What Brown v. Brooks Means For Black Folk, Part 3

March 14, 2018

We have been talking about the aftermath of the 2015 altercation between two prominent Oakland African-American women leaders, Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks and former Black Panther Chair Elaine Brown.

In the first two installments of this discussion, we discussed how the blows thrown in the weeks and months after that altercation were struck most heavily against Ms. Brooks. First, Ms. Brown filed a lawsuit against Ms. Brooks and the City of Oakland that eventually won her a more than $4 million jury verdict late last year. Following that verdict, Ms. Brooks was loudly vilified in the local media with calls for her defeat and ouster from the City Council in the upcoming Council elections. More ominously, a coalition of Oakland City Councilmembers made the first legislative moves in what at least one Councilmember (Annie Campbell Washington) admitted was a campaign to strip Ms. Brooks of her influential position as chair of the City Council Public Safety Committee. (SeeWhat Brown v. Brooks Means For Black Folk” and “What Brown v. Brooks Means For Black Folk, Part 2”)

But “blows struck most heavily” against Ms. Brooks does not mean “blows struck exclusively.” In fact, as far back as two months following the altercation between the two women at Everett & Jones Barbecue Restaurant in the Jack London Square area of Oakland, then-San Francisco Chronicle East Bay columnist Chip Johnson was already using the altercation to tear down both women.

Interestingly, the Chronicle columnist did not go after Ms. Brown initially. His first shots were fired exclusively at Ms. Brooks, with whom Mr. Johnson had engaged in a running public feud for several years.

The Councilmember, Mr. Johnson wrote in his November, 2015 column, “is a runaway train that needs to be derailed before she does irreparable harm. Her most recent collision—with 72-year-old former Black Panther Party leader Elaine Brown, who says Brooks assaulted her at a downtown restaurant on Oct. 30—is only the latest misstep in a political career defined by controversy, confrontation and rage. ... [A]nybody could run afoul of Brooks, whose public demeanor can be described in two ways: angry and angrier.” Mr. Johnson concluded that “Brooks is a monster created by the city’s lack of administrative controls; poor ethical standards; and downright absurd, race-based political environment that lets her survive.” (“Oakland Councilwoman Desley Brooks is out of controlSan Francisco Chronicle November 23, 2015)

When Mr. Johnson did write about Ms. Brown in that first column it was sympathetically, describing the former Black Panther chair as “an elderly woman who runs a county jobs program and who, because of her radical past, holds celebrity status in Oakland.”

Within a month, however, either through his own investigations or because somebody pulled his coattail to what the “official line” needed to be, Mr. Johnson had decided that Ms. Brown was no longer deserved the sympathetic status he had first given her.

“Brown comes off as pure victim in [her civil complaint against Ms. Brooks],” Mr. Johnson wrote in a December, 2015 follow-up column. Ms. Brown had said “she felt ‘shocked, afraid and humiliated’ during the attack,” he continued. “But make no mistake: The former leader of the Black Panther Party is as ruthless as her alleged assailant. ... And just as she says Brooks did, Brown has also acted as if the laws that govern civil behavior don’t apply to her. A little more than a year ago, Brown was permanently barred from Luka’s Taproom, one of downtown Oakland’s most popular hangouts, after throwing water into the face of a customer and menacing the manager when he told her to leave, according to witnesses.” (“Desley Brooks, Elaine Brown stamped from same uncivil moldSan Francisco Chronicle December 15, 2015)

As far as I can discover, Bay Area media outlets for two years failed to follow up on Mr. Johnson’s veiled hint that Ms. Brown might have shared more responsibility for the Everett & Jones altercation than had been publicly reported. That is, until a peculiarly-timed column came out last February in the San Francisco Chronicle by political columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross designed to undercut Ms. Brown’s claims of innocence and victimhood in the altcation.

As you may remember, it was Ms. Brown’s contention in her lawsuit against Ms. Brooks and the City of Oakland that during the Everett & Jones argument between the two women, Ms. Brooks pushed Ms. Brown to the floor without provocation, causing Ms. Brown to sustain serious injury. Ms. Brooks contended, on the other hand, was that while she did push Ms. Brown down, it was only to defend herself against an aggressive action by Ms. Brown.

The Matier & Ross February column raised a point supporting Ms. Brooks’ position that the judge had not allowed to be presented at the Brown v. Brooks civil trial.

“The knockdown of Elaine Brown by Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks that resulted in a $3.77 million jury verdict against the city wasn’t the first time the former Black Panther leader charged she was the victim of an unprovoked assault,” the Chronicle columnists wrote. They went on to describe a 2013 incident at Oakland’s Waterfront Hotel in which Ms. Brown claimed a hotel valet had pushed her down unprovoked, but in which a hotel closed circuit television video clip showed that Ms. Brown had actually been the aggressor. (“Break for ex-Panther who sued Oakland: Jury didn’t hear about other dustups” San Francisco Chronicle February 10, 2018)

The online column included a link to the 2013 Waterfront Hotel incident.

While the “Break For Ex-Panther” Matier & Ross column did not prove that Ms. Brooks was who was right in the 2015 Brown v. Brooks confrontation, it did tend to cast some doubt on Ms. Brown’s version of that altercation.

And that raises the question about the peculiarity of the timing of the Matier & Ross February column. What’s the purpose of trying to disparage Ms. Brown’s position now, after so much damage was done in the media and in some Oakland political circles to Ms. Brooks’ status and reputation following last December’s civil jury verdict?

The answer to that question might possibly have come in the brief, but significant, mention of a prominent local Black elected official in Matier & Ross’ “Break For Ex-Panther” column. And the inclusion of that elected official in the narrative is an important key to why the whole Brown v. Brooks affair has the potential to be bad, very bad, for Black Folk in Oakland as a whole.

Which we will talk about, next time we gather.


Contact Jesse Allen-Taylor at safero@earthlink.net
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