Ron Dellums passed away Sunday night, and will be remembered as a giant in politics. As U.S. Congressman for California’s 13th District, and the predecessor to our current leader Barbara Lee, the Oakland-born Congressman Dellums (who was re-elected 11 times) drafted the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986. Then-President Ronald Reagan vetoed the bill, but it had such wide, bipartisan support, Congress overrided his objections. It was the first time in the 20th Century that Congress ever pushed down a presidential veto on foreign policy legislation. For that action, and countless others, it was with great excitement and anticipation that Dellums was elected the 48th Mayor of Oakland in 2006. But it wasn’t as smooth a ride as either Mayor Dellums or Oaklanders anticipated.
Dellums, awesome at policy formation on the national level, had a learning curve to get over when he took the office of Mayor of Oakland. That’s not to say he didn’t make a slew of needed changes, most notably insitituting community policing and task forces that broght in Oaklanders to focus on the resolution of problems. (For example, I sat on Mayor Dellums’ Sports and Entertainment Task Force in 2009. That group took up the then-unknown idea of Oakland Coliseum City, and that presentation helped to jump-start the A’s pursuit of a much needed new stadium in Oakland. )
But, it seemed as if the former Congressman wasn’t inspired to be the great leader Oakland needed. Then came the murder of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day early morning 2009 at Fruitvale BART Station, and by now former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle. That brought a giant Downtown Oakland riot that had cars burned and smashed, windows shattered, and thousands of dollars of damage. I captured that time in Oakland’s history in this vlog featuring the late Peter Van Kleef, owner of Cafe Van Kleef…
Oakland was shaken to its very core. Black Oaklanders, in particular, and African Americans, watching Oakland, were angry. Many wanted action, of some kind, now. Riots and protests seeming became nightly events. Many called for Dellums to speak, and famed journalist Davey D summed up the call for Mayor Dellums in this vlog interview he gave me just two days after the Oscar Grant shooting….
The horror of what Johannes Mehserle and BART Police did to Oscar Grant brought many long-standing problems between blacks in Oakland and the City’s government to a greatly elevated level of attention. Many saw Oscar Grant’s murder as a war on the black community itself. And so much so that Mayor Dellums 2009 State Of The City Speech was interrupted by a man who had just plain had enough…
The scene was a giant protest in front of Oakland City Hall, and this one was far angrier than previous versions and because Johannes Mehserle was running free, and not jailed for killing Oscar Grant. Oakland was about to explode, even more so than the previous nights. Dellums pressed for action against Mehserle, and on that day, he got it: Mehserle was charged with first degree murder. Many wondered if the Mayor would come out and speak. He did.
Standing in the middle of the crowd at Frank Ogawa Plaza (which has been unoffically renamed Oscar Grant Plaza) Mayor Dellums said “Let this gathering, be a loud and profound statement that we came together based upon our commitment to justice and our passion for peace. Now, there are three things that I want to say to you. Every time someone’s life is taken by a public servant in the name of democracy, we the people have a right to raise questions, you did, and you bent the process to your will. Take pride in the fact that your activism raised the issue of justice and moved that ball forward. Be empowered by this moment. Victims do not bring change. People who are empowered to understand that strength bring change. And you, at this place, are powerful enough to bring change. Secondly, let this moment, be a moment that we come together as one community. This is our village. This is one community. We are one people. And we need that healing. Finally, let us come together to bring real change. Everybody can jump up and down, and scream and yell, But you and I must come together to change this community, because too many people are dying. We cannot be selective in our outrage, thousands of young men of color are dying all over America, and its time for it to end. Let’s be that strong. So come together my friends. Change is necessary, if you have that power. Thank you very much.”
As Peter Van Kleef said in my Zennie62 on YouTube video above (and echoing Davey D), “if someone had made some immediate response when this trajedy occurred, there would not have been a riot.” But even with that, and he’s right, this was still Ron Dellums finest hour as Mayor Of Oakland. He stepped forward and calmed Oakland.
Ron Dellums will be missed, may he rest in peace.