It’s been a week of protest over the failure of two grand juries to indict police officers in the killings of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and the New York City borough of Staten Island. The media have focused on protesters who have swarmed freeways, blocked trains and vandalized businesses in San Francisco and the East Bay. A quieter but perhaps more powerful protest in Oakland last weekend targeted a Bay Area ritual: weekend brunch.

Last Saturday in the city’s affluent Rockridge neighborhood, a few dozen young folks, mostly people of color, quietly walked into cafes and restaurants. After a short announcement, they began reading the names of African-Americans killed by police across the United States.

Dozens of names were recited: “Jamel Canney: 13 years old. Kenneth Harding: 19 years old. Raheem Brown: 20 years old” and so on. Each name was followed by the declaration, “Ashe.” That’s a word from West Africa’s Yoruba language meaning roughly, “So it is.”

The scene was repeated in restaurants and cafes up and down College Avenue, including Crepevine, the Claremont Diner and Zachary’s Pizza.


One of the organizers was Oakland resident Wazi Davis. Davis and fellow organizer Wild Tigers say Black Brunch aims to express the pain and anger black Americans feel over police killings to communities like Piedmont and Rockridge.

“We’re saying, ‘No, you are going to stop eating right now, you’re going to stop whatever transaction it is you’re putting in at the cash register, you’re going to sit here and you’re going to listen to us read the names of our brothers and sisters,'” said Davis.

“So it’s really a moment of disrupting business as usual and saying we’re not going to accept this anymore,” Wild Tigers adds. “This is not something that is going to continue to happen. As long as it is happening, no business as usual anywhere will continue.”

Compatriot Zachary Murray says he was motivated to organize after seeing megaphones in the hands of white men during recent protests.

“You know, folks who I felt should be taking the time to listen,” Murray says.

He says violence and vandalism during the recent protests — and the attention the media are giving that aspect of the demonstrations — fail to reflect what he and his peers are feeling.

“With sort of like a lot of the violence, the fires, the broken windows that we’ve seen, those folks don’t represent the folks who really had the rage right now, the folks who really had the anger,” he says. “They’re taking advantage of real rage and real anger and really characterizing a movement in a way that they should not be.”

Murray says he’s hoping that in some small way his group can help build a new generation of protesters who don’t accept things the way they are.

The Black Brunch organizers have more protests planned — probably not interrupting breakfast again — but they’re not saying what’s on the menu next time.

‘Black Brunch’ Organizers Put Protest on the Menu 11 December,2014Scott Shafer

  • km2012

    Cool! We were in Zachary’s. They were great. I really appreciated it, it was such a great example of meaningful nonviolent protest. More of that.

  • Combat Override

    “This is not something that is going to continue to happen. As long as
    it is happening, no business as usual anywhere will continue.”

    ————–

    That all changes when you enter a business and are asked to leave. And then physically removed. I’d imagine things will escalate from there.

  • Combat Override

    “After a short announcement, they began reading the names of African-Americans killed by police across the United States.”

    ————–

    Will they be reading the numbers of white people killed by cops (which outnumber black people killed by cops) or are they only concerned about black lives?

    I don’t suppose they will talk about the circumstances in which these people were killed by cops. Perhaps that’s a bit to nuanced.

    • Kenji Yamada

      Do white people killed by cops outnumber black people killed by cops only in absolute numbers, or also as a percentage of the respective base populations?

      • Combat Override

        The CDC numbers say that in 2012, 123 African-Americans were shot dead by police. Same year, 326 whites were killed by police. As a percentage, black people are killed more. But we are talking about ~450 people in a population of 320M. That is not an epidemic.

        • Dan Brekke

          Some perspective on the statistics you cite: http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/dec/04/bill-oreilly/bill-oreilly-cites-faulty-data-claim-about-shootin/

          In fact, there’s no definitive nationwide recordkeeping on police killings.

          • Combat Override

            One can always find an opposing point of view from a professor who disagrees with data. Whatever the real numbers are (and I don’t doubt that the CDC’s numbers aren’t perfect), no expert is claiming there is an epidemic of police killing black people, either lawfully or unlawfully.

        • #blackbrunch foreva

          cops get memorials and highways named for them and memorial funds when they pass while on duty, innocent black people get criminalized and debts from funerals.

          • Combat Override

            Cops are shot in the line of duty and I don’t know of any circumstances where a cop was legally shot and killed.

            Innocent people who get shot can and should sue. Others were likely shot when deadly force was authorized.

  • Jon

    So…. let’s pick restaurants that rich, white people frequent because they surely don’t know a thing about what’s going on…. nor do they care. They’ve never experienced racism, or been discriminated against. Yep, totally.

    Huhh…. really?? I get it, but I don’t. I agree, we ALL need to be more aware and my hat goes off to anyone working hard towards that end…. however, picking out certain groups of people to “educate” that you deem less “aware” or more “out of touch” rubs me the wrong way. Aren’t we then just passing more judgement and perpetuating what we are really trying to eliminate??

    This segment got me thinking, and that’s never a bad thing. Thanks KQED.

    • Scott Wagner

      Lots of different lessons have to happen to lots of different people, and no lesson can be entirely fair in either audience or prescription. Every time one educates, one picks out ‘certain groups of people’. It was interesting reading your comment, Jon, after being on the corner of 73rd and Bancroft in Oakland, protesting, where a cacophony of horn blasts sounded great, but had little effect. I was thinking at the time about how one white guy’s niece might make a passing comment to a police supervisor tomorrow over lunch that could have more effect than all the honking and anger we conjured, in front of thousands. I would submit that that’s the kind of society we live in. Depending on where we stand, that can be breathlessly easy or devilishly difficult to see.

  • crazed_z06

    Really dumb lol.

    People dont want to hear all that while they’re eating.

  • I just hate how the white policemen can kill a UNARMED BLACK PERSON and get away with it. But I bet you if a black police officer shot and killed an unarmed WHITE person that police officer would be arrested and maybe put on death row. Think of as many black people that have been killed because the police thought that they were armed or because they looked suspicious. Now think of how many white people that have been killed because of the same reason. You probably can’t even think of one white person that has been killed because they looked suspicious. It’s just not right.

    • Combat Override

      This has nothing to do with race. Cops shoot white people in greater numbers than black people, you just aren’t going to hear about it on NPR, KPFA or any other self-affirming echo chamber.

      This incident happened around the same time as Ferguson. Not a word from Jessie Jackson. No protests from NFL players. No mention on NPR. No white kids in Berkeley protesting.
      http://wreg.com/2014/11/25/salt-lake-cop-cleared-in-shooting-of-unarmed-white-man/

      I think of the protest on campus last night in Berkeley where they shouted down Peter Thiel. Evidently the demonstrators were unaware of Thiel’s opposition to intrusive government and his strong support for
      Ron Paul, who ran for president twice on a platform of upholding civil
      liberties against the security policies of the federal government. These protesters would find support among many on the political Right if they’d stop with the race-baiting and destruction of uninvolved businesses. Instead they are just raged-filled youth and misguided people who see the world only based on skin pigmentation. And so nothing changes.

      • I shared my comment the way I see things so I don’t need some stranger replying to my comment.

        • Combat Override

          There’s a reason why there is a “reply” button on all comments. If you don’t want a response from a stranger, you might consider not posting on a public forum.

  • Ty Gerhardt

    Last I checked coffee shops and restaurants don’t make public policy. How about doing something that actually matters…like taking this to city counsel with a list of proposed legislation and policy changes that actually have an impact on reducing or eliminating incidents of police brutality? Maybe form a citizen oversight committee with the city counsel that independently reviews and oversees police brutality investigations? You know…things that will actually make a difference and save lives.

    Letting people know you’re mad as hell and you’re not going to take it anymore is all well and good, but it doesn’t get shit done. You have to take it to the people who make policy locally and tell them exactly what you want…give them a list of demands. If you don’t tell them what you want they’ll just give you what THEY want. You have the power to make real life saving change, but you don’t make it by alienating people and turning public support against you.

  • Golden Brown

    College Avenue is not the site of the revolution though. I love how the author said that this brunch disruption was “perhaps more powerful” than mass demonstrations happening all over the country. It is not. This week alone, there have been several actions I’ve seen in Oakland, none led by white people. People should act in whatever way they feel is necessary to heal and promote change. I commend them for doing SOMETHING, but attempting to educate liberal brunch goers on College Avenue is, in my opnion, not as meaningful as it could be somewhere more strategically executed. Inspiring, nonetheless. We must keep working.

  • Scott Wagner

    I’m white and very polite with police. My car is odd, though, and they make me nervous: I think that’s why, on three occasions, I’ve had to deal with rudeness and intensity that could very quickly escalate in the right conditions, as they made assumptions and pressed their random-seeming points. It would be difficult to not name such common abuse of position as racism if I was black, especially if there was some actual racism mixed in while it happened. I’ve had two unrelated experiences in court of police brazenly lying, and seeming to do so as a matter of course. On one occasion, a family member was indicted solely because of a policeman lie, probably done to make a political point, that was so brazen and involved that it was difficult to not imagine at least one layer of management colluding. We were only lucky that the second policeman on site was less enthusiastic about the deception, so the prosecutor dropped the case during jury selection. How would that have played if the defendants weren’t middle-class white people in suburbia? I don’t know. I can only imagine how police entitlement plays out in high crime areas, where there’s actual police safety issues and adrenalin in the mix, and where crime can go neglected easily, or be prosecuted haphazardly. So I like how this brunch protest shone a small light on a life far from the comfort of the customers’ lives, from my life.

    

But monolithic viewpoints about police being either bad or heroic are self-deceptive. Such attitudes neatly remove the focus from management and politics, where it needs to be, forcing us to stand across an imagined gulf (or one intentionally created by weak management) to bicker in broad, mostly fantasy-driven strokes about whether people deserved to die or not. Police work is very difficult even for gifted cops, after all; much of the daily heroism in American life is done by police. I would never be a policeman in a high crime area that needed it; the moral vagaries and risk would ruin me. Protesters who call for all cops to disappear are privileged to live in their fantasy world, but any simple window into police duties quickly reveals the muddy waters that make up the daily heroism and restraint of the good cop. But we’re dying to make it simple, aren’t we? For instance, framing NYC’s stop-and-frisk program as solely a racist violation of rights mutes the facts that about half the stops don’t have frisks, and over 10% of frisks result in an arrest (the New York Times named 2012 stop-and-frisk results recently as 89% “totally innocent”. hmm.) Do you honestly think policemen who frisk look forward to doing so, so they can get their cruel on? That those arrests are just abuse? Do you see stop-and-frisk as having important, conflicting dimensions to it? Does the (excellent) data help sort out what to do, or how much has to do with our goofy drug laws? Do your prescriptions about stop-and-frisk map neatly onto your ideology, with nary a breath spent on any conflicts, like most of our comments here?



    Good police work is too vital to tolerate mismanaged numbskulls making a charade of public safety, and it’s too important to ignore the afore-mentioned lying and manipulation, effectively allowed by management. I will continue to protest out on the streets to highlight the absence of good leadership. But let’s recognize an urgent congruency of goals: respecting and correcting cops are tightly coupled mandates for their managers, just as it is for parents or management in business. The police leaders we need to demand now for will ensure motivated, efficient, and respected policemen while they encourage indictments, and otherwise market among themselves that cruelty, carelessness, and collusion are no longer a part of ‘protect and serve’.

    • Al

      AMEN. I applaud your balanced view on the police and the courage to empathize with others, i.e. being able to imagine how you might experience life differently if you were non-white.

  • anne chastenet1407

    The naming of blacks killed by white police is one-sided and therefore probably not a balanced perspective of the situation. What about teaching the black community to respect and obey officers and general civility for society. I appreciate the dangerous, stressful jobs of police…I respect and obey and don’t have any problems.

  • Fed Up With Thought Police

    “We’re saying, ‘No, you are going to stop eating right now, you’re going to stop whatever transaction it is you’re putting in at the cash register, you’re going to sit here and you’re going to listen to us read the names of our brothers and sisters,’” said Wazi Davis.

    She’d better not ever interrupt any restaurant where I’m a paying customer. Reaction will be swift and not pleasant. She will regret her words and actions. I don’t put my life on hold at the whim of a misguided activist.

  • Secreta Persona

    Just move to the forest. Ashe.

  • Chris OConnell

    “We’re saying, ‘No, you are going to stop eating right now, you’re going to stop whatever transaction it is you’re putting in at the cash
    register, you’re going to sit here and you’re going to listen to us read the names of our brothers and sisters,’” said Wazi Davis.

    What’s a person with self-respect and dignity (and a bit of stubbornness) to do when talked down to like this? If I am going to go get lunch and someone commands me to go get lunch, well I ain’t getting lunch anymore. I don’t like people imposing their will on me. I am very open to their movement and their message, but not this aimless, misguided shouting and bullying.

  • be_free

    next, go to Chicago and interrupt their breakfasts, brunches, lunches, dinners and church. 3 kids killed, 30 shot last weekend!

Author

Scott Shafer

Scott Shafer migrated to KQED in 1998 after extended stints in politics and government to host The California  Report. Now he covers those things and more as senior editor for KQED's Politics and Government Desk. When he's not asking questions you'll often find him in a pool playing water polo. Find him on Twitter @scottshafer

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor