The Community Rejuvenation Project cultivates healthy communities through beautification, education, and celebration. We achieve this mission through experiential programs that promote professional development, artistic and cultural expression, and community empowerment.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kilumbo Warriors Mural in Honor of the Protesters Struggling for Justice for Oscar Grant

We arrived at 10 AM to start the mural. The parking lot gates were chained up and the space was full of garbage. The area in front of the wall was overgrown and we had to watch carefully for needles and glass as we cleared the brush to access the wall. A man who was walking by saw our struggle with the huge weeds, jumped the fence with a knife and proceeded to cut down the larger stalks that our tools couldn't handle. The morning was overcast but not showing any signs of rain as we began to prime in the sky and mountains.

We had a instinct that history would repeat itself and Johannes Mehserle, the BART officer / killer of Oscar Grant would be given a light sentence. The theme of Kilumbo (or Quilombo in the European spelling) resonated with us. For the two years since Oscar Grant was murdered on the Fruitvale station, the people of Oakland had stood up and fought for justice. BART, the police and the city government had proven indifferent, if not defensive, and refused to act without prodding. Each small victory, such as the resignation of Gary Gee, the BART police commissioner, and even getting Mehserle a trial had required numerous loud protests, often resulting in at least 100 arrests at each stage. Every police officers' association had contributed to Mehserle's defense in order to maintain their hold.

Kilumbos were the communities of African runaway slaves and indigenous people that were founded in Brazil. In addition, we wanted to make connections between the other autonomous African / indigenous communities in the Americas and the traditional African tribes located in their motherland. We wanted Oakland to remember that such societies existed in the face of brutal repression and ongoing genocide and that Oakland should not give up hope.

We left for an hour to meet with some youth to plan the next day's mural. Even though the sentence was not to be announced until 2 PM, we saw students walking out from school at 1:30 telling us that Mehserle has received 2 years with credit for time served. We drove through 14th and Broadway and saw the police amassing. Arriving back at the wall a few blocks away, we knew that we would not leave until we were done. As we parked, the police helicopters arrived and we painted into the evening under the loud rattle of their propellors. Yet around 6 or 7 PM, the helicopters left and as the sun went down there was an eerie silence. Around 8:30, it became clear that the light in the lot would not turn on and it was too dark to continue painting. We made arrangements to meet the next day and put on the finishing touches. Painting all afternoon, we had been disconnected from the updates and wondered what was going on.

On the way home, we detoured up Telegraph and saw a huge crowd of hipsters partying away at the Oakland Fart Murmur like nothing had happened. Returning back downtown, we saw a huge mass of police at 14th and Broadway, yet people were heading out to the clubs and bars in apparent amnesia. No signs of protest could be found. We made our way around the lake wondering what had happened. Had Oakland just packed it up in a hopeless state of dispair? It seemed unlikely given the resiliency of the people but where was everybody? Then we saw the familiar helicoptors flashing its light into the community. Excited, we began to chase it. We drove up 5th Ave. and made a right on 17th Street and founded ourselved blocked off. The police had cordoned off 6th Ave and directed us to turn right. I drove slowly trying to see what was going on. Just then, the fire truck and the ambulance came flying towards us and we were forced to back up. The backdoors of the ambulance opened and police officer was wheeled on a gurney and placed inside. By then, the police directing traffic forced us to move on. All the streets on 18th were blocked off. We had to detour all over the place to return to my house, which further complicated by the neighborhoods stupid cul-de-sacs and blocked off streets. We were treated to the helicoptor's rattling propellors until 1 AM. At my house, we learned the cop had been hit by another cop car and that 152 protestors were surrounded without exit or opportunity to disperse and arrested.

We returned to the wall late the next day after completing a school mural with the youth we had meet with. It was quiet and sunny and the wall looked beautiful. Details we had missed in the darkness now appeared in the light. We completed our touch-ups and disappeared into the town.