In Nia Wilson’s Name, ‘We should be doing it all’

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Photo Essay, Denis Perez-Bravo

OAKLAND — The day after Nia Wilson was stabbed to death at the MacArthur BART platform, her godfather, activist Daryle Allums, led a crowd of protesters and mourners in a chant outside the station where she died.

“Say her name,”Allums yelled into a megaphone from atop bike lockers outside the entrance of the BART station.

“Nia Wilson,” the crowd roared back.

Wilson’s death so raw and fresh, touched off a storm of anger and pain that reverberated in the Black community and beyond. That night, as Allums led the crowd of marchers in chants through Oakland streets, Wilson’s killer, John Cowell, had just been arrested. His motives were unknown, and in that void, tension brewed.

Many wondered if the attack on Wilson and her sister Latifah — who was also stabbed in the neck but survived — was racially motivated. Some called it a hate crime. Others criticized BART authorities for not acting aggressively enough to catch the killer sooner. As the night wore on, it became clear that those tensions were in danger of boiling over.

“There is a lot of debate about whether we should be marching. We should be doing it all,” Allums said. “We need to stop being reactive and start being proactive. We have to focus our (collective) anger, focus the hurt and organize.”

Oakland activist and mayoral candidate Cat Brooks said Wilson’s death is a reminder that injustice in the black community is an ongoing problem in the United States.

“We have to demand the same urgency (legal prosecution and convictions) when it comes to our children and our babies,” she said.

Brooks added that while the gathering of around 300 people that night was beautiful, it’s most important to “keep the pressure on” until there is “justice for our babies.”

Around the MacArthur BART Station, multiple altars were erected in Wilson’s memory. They were filled with candles, flowers and pictures of her.

Wilson’s family members who spoke at the protest described her as a helpful person, willing to lend out her hand to people who needed it. She was was a beloved community member, musician and graduated from Oakland High School just last year. A young life cut down far too soon.

From the vigil at the MacArthur station, protesters marched toward Telegraph Avenue and then into downtown Oakland. The destination of the hundreds of protesters was Make Westing, a bar where it was rumored that a white nationalist group, the Proud Boys, was holding a meeting. Protesters aimed to confront the group if they showed up. They never did.

The protesters split up after reaching Make Westing as an incident between a possible right-wing conservative and a group of protesters occurred across the street. A man who was alleged by some in the crowd to be a right-wing extremist was chased, punched and kicked repeatedly by a mob of protesters near the 19th Street BART station entrance in the alley between Telegraph and Broadway. It wouldn’t be the last confrontation of the night.

Following the altercation between the man and a subset of protesters, clashes between police and protesters came to a climax on Broadway and 19th Street.

After a man was arrested on Broadway, around 25 protesters came from all sides and blocked a police car where the arrested protester was being held. Police began shoving and pushing protesters away. The patrol car was able to back out slowly and eventually reached Broadway and Thomas L. Berkley Way, where it had enough space to leave the scene. Multiple people were arrested for obstructing officers.

At Thomas L. Berkley Way and Broadway, police held a line until a firework-like flash bang was thrown directly at them. The officers then moved out of the scene on Berkley Way toward Telegraph and a group returned to Make Westing’s area of Broadway around 7 p.m.

There, the bar held a “Pro-Oakland Movement” event in response to the proposed right-wing extremist meeting. Around 100 people filled the street from Make Westing toward 17th Street. A mic and speakers were set up to showcase local artists. One after another, artists took the stage and performed or spoke about Wilson’s death and what it means to their community until the night broke.

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