April 17, 2009
Since the high-profile killings of four Oakland police officers on March 21, 2009 by parolee Lovelle Mixon, the city and its residents have been hit with a barrage of conflicting emotions: countless memorials to the deceased officers, anti-cop crusades by angry residents and calls from lawmakers for increased law enforcement. Amid the clamor, the widening schism between police and Oakland’s youth has been brought to light.
I caught up with Oakland-bred rapper Mistah FAB to discuss his reactions to the recent violence and the plight of young people in Oakland. His personal history is emblematic of Oakland’s legacy: Born and raised in Oakland, his family history includes both pimps and Black Panthers. With a brother just recently sentenced to 432 years in prison, Mistah FAB continues his work as a mainstay in Bay Area youth outreach efforts. Given his familiarity with both the ups and downs of The Town, I was curious to see how he felt about our current predicament.
What was your reaction to the killings of Oscar Grant, the four OPD officers and Lovelle Mixon?
I was upset and saddened, but you have to remember that [police brutality] is a problem that has consistently gone on way before these officers were killed and way before Oscar Grant was assassinated. This is a problem that has plagued the streets of Oakland for many years. And until the communication gap between the police and the people is bridged, these things will continue to happen.
What do you think would be a productive way to move forward in the wake of these tragedies?
Me and my brother were talking today about what… we can do to bridge that gap and do something in the community [because] right now it’s a “y’all against us” type attitude.
Being the person I am, I can sit down with the killer of a close friend of mine just to hear his ideology… without being so revengeful and full of rage that I can’t talk to them. So, I have no problem sitting down with some of the heads of the police force and asking them, “Would you mind having an open discussion with the people that have been affected by some [of] the things that people on your force have done?” I wouldn’t mind a weekly town hall meeting in which some of the most notorious police officers, known for doing malicious acts in the community, sit down with those who have been viciously attacked and get it all out.
That’s a burden on the shoulders of the community that the police never want to acknowledge. They do a lot of different things and it all gets swept under the rug. To all the police that have harassed and planted illegal substances on the youth, let’s come forth and let’s talk.
Do you think a large part of this burden and communication gap is related to young people?
Yeah, I do. And I think people today have given up on the youth. I saw my little homeboy today–[he’s] 12 years old. I saw him on his bike smoking a blunt. So when he sees me, you would have thought that he saw the police. He threw the blunt and I pulled over and talked to him. I didn’t lecture him [that] what he was doing wrong, but I gave him the option to do right.
We spend so much time trying to be delegates of what’s right and what’s wrong. But do you know that this boy goes home to a drug-infested home and hopelessness? He feels like he’s on his last edge–like life has given up on him, and he’s only 12.
I think a lot of the community leaders and activists don’t give these kids the benefit of the doubt–acknowledging that you have to humble yourself to upbringing and circumstances.
Do you think there is a way to remedy the relationship between youth of color in Oakland and the police?
It’s not a white thing or a black thing; It’s a poverty stricken thing. You have kids who aren’t of color getting profiled because of where they hang at. Youth are under attack because there is no belief that they can do anything positive. We have given up on them. You have to be committed to work with these youth, and we haven’t been consistent.
What would have been dope to me was if Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein and all these political figures, instead of just coming to the funeral, roamed the streets of the city to see what it is that creates this mentality. This is why there’s hopelessness. Think about how many Boys and Girls Clubs there are and how many kids attend them. See how many liquor stores there are in comparison to schools.
Everybody says that youth should do this and shouldn’t do that, but who is giving the kids choices and opportunities? Until we start doing that, things won’t change because they will feel like it’s them against the world.
Lukas Brekke-Miesner is a poet and freelance writer who focuses primarily on hip-hop, education and urban issues. A native of East Oakland, California, he currently resides in New York, New York. He blogs at 38th Notes.