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Demonstrators show support for community journalist at hearing

By Diane Bukowski Special to the Final Call | Last updated: Dec 19, 2009 - 8:49:07 AM

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‘Free Minister J.R.! Justice for Oscar Grant!'

“So if you are a big tree, we are a small axe, ready to cut you down.”—Bob Marley

( - The battle against police terrorism is heating up in California, as multimedia journalist J.R. Valrey fights felony charges stemming from his coverage of the Oakland rebellions against transit cop Johannes Mehendersle's fatal shooting of Oscar Grant, 22, last year.

Mr. Valrey is a San Francisco Bay View newspaper and Block Report Radio reporter and filmmaker. The 32-year-old is allying his fight for freedom with the fight to convict Mr. Mehendersle of murder.

At a hearing held Dec. 7, an Alameda County judge assigned Mr.Valrey a Feb. 22, 2010 trial date on a three-year felony arson count. His co-defendant, activist Holly Noll Works who faces felony assault on a police officer charges, was scheduled for a hearing Dec. 14.

Demonstrators from all over the state marched outside the courthouse, chanting, “Oakland DA is a liar, she knows JR didn't start no fire!” to the music of the Brass Liberation Orchestra.

“I'm happy that we're finally getting on with my trial,” said Mr. Valrey, who is also Minister of Information for the Prisoners of Conscience Committee, led by Chairman Fred Hampton, Jr., son of the murdered Black Panther leader. “I'm not confident necessarily that justice will be done. In this system, innocence doesn't mean you're going to walk, especially if you're a young Black man.”

Mr. Valrey said the prosecutor claims he started a trash can fire, but has no evidence he had any accelerants and refuses to release his camera. San Francisco Bay View editor Mary Ratcliff said that the U.S. Homeland Defense Department has also refused to release full footage of Mr. Valrey's actions from a federal building camera.

“J.R. has been in the vanguard of holding police accountable for all the young people they're killing,” said Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff. “In addition to trying to put him in jail, they are preventing him from making a living for his family, including two children, by keeping his camera. If you're fighting for people's rights here, you have no protection. It's war on the Black community as well as the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Mr. Valrey said he is the only journalist most people in the impoverished community of Oakland have ever known.He was on his way to Los Angeles for a Dec. 12 showing of his new short film, “Operation Small Axe.” It is a stunning look at life under police terrorism in Oakland. It focuses on the occupation of Oakland by militarized and racist police through the stories of Oscar Grant and Lovelle Mixon, who was killed by police after he shot four officers.

“We're doing this screening at the invitation of community activists there to help educate southern California.” Mr. Valrey said. “The courts are trying to get this cop off.”

Mr. Grant's killer, Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Mehendersle, won a change of venue to Los Angeles County for his murder trial, expected in November 2010. He is the first cop to be charged in more than 45 killings of Black men by Oakland cops in the past five years, including the recent murder of a 15-year-old Black youth

Bystanders used cell phones to film Mr. Mehendersle shooting Mr. Grant in the back as he lay prone, and transmitted the images worldwide. Oakland's Black community erupted in three rebellions, attacking police stations and vehicles.

Southern California speaking tours featuring Fred Hampton, Jr., Mr. Grant's uncle Cephus Johnson, Jack Bryson, and “Operation Small Axe” are also planned beginning in January,

Mr. Valrey spoke in Chicago at the 40th anniversary commemoration of Illinois Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton's murder. Mr. Hampton, Jr. Bobby Seale, Kathleen Cleaver, Ramona and Pam Africa of the Committee to Free Mumia Abu Jamal, and the Last Poets were also featured.

Mr. Valrey said a sneak preview of the full-length version of “Operation Small Axe” will be shown in Chicago in January. He and his supporters are encouraging organizations nationally to show the film.

(For more info, contact SF Bay View at 1-415-671-0789, or [email protected] or write San Francisco Bay View, 4917 Third St., San Francisco, CA 94124.)