An Open Letter To Frank Somerville Inspired by #IWasThereBerkeley
We are writing you today as participants in the anti-racist actions that took place in San Francisco and Berkeley this past weekend. We are three Bay Area residents who grew up watching you and have admired your work in the past. However, we were profoundly frustrated and disappointed by what you published earlier this week.
Sunday evening you took to Facebook and wrote a post, “I experienced hate first hand today,” in which you describe, without ambiguity, nuance, or empathy, an unpleasant experience you had with a group of anti-fascists, commonly known as Antifa. Your post was then picked up by SF Gate, one of the largest online news platforms in the Bay Area. Given your status and prominence in the community, you must be aware that your voice has the power to shape discourse around any public event.
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Sure enough, the mainstream media coverage of Sunday’s events followed your lead. As usual, we’ve seen the sensationalizing and distortion of brief incidents of violence as opposed to honest accounts of how a diverse coalition of Bay Area citizens came together for an overwhelmingly peaceful action, which successfully kept many of the same groups who recently terrorized Charlottesville, VA, from rallying in our community.
We would like you and all who read this to know that our experience last weekend was contrary to yours and nothing like the depictions we’ve seen across corporate media. On Saturdaymorning, we arrived at San Francisco’s Alamo Square, ready to take part in a demonstration called by Bay Resistance. As we approached we found that the SFPD had blocked access to the square and surrounding blocks. On that day, Antifa unified the dispersed protesters by muscling through the barricades. Police were attempting to subvert unified action, and the Antifa – say what you will about their means – achieved what those of us resisting passively were unable to.
On Sunday, Antifa was one of many organizations banding together to actively resist fascism and white supremacy. Their presence was neither unwarranted nor unwanted. Those of us marching were grateful for their attendance, and the organizers of the action said as much over the loudspeakers. We watched Sunday as the “Black Bloc” unified to defend protesters who were being attacked. They responded forcefully to provocation from people like Keith Campbell, a member of the oathkeeper militia whose companion was pepper spraying groups of marchers, and Johnny Benitez, a documented anti-semite who has publicly called for “right-wing death squads.”
Part of what brought us into the streets this past weekend was a feeling of deep shame and disappointment in those who look like us. We are ashamed that when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable, the anonymous and relatively disenfranchised in this country seem to be more effective than those of us with access to media platforms and the halls of power. As white men our voices always get amplified. Even if we don’t have a blog, weekly column, or three nightly news broadcasts. With such platforms at our disposal we have the potential for great impact.
With that potential in mind we wonder how many of your viewers would recall the name Kayla Moore, who died neglected in Berkeley Police custody? What about Yuvette Henderson, the grandmother of four who was shot dead with an AR-15 assault rifle by Emeryville Police? Or, Teo Valencia, shot in the back by Newark police with the very same military style weapon.Your work could, for example serve to draw connections between such killings and the fact that our own Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern is the founder of Urban Shield. This is a yearly weapons and tactics exhibition, which further militarizes local law enforcement agencies and demonizes communities of color. Are your viewers aware that this is taking place here in their own backyard?
We suggest you reacquaint yourself with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s discussion of “white moderates” in Letter from A Birmingham Jail.” We hope that in so doing, you will be reminded that freedom fighting is and has always been messy, controversial work. And the most comfortable among us have always critiqued the methods that the oppressed use to resist their own oppression. History has not judged these critics well.
Deeply privileged folks like us must constantly work to prove allyship. Are you committed to the liberation and protection of those targeted by the sorts of groups who intended to gather in the Bay this weekend? If so, prove it. Only then will you possess any moral authority to openly critique how our community chooses to protect itself.
Very Truly Yours,
Sayre Piotrkowski – Oakland, CA
Josh Barlas – South City, CA
Stuart Schuffman – San Francisco, CA
Postscript – Should Frank Somerville or anyone else reading this care to use their platform and privilege to aid in the work of ending white supremacy we suggest that you support the Arab Resource Organizing Center (AROC) in their efforts to Stop Urban Shield. There will be a community wide action on September 8th at The Alameda County Board Of Supervisor’s Building in Oakland.
Should Frank Somerville or anyone else reading this piece feel compelled to use their wealth to aid the cause of ending white supremacy we suggest you donate to this fund, started by Oakland’s Community Ready Corps.