Nonprofits Defend the State – Need More Proof?! 

On June 23rd, 2010, in the midst of Oscar Grant’s murder trial, one of the leaders of the nonprofit organization, Urban Peace Movement, wrote in an email (in full below):

“We need to begin ‘innoculating’ our bases and the community at-large so that when the verdict comes down, people are prepared for it, and so that the ‘outside agitators’ who were active during the initial Oscar Grant protests are not able to incite the crowd so easily.”

The paternalist and racist assumption made by non-profit sector activists portrays those who participated in property destruction as child-like noble savages easily corrupted by superior beings from afar (read: “outside agitators”). This should come as no surprise to anyone, seeing as how the non-profit organization is historically rooted in colonial assumptions that the oppressed are mindless brutes that require, for better or for worse, intellectual guidance (read: “inoculation”) from above.  The non-profiteers see their role as missionaries, saviors, and saints that carry the burden of pity for the downtrodden.

Who is really the outside agitator? And what does the state and the politically interventionist non-profit sector object to most, the outside part, or the agitator part?

During this past week’s phase of the trial, leading Bay Area journalist JR Valerie observered:

“. . . 4 out of 6 black males under the age of 40 were kicked out of the courtroom in the 2nd day of Meserhle testifying . . . .” (rough transpcription from Hard Knock Radio archive, June 25th, 2010, min. 32:20-32:48,

As Mehserle ran through a rehearsed emotional display, one black male courtroom observer from Oakland stood up and called out “save those tears.”  He was promptly jumped by Deputies, removed from the courtroom and now faces charges. Did any “outside agitators” incite this black male to speak out against the false cries of a murdering agent of the state? Would the Urban Peace Movement give this man credit for calling out the courtroom process, which is structured against the “biases” of the people’s sense of justice? Or for them, is the bourgeois white supremacist legal apparatus the legitimate carrier of justice?

To many, the courtroom setting and the whole legal apparatus of the state delivers the opposite of justice.  For centuries it has been coming in from the outside, committing genocide, and conquering to imposing itself as the center of economic, political, and social life. Who is on the outside and who is on the inside of this?  Unfortunately this isn’t the first time that folks claiming to represent the community have behaved as insiders to the system they claim to be against.

Last year, in our pamphlet Justice for Oscar Grant: Lost Opportunity? we wrote:

Despite frequent references to the radical legacy of Oakland, CAPE behaved as an extension of the state, “organizing” people to be peaceful, go home and not take militant action in the streets.

We were criticized (not in any significant written, public form) for taking this blatant stance in opposition to the conservative political role of the non-profit sector, which Coalition Against Police Executions (CAPE) was an expression of. We listened to some of these criticisms and accept that we over-generalized the forces within CAPE. In fact, there were divisions within CAPE that we did not recognize, voices of a more radical nature than the dominant Non-profit elements. We invite those differences to be made known by those within CAPE who had them.

That said, our main point – that CAPE in particular and the non-profit sector in general, act(ed) both as a buffer and as an extension of the oppressor’s violent state apparatus – stands as true as ever.

This leads us to the email in question: a communique to the non-profit sector and public agencies calling for measures to quell the forseeable rebellion in case of acquittal or any conviction less than 1st degree murder for killer cop Meserhle. It suggests that:

. . . [Non-profits] and Public Agencies should be thinking of ways to create organized events or avenues for young people and community members to express their frustrations with the system in constructive and peaceful ways.

While we formally agree that resistance and rebellion against the system should be constructive, we absolutely disagree on what is “constructive” and what isn’t.  Constructive resistance and revolt should project a vision of the type of revolutionary society we seek to build. A necessary component of that process is negating, attacking, destroying, theoppressive forces within the current society. The rebellions of Oakland in January 2009 did include minor incidents of random property damage, and it also included attacks on capitalist institutions such as Wells Fargo and other sites of commercial capital carried out by spontaneous coalitions of multiracial youth.

Now that the trial is wrapping up, Non-profit activists should stop seeking to micro-manage the movement by “innoculating” young people against “outside agitators”.  People truly committed to social justice should be dialoguing with young people about how to escalate the attacks towards our real enemies:  the state and capital. How can we move beyond smashing windows and begin shutting down and taking over the means of social reproduction? How can we stop school closures, layoffs, immigration raids, and police murders?  What are the roots of racism, sexism, imperialism and capitalism?  How should our understanding of history inform our fight against oppression?  These nonprofit managers not only avoid these questions – they answer them in favor of our oppressors, seeking to keep us blinded of the real enemy. Ironically, they regularly invoke a radical legacy that is in reality contraposed to their own program for achieving “justice.” As the centrist political non-profit sector conjur the image of Huey P. Newton, there is no doubt that Newton would be ashamed to be associated with a program that seeks to maintain the “order” constructed around racial oppression and the accumulation of capital.

In the year and half since Oscar Grant was murdered by the state, the legitimacy of that state has been vastly undermined. Obama’s election to the office of President of the United States was seen by many within the non-profit sector and liberal left generally, to be the negation of the Bush regime. Now it is clear that it is an uninterrupted continuation of it. Very little hope remains in the minds of the masses as to the capacity of the Obama regime to solve any of the crises our society now faces. Dreams of “constructive and peaceful ways” to deal with any of these crises – be they the longest war of US history, the deepest depression in 80 years, the severe policing of the border and immigrants, etc – have died faster than the BP-drenched wildlife of the Gulf coast.

What remains to be seen is what is born out of these crises. No, riots are not the ultimate expression of the society we would like to see. Yes, young working class people of color are capable of infinitely more constructive actions. But how do we learn what we are capable of and what our true potential is? By inoculation against ‘outside agitators’ who join the youth in the streets in the fundamental criticism of private property and the police state? Or by encouraging discussion between all the political perspectives and supporting the exploration of methods for building a resistance movement that has a real chance at constructing a new type of social order? We intellectually smash the first option, and strongly advocate the second one. That is the Marxist way.

What follows are the clearest examples of what the non-profit centrists (the Urban Peace Movement’s email in full), and the radical left (Raider Nation Collective’s recent statement) are saying about what should happen in the wake of the decision in the long-awaited trial of Johannes Mehserhle.


During this period the colonized intellectual behaves objectively like a vulgar opportunist . . . Swept along by the many facets of the struggle, he tends to concnetrate on local tasks, undertaken zealously but almost always too pedantically.  He does not always see the overall picture.  He introduces the notion of disciplines, specializes areas and fields into that awesome mixer and grinder called a people’s revolution . . . he tends to lose sight of the unity of the movement and in the event of failure at the local level he succumbs to doubt, even despair.  The people, on the other hand, take a global stance from the very start.  “Bread and land: how do we go about getting bread and land?”  And this stubborn, apparently limited, narrow-minded aspect of the people is finally the most rewarding and effective working model.

– Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

[The peasant rebellion in Hunan] is fine.  It is not “terrible” at all.  It is anything but “terrible”.  “It’s terrible!” is obviously a theory for combatting the rise of the peasants, and in the interests of the landlords; it is obviously a theory of the landlord class for preserving the old order of feudlaism and obstructing the establishment of the new order of democracy, it is obviously a counter-revolutionary theory.

– Mao Tse-Tung, Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan

Furthest from the minds of elitist intellectuals, of leaders in particular, is the self-development of the masses who themselves would master the principles of the dialectic. Yet all the new beginnings for theory, for philosophy as well as for revolutionary reconstruction of society on totally new human foundations, have in our age come from the spontaneous outbursts the world over. “Self-determination in which alone the Idea is is to hear itself speak” was heard by those fighting for self-determination. They were “experiencing” second negativity. Clearly the struggle was against not only exploiters, but also those who set themselves up as leaders.

– Raya Dunayevskaya, Philosophy and Revolution


From: ****
Sent: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 1:31 PM
To: ************
Subject: Bracing for Mehserle Verdict – Community Engagement Plan

Dear Friends and Allies –   (Please Forward Widely – Please Forgive Duplicates)

As many of you know, the trial of the officer who killed Oscar Grant is currently underway in LA.  The prosecution has rested their case, and the defense (Mehserle’s attorney) is currently making their case. The trial has moved much faster then many had anticipated, and folks speculate that a verdict may come down in the very near future (possibly as soon as next week).

If a “not guilty” verdict comes down (which is a significant possibility) it will inspire widespread outrage, and many, including myself, are concerned about the potential consequences of that outrage.

As someone who is BOTH committed to social justice and an end to police brutality AND a peaceful and thriving Oakland, I wanted to suggest some ways for us to proceed:

1) Organizations, CBO’s, and Public Agencies should be thinking of ways to create organized events or avenues for young people and community members to express their frustrations with the system in constructive and peaceful ways.  If people have no outlets then it may be easier for folks to be pulled toward more destructive impulses.

2) We need to begin ‘innoculating’ our bases and the community at-large so that when the verdict comes down, people are prepared for it, and so that the ‘outside agitators’ who were active during the initial Oscar Grant protests are not able to incite the crowd so easily.

To be clear, our main concern is the safety and well-being of Oakland’s young people.  We do not want to see them get taken to jail or hurt as a result of violent or destructive behavior brought on or encouraged by ‘extreme-fringe’ groups coming into Oakland from the outside.

Below are some suggested talking-points to begin engaging community members. (scroll down) Pleaseforward the talking-points widely amongst the staff and leaders of your organizations so we can get the message out far and wide.

I have been in preliminary conversation with some of our partners an allies up to this point including the Ella Baker Center, Youth UpRising, Oakland Rising, BWOPA, The Mayor’s Office and the City of Oakland regarding these suggestions.  Let’s continue to be in dialog and hold each other close in the challenging days ahead.

In Peace and Solidarity,

Talking Points: (General Audience)

  • There is no question about it violence & brutality are wrong – whether at the hands of community membersor at the hands of the police.  While many of us are outraged, we must find a way to move forward in peace.
  • OAKLAND IS OUR HOME, and we want all Oaklanders to think carefully about how to respond, even in the face of our own anger and outrage.
  • There are peaceful and constructive ways for us to demonstrate our frustration with the system, butbeware of outside ‘agitators’ many of whom don’t live in Oakland, who will try to insight the crowd to violence.  They won’t be there for you if YOU  end up getting taken in by the police, and they don’t have to live in the aftermath, they can just go back to their neighborhoods, far away from Oakland.
  • This is a city with a rich history and a sense of pride from the East to the North to the West, and we don’t back down when times get tough.

Talking Points: (Youth Audience)

  • There’s no question – Police Brutality is wrong.
  • We are all angry, but the question is what do we do with our anger?  Do we use it constructively to make changes like the Martin and Malcolm did, or do we use it to destroy each other and our community?
  • There are constructive ways to have your voice heard – join a speak-out or make music to express yourself.
  • Beware of ‘outside agitators’ who are not from Oakland and who will try to incite violence.  Oakland is OUR HOME, but it’s not theirs, and so they don’t care if we mess our city up.  And, they won’t be there for you if YOU get caught-up by the police.
  • Let’s not let these agitators make a bad situation worse.
  • Instead, let’s hold our heads high and throw up our fists in solidarity like Huey did!!




The most likely outcome of the trial of Johannes Mehserle, the BART cop who murdered Oscar Grant on the morning of January 1st 2009, is a manslaughter conviction. Why is this likely? Because convicting Mehserle of manslaughter is the best way for the state to protect itself by sacrificing one of its own. To the police, manslaughter simply means: be careful when you kill.

To the people, manslaughter means: you got a conviction, what more do you want? Or in other words: don’t riot, don’t rebel, no public outcry necessary.

On the other hand, a murder conviction would not be tolerated by the police and their unions, and even the most opportunistic of political leaders see a murder conviction as tying their hands in the future: they need the police, and police need to be able to kill.

Not that it matters what the state or its leaders think about murder: white supremacy and cop culture will ensure that Mehserle won’t get what’s coming to him. We have already seen both in the disgusting jury selection process, which yielded a jury which includes three relatives of police officers but not one single Black person. And Michael Rains feeds on this, deploying an ingenious out-of-court strategy of defaming Oscar Grant and manipulating public opinion by leaking selective information to the press—a press which eats it up like an organic delicacy.

And if Mehserle is convicted of manslaughter, the arguments being put forward in his defense suggest that this will not even be “voluntary” manslaughter. Rather, it will be “involuntary,” allegedly the result of a tragic mistake of judgment, where a 9-pound Sig is mistaken for a 3-pound Taser.

Involuntary manslaughter in California carries a determinate sentence ranging from 2 to four years. Mehserle’s race, his former profession, the teary-eyed stories of his youth, and his lack of a criminal record, will all be presented to guarantee the lowest possible sentence (and we wouldn’t want to guarantee that will even be as much as 2 years).

– 2 short years for cold-blooded murder of Oscar Grant.

– 2 short years for permanently traumatizing Grant’s friends who witnessed the murder.

– 2 short years of taking one for the team and ensuring that the genocidal system of policing and imprisonment in California can go unchecked, unrestricted,  unquestioned.

For Mehserle’s 2 short years we have 2 short words: FUCK THAT.

We fully expect and hope that Oakland will respond to a manslaughter conviction as it would respond to an acquittal: with an expression of creative rage that transforms our political landscape beyond all possible recognition.

With love and rage, we’ll see you in the streets,


16 responses to “Nonprofits Defend the State – Need More Proof?! 

  1. from oakland to NYC

    You know I was in NYC when the Sean Bell verdict went down and the nonprofits lead a march of mixed race activists through jamaica queens (where sean bell was from) all the way into the heart of jamaica. By the time we got to there, the crowd had accumulated thousands of local jamaica residents and the racial demographic had turned mostly black. at that poitn residents demanded we march through the hood, through jamaica projects where sean bell was from. older black women were screamingggg we will march all night, we are fucking angry!!!!!!!!!! black youth spontaneously started shouting for people to keep going, myself some other sds kids, rcp people and others used bullhorns to help it keep going, the non profits used their bullhorns to SCREAMMMMM EVERYONE STAY HERE! STAY PUT! and surround the march and block it off. it didnt work. that was the dopest most militant march i have ever taken part in. it went from 5pm til 12pm and we walked through the entire jamaica projects, kids ran off their front stoops and joined us, mothers were pushing baby carriages, it was comprised entirely of people from sean bells’ neighborhood. it ended wth an extremely heated confrontation at the precinct at jamaica with young black youth screamingggggggggg with anger at the cops and then breaking off in what became a riot of mostly jamaica youth breaking windows and turnign over trash cans. rcp vanished, and so did all the rest of the activists. what to do at that point? i helplessly watched the gloves come off police officers who moved to surround and divide the more anarchaic crowd of youth, and arrest them in droves. its hard to know what to do at that moment, but it would have been good to have a plan.

    the next week al sharpton and dozens of non profits held a mass civil disobedience where 800 people (myself included) were arrested. sharpton called it a ‘pray-in’. I actually got locked up with leslie keegan of UFPJ and the other woman too i forget her name–both leaders of UFPJ. the cops who locked us up told me that the whole thign had been worked out before hand with bloomberg. they had even set up an alternate holding area instead of central bookings, where they took people who took part in the action, that way the normal processing of people that takes place that day would not be interrupted. everythign was streamlined. i tried to shout we are all sean bell nypd go to hell and one of the non profiteers literally got on a car and started screaming at everyone to stop “stoopign to their level” meanwhile that had been the mantra of the other demonstration through the projects, just a week before.

    the difference between the two demonstrations, the first broke outside the choreographed script because the nonprofiteers were ill prepared, the second was too heavily policed by non profits with hegemonic control which stamped out any possibility of people taking it another direction. the second one pretty much put out the fire that had been lit by the first one, cuz sharpton declared himself leader and funnelled people into doing symbolic actions that were mostly aimed at feel-good resistance “we did the right thing”.

  2. A brave and accurate piece, from my experience. In a broad sense, nonprofits put the brakes on the movement. “Creative rage”, yeah, I’ll be looking for that.

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  5. They (local police and government) lost an opportunity to take a hard look at themselves, to take responsibility for their actions and the culture of their actions and make credible amends that included a rejection of their hard-line ways with so many of our youth, especially non-white youth.

    The limits on what a non-profit can and should do and their dependence on those who pay for them is not a new problem and not limited to the the public safety issues.

    A non-profit is not a community movement.

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  12. If popular protest doesn’t lead to armed struggle, it is a waste of time and energy; a bourgeois parade no different than what Macy’s does every Thankstaking. The non-profits cannot handle peoples war: summary executions of police, snitches, liberals, conservatives, and many non-profit organization leaders and members.

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