Building the Justice for Alan Blueford campaign: An interview with Jack Bryson

To bring more light to the Justice for Alan Blueford campaign, Tim Thomas interviewed one of the key organizers of the campaign, Jack Bryson.

Jack Bryson

Tim: Alright Jack, we’ll start with a couple of questions man. Tell us how you got involved in the whole police violence issue.

Jack: I got involved cause on January 1, 2009 there was a young man named Oscar Grant who was murdered by the BART police in Oakland, California at the Fruitvale BART station. Amongst the young men who were with Oscar Grant, two of them were my sons Nigel and Jackie, and the rest of those young men are like family to me — all the young men that were on the platform. There’s something dear to me. They’re like my sons.

Tim: What is the Alan Blueford case all about and how did you get involved in that?

Jack: One day I got a phone call saying there was a young man murdered on May 6 by the police in Oakland. I was kinda worn out from the Oscar Grant situation, from all the organizing. I was just driving around and something told me to go out there. So when I got there, as I was walking down the street, John Burris came up to me – the great civil rights attorney in the Bay Area – and he said that he was trying to call me all day, he said I want you to see this family. I want you to start organizing for this family.

I was kinda honored that Mr. Burris was telling me that. So he introduced me to the family and there was a lot of people out there. And what Mr. Burris was telling the family was that this young man will help lead the fight for justice for your son. And basically he said don’t trust no one else; keep it in Jacks’ hands. That’s what he told the family.

Then me and Taneesha and Tiffany started talking and I started them giving them numbers and immediately we started networking. I told them that Tuesdays were the city council meetings and we needed to go there and address it, and we did, and we shut them down. I think from that the Blueford family started gaining trust in me. But it was not just me — it was me reaching out to people from the Oscar Grant committee and also people from Occupy, and people I met from organizing for Oscar Grant that helped take this to the next level.

Tim: So what are some of the things that the J4AB coalition have done in the past year?

Jack: We’ve in a strategic way shut down the city council four times. We’ve been to the DA’s office and had a successful rally and protest there. We’ve just been organizing – we’ve had community barbecues to let the community know about the impact of police brutality. Myself and Jeralyn and Alan Blueford and my friend Sandy Jones met with Mumia Abu-Jamal about Oscar Grant and Ramarley Graham, Sean Bell and Alan Blueford and he discussed with us about police brutality. We’ve been all over. We’ve taken the last two police shootings in Oakland to a national level, which to me hasn’t been done in a long time.

Tim: More specifically, what sort of things have you done to attract support in the Black community?

Jack: That’s kind of hard because to me, I don’t see the Black or Brown community as communities that always trust the white colleagues that we work with. I think there’s a bridge right there…

Tim: Why is that, Jack?

Jack: I think there’s Black and Brown folks have a different way of organizing. I’m not saying all white folks, cause there’s a lot of good white folks who don’t believe in breaking windows and tearing stuff down.

One thing that bothered me, I remember when Oscar Grant was first murdered, people took to the streets and were busting windows out of cars, burning and breaking windows. It really bothered me cause this one young Black lady came back to her car and her car was on fire. You set a woman’s car on fire to support Oscar Grant when she’s a single parent with her two kids? After she came back from the protest she found her car on fire.

Tim: So in other words, when we first met around the Occupy motion, there was the whole question of some of the anarchist tendencies and self-destructive tactics that certain groups did. And I’m clear that that was not a vast majority of what I call progressive-thinking whites doing that stuff. So that sector really have created a negative backlash.

Jack: Right. And you know most Black or Brown people — not saying all, but most — come from a violent community, come from violent homes, come from violent schools. Why would you come to an event that’s violent when you’re trying to stay away from the violence?

Tim: So one of the things then that we’re trying to do is to build those bridges to the Black community.

Jack: And we’re trying to let them know that we’re not self-destructive people. I think that, this is in the Bible, in Proverbs: “The tongue is the deadliest weapon.” I think that organizing, you know, with the mind is one of the most powerful things. You can’t win people over if you’re trying to beat them and kill them but you can if you’re trying to strategize with them.

Tim: What has been your success with the labor movement? Have they come out?

Jack: I’ve been blessed to be an SEIU member, local 1021. When Oscar Grant was first murdered I met people in my union who wanted to support me. And later I met Clarence Thomas, with the Local 10 Longshoreman, and it was just a domino effect. I mean, it’s a trip when I go to those meetings to speak. A lot of those cats I see at those meetings are cats that I grew up with when they were on the streets. To have them get around me and rally and support and trust my judgement on this, that means a lot.

Unions and communities and education and now we just gotta get the clergy – if we can put all that together then we’ve got a powerful movement. And when I say that I don’t mean in a violent way but in a strategic way, you know.

Tim: Jack, now you just recently got support from the Labor Council in Alameda?

Jack: Alameda, San Francisco, SEIU, the Longshoremen, the teachers’ union, and last night I met some people from the teamsters union, they want me to come down there and speak to them about police brutality.

But not only, like, what I’m trying to do now — I didn’t even expect for all of this to be happening. Every day in organizing is something different. What I’m realizing now is that I’m speaking for victims of police brutality. But then what I’m running into is a lot of mothers and fathers and grandmothers who are asking me — you’re doing a good job out there, we appreciate what you’re doing, but who’s the voice? Who’s the voice for our children?

And I’m like kinda thrown a bit, but then I realize we’re talking about Black-on-Black and Brown-on-Brown crime, and no one is the voice for them. And that’s what I’m learning too.

Tim: Yeah. Just one final question Jack. What is next for the JAB coalition?

Jack: Next is the vigil. We’re in contact with people throughout the east coast. We’re building a national movement with the east coast, a national movement against police brutality. And just organizing and organizing. It’s a blessing to have Alan and Jeralyn Blueford along our side when we’re out there.

And one thing I can say about the community and the Alan Blueford coalition, since Alan Blueford was killed May 6 here we are ten months later, we’re stepping up and making a difference in our community, and I believe we have. Not one young man or young woman or older child have been killed by a police officer in the last ten months.

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