matter and led to the first time in California history that an on-duty police officer who killed an innocent black person was charged, arrested, convicted, and sent to jail.

Black Lives Matter demands that elected officials, media and others join their movement to end extrajudicial police killings and hold officers accountable for their actions. Today, the emphasis on Black Lives Matter is critical for the sake of justice and democracy.

Black Lives Matter will not be criminalized, diminished or ostracized by the San Jose POA, whose press release last month incited further animosity when the aim should be to improve community-police dialogue. The tone echoed a mindset of the battlefield.

San Jose Officer Phil White was fired in October 2015 and reinstated with the police union’s help in February 2016 after using social media to send threatening tweets to Black Lives Matter supporters. That the union failed to condemn Officer White but hastily points the finger at Black Lives Matter begs the question of whether it has lost its moral bearings.

Before making demands of Black Lives Matter, the union should hold its own members accountable. The hypocrisy must stop for a dialogue to start.

Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, a San Jose resident whose nephew Oscar Grant was fatally shot by BART police, wrote this op-ed for San Jose Inside. A systems engineer by day, he co-founded the Love Not Blood Campaign Foundation with his wife Beatrice X. Johnson. In the years since Oscar Grant’s death in 2009, Uncle Bobby has become a resource for other families bereaved by police violence, including the families of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin.

13 Comments

  1. Where to begin? Neither you, nor the BLM movement, is interested in a dialogue. What you want is to make a false or misleading statement about “…the systemic violence by law enforcement that disproportionally claims the lives of black people” and have it go unchallenged. You want to ignore and overlook the behavior that results in these violent confrontations. The you want the police to accept fault for these incidents that are often the fault of the deceased.

    What do you have to say about Michael Brown, whose shooting sparked this movement? He wasn’t a “gentle giant.” His hands weren’t up and he wasn’t surrendering. He punched an officer and tried to take his gun. His shooting was justified. Have you or the BLM movement ever acknowledged that truth? Does the truth even matter to you? What about the calls for the murder of police officers that have been a part of many BLM protests? Is that also something that should be ignored?

    No, Mr. Johnson, you don’t have an interest in a dialogue, because it would mean you would have to face some uncomfortable truths. You’d have to talk about the statistics that demonstrate the disproportionality of the violent crimes committed by young, black males. You’d have to acknowledge that in nearly every shooting, it was the actions of the supposed victim that lead to the violent confrontation. When you place a human being, and yes, police officers are human beings, into a high stress situation where they must make a split-second decision when they believe their lives might be in danger, the resulting decision making will not always be perfect.

    You would also have to acknowledge that a simple behavioral guideline would prevent nearly every shooting: when contacted by the police, cooperate. It might also help to forego committing crimes, but even if someone can’t forego the latter, following the former would keep them safe.

    No, your nephew absolutely did not deserve to die, but he chose a life of crime and he chose to fight with the police. Had he cooperated, he would be alive today. That doesn’t mean his death wasn’t the fault of the officer; unfortunately, he came into contact with an officer who was not capable of handling the stress of the job. But following one simple rule of behavior would have averted your family’s tragedy.

    If you truly wanted to have a dialogue, I’m sure police officers would be willing participants. But you don’t. Officers should be held accountable for their own actions, but so should everyone else.

  2. As I have said for 15 years, the Pale Horse is coming when it comes to police killing unarmed people with no punishment. We now have mass media and Mass Social Media coupled with hand held technology. Confiscating cell phones is a waste of time with Apps that transmit your video to your Facebook account and safety.

    Police view color as all the same. Black Lives Matter view all Police as one. It doesn’t matter if you have multi race Police Departments because the minute a minority becomes a cop he or she is no longer a minority but instead a white addition to the Police Gang with the freedom from anxiety of harassment. All they need to do is back up the other members of the Department and they are Free, White and Twenty-one..

    If all black people could be authorized to wear their local Police Departments Police Cadet Program Uniform then no unarmed black people would be shot. The problem Police have today is retribution from the Black on the street regardless of the Judicial System’s pronouncement that the 25 shots in the back was a result of the Officer, behind his car, in “Fear for his life. As wrong as it is it will produce retribution like we had in the 60’s and early 70’s. So if you don’t understand that just grab your ass and pray.

    This was an assassination plain and simple and it was over a stolen bicycle owned by the victims.

    There are now hundreds of these videos and this one represents the average conduct of police today. The cops were exonerated by a Mexican DA but the City paid out 6-7 million to the victims families. Now San Jose has Paid out 6million that we know of this year with 43 settlements to go. Maybe that’s the answer! Kill an unarmed person -pay out 5 million, kill an unarmed person -pay out 2 million, shoot a person 5150 with a Black and decker Drill and pay out 6 million and so on until you can’t afford a police department who kills people. It doesn’t affect me because here in Zurich the Swiss don’t murder the citizens.

  3. > Where to begin? Neither you, nor the BLM movement, is interested in a dialogue.

    Well, exactly.

    It irks me that there are still way too many people that think it’s just a matter of “understanding” the other side’s point of view.

    We’re way beyond that.

    THEY DON’T understand our point of view, and they DON’T WANT TO.

    We DO understand THEIR point of view AND we understand OUR point of view and we have figured out that the two views are irreconcilable.

    The “other side” are tribalists. Tribalists believe their shaman. The shaman talks to the spirit world and knows things that other people don’t know. Anything at odds with what their shaman says is a “lie:”.

    We believe in external objective reality, Socratic dialogue, and the scientific method. We accept the new knowledge is always possible.

    Factual analysis and statistics are useful . . . for us, but are meaningless to them.

    We need to spend LESS time trying to convince or persuade BLM and their fellow tribalists and more energy and effort exposing and explaining their underlying ignorance, malignancy, and misanthropy.

  4. It amazes (and frustrates) me that people believe their feelings and propaganda rather than actual facts. Black Lives Matter was based on a lie so please stop mentioning Michael Brown’s name because he and he alone, was the cause of his own demise.

    San Jose PD or POA had nothing to do with Oscar Grant so it’s absurd to try to make some correlation between the two.

    So many people want to believe that cops or white people wake up every morning and set out to kill or harass people of color. Now why would anyone want to ruin their own lives and careers? It makes no sense but yet we hear story after story where people try to push this false narrative but sometimes the truth comes to light such in the below cases where video proved they were either lying or truly brainwashed to the point where they are incapable of seeing things for what they actually are.

    Mainstream media is responsible for pushing these false narratives that people without logical and/or critically thinking abilities believe.

    Here’s the incident of an Oakland Firefighter who accused Oakland PD of mistreating and racially profiling him and his sons. The news stations were all over this when they thought this firefighter was a victim of police misconduct. Once the truth (video) came out….silence from these same new’s stations.

    https://www.facebook.com/fugitivewatchtv/photos/a.304843891442.159064.139689221442/10152373533386443/?type=3&theater

    http://www.fugitive.com/2015/06/25/san-jose-police-sgt-scott-castruita-responds-to-oakland-firefighter-allegations-of-oakland-police-misconduct/

    Here’s another where a professor claimed she was racially profiled and once again the video showed that the police officers were only concerned for her safety.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIBb_jbkXTo

    Here’s another that caused a big uproar with the media. Even Hillary tweeted about it. But as always, not much coverage once these claims are proven false.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/02/nyregion/racism-charges-in-bus-incident-and-their-unraveling-upset-u-of-albany.html?_r=0

    A college professor who accused a Connecticut state trooper of racial profiling

    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/08/03/prof-who-accused-cop-profiling-flunks-dash-cam-test.html

    There are MANY more stories like this.

    As more and more honest people become fed up with BLM, they are speaking up. As they should, it’s the right thing to do and takes courage. Who in their right mind supports a movement that calls for the death of police officers and when Police Depts try to reach out and establish a positive relationship with them, are told things like “I eat pigs, I don’t eat with them.”

    Here are some people that although their words may seem harsh, they are speaking the truth. Of course, supporters of BLM will just call them Uncle Toms, Coons, and racists in an attempt to shut them up. These people address the real problems of the Black community.

    https://www.facebook.com/thegameissoldnottold/videos/499190460291571/?autoplay_reason=all_page_organic_allowed&video_container_type=0&video_creator_product_type=2&app_id=2392950137

    https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=peggy+hubbard+youtube&&view=detail&mid=085F912470FD88880F8D085F912470FD88880F8D&FORM=VRDGAR

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__Vj3DXwOBI

    Why do people continue to ignore actually statistics of police killing and killings in the US? That alone shows us that are biggest problems are not police brutality or guns but criminals.

    What we do have is a serious breakdown of family values, good morals, and respect for ourselves and each other.

  5. It can be argued that what Mr. Johnson really thought about his nephew can be discerned not by what he says of him, but what he intentionally doesn’t say. The Oscar Grant he mourns and remembers, the nephew whose death has been harvested for wealth and notoriety, never existed, a figment of, in order and magnitude, grieving loved ones, race-baiting activists, disgraceful politicians, salivating attorneys, and finally, Hollywood fiction peddlers.

    Can you ever really care for someone about whom you can’t speak truthfully?

    The Oscar Grant who was killed by a BART police officer was a 22 year-old convicted felon who’d already failed to complete high school, failed as a father, served a sentence in prison, had previously resisted arrest (when spotted with a gun in his waistband, Grant ignored police commands and had to be run down and tasered), lost a job due to his offensive nature, and in one last example of his uncivilized proclivities, managed, while still on parole*, to command the attention of the police on a night (two calls from other passengers) when police services are stretched to the max.

    So many failures in so little time. A young man who could’ve been Obama’s son or, perhaps, was simply a chip off the old block, as in cellblock, as in his father’s permanent residence.

    While it’s a bit remarkable that Grant managed to avoid being killed before that fateful night it’s not surprising he played a major role in the events that led up to his death. By way of his unruly behavior, his disrespect for others and, specifically, for police authority, he created a chaotic situation that had just enough danger and just enough confusion to stress one police officer into making a mistake that was as egregious as it was unbelievable.

    Oscar should’ve had his ass kicked that night, but that wasn’t going to happen then and, thanks to fiction peddlers like Uncle Cephus, it will not happen to other young thugs in the future. More than ever, feral blacks are challenging authority, pushing police officers to new stress levels, and playing a game that is dangerous for them but potentially lucrative for relatives and lowlife s___disturbers.

    *a parole is a prisoner of the state, obliged to submit to authorities in much the same way as if still housed.

  6. It is articles like this that shows the hypocrisy of the BLM movement. Built on lies, it canonizes thugs and fails to hold African Americans accountable for the disproportionate violence they inflict on society. Before Mr. Johnson can legitimately attempt to hold the police accountable for the violent actions of his community, he needs a lengthy moment of self reflection and introspection.

  7. Black Liberation Collective #StudentBlackOut Demands (Multiple Colleges) (Link to Demands)
    University of Missouri (Link to Demands)
    Amherst College (Link to Demands)
    Atlanta University Center Consortium (Spelman, Morehouse, Clark Atlanta, ITC) (Link to Demands)
    Babson College (Link to Demands)
    Bard College (Link to Demands)
    Beloit College (Link to Demands)
    Boston College (Link to Demands)
    Brandeis University (Link to Demands)
    Brown University (Link to Demands)
    California State University, East Bay (Link to Demands)
    California State University, Los Angeles (Link to Demands)
    California Polytechnic State University (Link to Demands)
    Claremont McKenna College (Link to Demands)
    Clemson University (Link to Demands)
    Colgate University (Link to Demands)
    Dartmouth College (Link to Demands)
    Duke University (Link to Demands)
    Eastern Michigan University (Link to Demands)
    Emory University (Link to Demands)
    Georgia Southern University (Link to Demands)
    Grinnell College (Link to Demands)
    Guilford College (Link to Demands)
    Harvard University (Link to Demands)
    Iowa State University (Link to Demands)
    Ithaca College (Link to Demands)
    Johns Hopkins University (Link to Demands)
    Kennesaw State University (Link to Demands)
    Lawrence University (Link to Demands)
    Lewis and Clark College (Link to Demands)
    Loyola University Maryland (Link to Demands)
    Michigan State University (Link to Demands)
    Middle Tennessee State University (Link to Demands)
    Missouri State University (Link to Demands)
    Mississippi State University (Link to Demands)
    New York University (Link to Demands)
    Notre Dame of Maryland University (Link to Demands)
    Occidental College (Link to Demands)
    Portland State University (Link to Demands)
    Providence College (Link to Demands)
    Purdue University (Link to Demands)
    Rhode Island School of Design (Link to Demands)
    San Francisco State University (Link to Demands)
    Santa Clara University (Link to Demands)
    Sarah Lawrence College (Link to Demands)
    Simmons College (Link to Demands)
    Southern Methodist University (Link to Demands)
    St. Louis Christian College (Link to Demands)
    St. Louis University (Link to Demands)
    SUNY Potsdam (Link to Demands)
    Towson University (Link to Demands)
    Tufts University (Link to Demands)
    University of Alabama (Link to Demands)
    University of Baltimore (Link to Demands)
    University of California, Berkeley (Link to Demands)
    University of California, Irvine (Link to Demands)
    UCLA (Link to Demands)
    University of Cincinnati (Link to Demands)
    University of Guelph (Link to Demands)
    University of Kansas (Link to Demands)
    University of Michigan (Link to Demands)
    University of Minnesota (Link to Demands)
    University of North Carolina at Greensboro (Link to Demands)
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Link to Demands)
    University of Oregon (Link to Demands)
    University of Ottawa (Link to Demands)
    University of Puget Sound (Link to Demands)
    University of San Diego (Link to Demands)
    University of San Francisco (Link to Demands)
    University of South Carolina (Link to Demands)
    University of Southern California (Link to Demands)
    University of Toronto (Link to Demands)
    University of Virginia (Link to Demands)
    University of Wyoming (Link to Demands)
    Vanderbilt University (Link to Demands)
    Virginia Commonwealth U. (Link to Demands)
    Washington University in St. Louis (Link to Demands)
    Webster University (Link to Demands)
    Wesleyan University Demands (Link to Demands)
    Yale University (Link to Demands)

    THIS is why the PD, and any SANE person, does not take the BLM people seriously.

  8. Maybe BLM would have a little credibility if this group had been founded as a way to address that 90% of blacks are murdered by other blacks in their own communities. BLM has done nothing to address their own people’s self-directed genocide. Where is the sanctimonious condemnation by BLM of the almost 4,000 homicides in Chicago over the past 8-years, the vast majority being black-on-black murders?

    • Nationwide, black by black murders are 7,000 A YEAR. Where are BLM, Sharpton, Jackson on this issue? AWOL.

  9. “The POA’s statement shows that the organization fundamentally misunderstands the mission of Black Lives Matter. And it makes me in turn question the POA’s legitimacy.”

    The POA’s statement shows that BLM may have poorly communicated their messaging and people aren’t clear about the mission of Black Lives Matter. It makes me in turn question BLM’s legitimacy.

    See how that works? BLM is a loosely led, national organization with segments that have promoted some disturbing messaging at times. That can be ignored no more or less than when segments of law enforcement, be they individuals or entire agencies, misrepresent the message and goals of law enforcement either by action or word.

    Questioning an organization’s “legitimacy” certainly isn’t going to start the conversation that BLM claims to want. When your message consistently puts the people who want to talk to on the defensive, you’re not succeeding.

    I think both LE and BLM can agree that policing needs improvement — equipment, training, management, and depending on the agency, accountability, better community interaction, etc. — yet instead of discussing the issues we need to and want to improve upon we continue to turn this into an “us v. them” conversation, trading barbs and insulting the vericity and commitment of each other. Cephus has fallen deeply into that trap and drug a number of the commenters into it along with him.

    It’s a shame because this should be a real conversation, not an abuse of someone’s 15 minutes of fame.