Black Lives Matter and the Gentrification of Oakland

Hannah Hunter

IDIS 400: Section 1

In an article posted on Buzzfeed News titled “How A Brutal Beating Became The Symbol Of Oakland’s Gentrification Struggle” author Joel Anderson explores the connection between the opening of a Whole Foods grocery store and the police brutality faced by African Americans in Oakland, California. It began as a dispute between an employee and a customer at the Whole Foods in Oakland, and led to a violent misunderstanding. The security guard working swung at the customer and put him in a headlock, leaving him sprawled on the pavement outside the store, unconscious and bleeding from his head and face.

Resource mobilization, unlike breakdown theory, has a goal in mind, and is not just sudden acts of resistance and rebellion. Activists through resource mobilization believe that “collective action flows not from breakdown but from groups vying for political position and advantages” (216). In this area of Oakland there have been two police-involved shooting deaths of black men since this past June. Through a vigil, protestors in this area demanded answers about the death of a 30-year-old man who was passed out in his car before allegedly reaching for a gun in his passenger seat. Because of this, the police in Oakland have begun to crack down on residents gathering in this are for cookouts that involved drinking by issuing warnings.

Quickly after what happened at Whole Foods dozens of protestors stormed into the store and blocked check stands for about an hour, making the grocery store close early for the day. Police brutality is not a new occurrence in Oakland, and citizens of Oakland believe that this has started due to the fact that “people of color are being pushed out”, residents who once lived in a “black neighborhood” now feel as if they live in a “white neighborhood with black folks in it.” It is not just police brutality making African American Oakland residents feel unwelcomed. When a group of drummers were banned from performing at the Lake Merrit amphitheater in Oakland, 200 people organized together and showed up to join their support for the artists. The residents of “ Old Oakland” feel like they are losing their city to gentrification and heavily regulated police supervision.

Just last year, while the protests in Ferguson were going on, 92 people rioted in Oakland, smashing windows, spraying graffiti, and looted along Telegraph Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Oakland. These random acts of violence and rebellion connect to breakdown theory, the sociological explanation of “contentious forms of collective action such as riots, rebellion, and civil violence” (215). 43 people were arrested during this riot, on suspicion of crimes including assaulting officers, burglary, resisting arrest, and vandalism. What had started out as a peaceful demonstration to protest the grand jury’s refusal to indict Darren Wilson, turned into “pandemonium”, resulting in fires in the streets and vandalism between 40th and 51st streets along Telegraph Avenue.

It is understandable that the communities of Oakland would rise up and rebel and organization protests due to the gentrification of their hometown and the police brutality following it. Breakdown theory is “not an ‘intellectual weapon’ concocted to ‘discredit mass movements of which one is critical’ (235). Rather, it is “a recognition of the complexity and diversity of social life” (235). Both breakdown theory and resource mobilization are ways to react towards what is happening in Oakland and all over the country. Both are different theories that explain what can happen when a group of people is pushed over their limit.

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