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The symbol of Oakland – an oak tree – is tattooed on my right forearm. Except I’ve added roots to symbolize my ties to this place and its people.
There are so many things about Oakland I’m proud of. I’m proud that the Black Panthers were founded here, that turf dancing thrives here, that our community college system is good and well attended, and that our music slaps…that’s right especially M.C. Hammer.
But it was a different Oakland musician - Tupac Shakur - who gave me my first feelings of Oakland pride. The actor and rapper always spoke his mind and was just as intelligent and socially conscious as he was belligerent. This is typical of Oakland. Dudes expressing the deepest sentiments, but with words straight off the streets. In the beginning Tupac’s music was about rebuilding African-American communities and ending black-on-black violence…picking up where the Black Panthers left off.
And there’s one more inauspicious Oakland connection…After jaywalking in 1991, Tupac was assaulted by cops from the Oakland PD – right there in downtown Oakland. Right there, where protestors stood up for Oscar Grant and said they were sick of police brutality.
The murder of Oscar Grant is tragic and it is significant. People here are frustrated and pained by what happened. Last Wednesday night when protestors took to the streets, it was like everyone in the city just said “Hell Naw!”
I don’t agree with the way some reacted, but I do understand why they lashed out. Because I don’t have to look too far back in my own memory to when I’ve been pulled over, detained, and almost arrested for no apparent reason. But its not fair to put all of Oakland’s ugliness on the police. Citizens here do more wrong to each other than any police department.
A lot of Oakland isn’t beautiful. There are some streets that I won’t ever walk down. And I’m desensitized to violence, because like most Oaklanders, I’ve got friends and loved ones who have been shot and killed. And even though I lived in Oakland when I was in high school, I went to Berkeley High, because my parents felt like Oakland public schools failed them back in the day.
This might be the ugliest part of my city…that it continues to fail people the same way it did generations ago. Schools were bad for my parents and they’re still bad today. Black folks were dehumanized by cops in the 60’s, and on New Years day 2009, a 22 year-old black man named Oscar Grant was shot in the back by a police officer.
It’s hard to believe that all of this ugliness makes up my beautiful city.