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You Tell Us: John Weston Osburn responds

on August 16, 2010

The following is a response sent by John Weston Osburn regarding a piece published July 17, 2010, on Oakland North titled “An anarchist gives his take on Mehserle protest ‘freedom fighters.'” Oakland North stands by its reporting.


In response to the article published in Oakland North.

After seeing the portrayal of myself and the anarchist movement in the Oakland North article I feel compelled to give the readers my side of the story.

First of all I think it’s important for me to clarify that I was not at the July 8 verdict protest as an anarchist or in concert with any rioters. However I do not condemn them. I am a media activist, documentary filmmaker and independent journalist. Period. People are free to say whatever they want about me but the truth of my involvement in this event was I was there to report. That’s it.

What happened is as follows. I was at a peaceful rally against police brutality on Fourteenth and Broadway in Oakland. I was filming police brutalizing the crowd and then I was arrested by police and brutalized myself.

This may sound unpalatable to you but similar repressive policing tactics are being employed at major protests all over the country. At the Republican National Convention in 2008 I was again arrested for filming the police. They charged me with “felony riot” and jailed me and hundreds of other protesters till the convention was over. This is highly documented in the films Terrorizing Dissent, Ground Noise and Static As well as in Naomi Wolf’s film The End of America. It can also be verified by the National Lawyers’ Guild. All my charges were later dropped.

In August of 2009 I was tear-gassed by police twice while filming protests. In February 2010 I was detained by Homeland Security while trying to attend and film a protest against the Olympics being held on stolen native land. They searched my cameras and computer, took my fingerprints, and watched me while I used the bathroom. All facts!

Now for my opinion on the matter. We don’t have “free” speech in this country anymore. We have corporate propaganda/public relations and the emergence of a highly repressed and small scale independent media. You can take the imprisonment of journalist Mumia Abu Jamal And the arrest of Democracy Now‘s host Amy Goodman as just two examples of this. I am not a cynical person but I am sharply critical. That’s what good press is! I would hope that more people take a sharply critical look at what’s going on in this country and then decide how best to act. What should we think about a country that attacks and arrests those who film its police? What should we think about a country where police get away with murders and beatings time and time again? How should we respond to a police force that clubs a 69-year-old women over the head for peacefully protesting? I take photos and record video. That’s how I cope. Other people throw rocks, brake windows and light fires. You know what? I don’t hate them for that. I’m angry too. I’m sick of enduring strip searches, police harassment, jailings and bogus arrests just for reporting what the corporate media refuses to. Ever had a jail guard command you and a room full of strangers to strip, bend over and cough? It’s humiliating but it has a way of opening your eyes too. Sometimes witnessing injustice can wake a person up. Like anarchists say in Greece, “Sometimes tear gas makes you see clearer.”

Some people have criticized me about talking to the mainstream press. I felt OK with it at the time because I had just gotten out of jail and was furious. I felt that I have nothing to hide though after seeing my message get twisted around I feel it may have been a blunder.

So to directly respond to some of the things printed. As to the claim that “anarchists” were found carrying bottles filled with urine and feces I would challenge Oakland North and other media to substantiate this claim before printing it. As this is often falsely asserted by police as a means of demonizing protesters.

As for “The anarchist community is lots of middle class white kids and I think it’s commendable that they’re in solidarity with other communities.” This isn’t the whole truth. The anarchist movement is multi-racial, trans-generational, international in scope and very diverse. It is comprised of poor people, middle class people, queer people, straight people, trans gendered people, women men and those who don’t identify as either. Basically it’s made up of all kinds of people. To imply that what happened was just some out of town agitator white people coming into Oakland to start trouble would be a major mis-characterization. In fact the biggest group of outsiders looking for trouble that day was the police. The reason anarchists even showed up at all was because the police murdered a man in cold blood and the system protected it’s own. I personally would prefer not to refer to myself as an anarchist. That title doesn’t accurately describe my role. I am a media activist, filmmaker and journalist. You can say that I’m not impartial because of my politics. Fine. Is Glenn Beck Impartial? Is Fox News politically objective? I can still be a journalist and at the same time understand why people are angry.

Personally I think a man’s life is more important than a few broken windows. Maybe we should think of it as the way one anonymous graffiti writer sprayed it “involuntary property destruction.” If the police and government are going to keep destroying people’s lives and oppressing them then some people are bound to rebel.

That’s not my fault, that’s just reality. As one crowd was chanting just before I was arrested, “If we don’t get no justice then they don’t get no peace.” All I want to do is tell the story with out going to jail. This is a free country…isn’t it?

If you would like to see my footage of my arrest for yourself you can check it out on YouTube under Independent reporter Wes Osburn describes his arrest in Oakland, CA. The link is


You Tell Us is Oakland North’s community Op-Ed page, featuring opinion pieces submitted by readers on Oakland-related topics. Have something to say? Send essays of 500-1,000 words to We’d love to hear from you!

All essays reflect the opinions of their authors, and not of the Oakland North staff or the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Oakland North reserves the right to edit submissions for length, clarity and spelling/grammar. You Tell Us submissions must be written in civil and non-offensive language. We do not publish hate speech, libelous material, unsubstantiated allegations or rumors, or personal attacks on individuals or groups.

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  1. […] You can read John Weston Osburn’s response to this story here. […]

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