Rain Can’t Drown Call for

Longshore Union Shuts Bay Area Ports in Protest

By Joaquin X. Lascano 

and By Jorge Portugal L.

Front: Jackie Bryson (at the mike), Tatiana Mesa (Oscar Grant’s daughter). Back: Attorney John Burris, Sophina Mesa (Grant’s fiancee) and Cephus Johnson (Grant’s uncle). Photo by Gene Hazzard.

Clouds hung over a gathering of Oscar Grant supporters on a cold and wet afternoon in front of Oakland City Hall, as crowds of activists at last Saturday’s rally moved around the plaza, holding signs reading “No justice no peace” and “Jail killer cops.”

The Oct. 23 event was organized by the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union (ILWU) Local 10, which shut down all five Bay Area ports for eight hours. Local 10’s participants lost a day’s pay, but were in keeping with a long tradition dating back to 1934 of fighting for justice.

Also supporting the rally were many community organizations and individuals. Locals of the Service Employees International participated, along with BART train operators wearing their uniforms in a show of solidarity. Prominently displayed was a huge ILWU banner with the slogan: “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.”

Many of the speakers expressed the widely felt anger and frustration over the jury’s minimal verdict of involuntary manslaughter for the killer of Oscar Grant and the possibility of a minimal sentence, when on Nov. 5 the judge finally sentences the ex BART police officer,  Johannes Mehserle.

On display were sheets of wood covered with photos, names and dates of the “stolen lives” of those who have died at the hands of police.  The cry for justice was not limited to Oscar Grant. Many talked about Mumia Abu Jamal, who has been in prison since 1981 and still faces possible execution.

Members of the Grant family were introduced by Grant relative Cephus Johnson. Grant’s six-year-old daughter Tatiana briefly said, “hi,” reminding everyone that beyond the historic significance of this case and its call for legal justice, there remains the irreparable tragedy of a child who has lost her father. 

Speakers said that police agencies are organizing a letter writing campaign to urge that the judge grant probation to Johannes Mehserle. Members of the crowd were given postcards to send to the court asking that Grant’s killer receive the maximum sentence.

But repercussions have been reported as police squad cars went to the Oakland Port the next day and ticketed longshoremen’s cars and towed some away. Local SEIU president Dwight McElroy reports receiving an e-mail from the outgoing president of the Oakland Police Officers Association that wanted to know how could the SEIU be involved in such an anti-police (union) rally? 

McElroy replied asking if police brutality existed and stating, “The SEIU is pro-justice – not anti-police.”