Oakland Tribune Outtakes

Notes from Oakland, Berkeley and in between

New beginnings and sad endings

By awoodall
Monday, March 17th, 2008 at 9:56 pm in Night Owl.

Today was a day of celebrating the start of a new Oakland locale and the mourning the death of Oakland artist Casper Banjo, who was shot and killed Friday night. It was quite a contrast to go from talking on the telephone to Banjo’s grieving niece, who was in shock over her uncle’s somewhat mysterious death, to the chatty crowd at Awaken Cafe’s sneak preview of the 14th Street Downtown java house – in less than five minutes. I hate to juxtapose the two. Awaken Cafe is readying to open a scaled-down, coffee-to-go version of the cafe by the end of the month. Maybe sooner. The owners transformed a Korean barbeque joint into a light, airy cafe. Renovation of the Golden Bull bar, which they also took over, into a full-scale cafe, night spot, gallery and performance space is still in progress but it looks grand even now.
That’s Oakland for you: The city giveth and taketh away. 
It was just Friday that I was leaving the gallery opening for a show by Oakland artist James Gayles, who was a colleague and had done shows with Banjo, when I found out that someone had been shot by an officer. All I could write for the Saturday paper was the skeleton of a story because only the scantest information was available. But today the details were clearer.
Police said Banjo was waving a gun Friday night on 73rd Avenue outside the Eastmont Mall precinct, near his home. Officers ordered him to put down the firearm, which turned out to be a replica. No idea where he got it or why he had it. Everyone agreed, however, that for Banjo to be out waving a gun at night didn’t gibe with the man they knew, that he had been complaining about side-effects of the medication he was taking after major heart surgery a year ago and that he feared losing his low-rent apartment.
There will be more in Tuesday’s Trib story, which isn’t online yet. 
What bothers me after writing the story is that a 71-year-old man could be poor, reliant on Section-8 housing and ailing not only from poor health but from his medication. He kept working in his small apartment because he was too ill to travel to a studio. He made do, in other words. What a sad ending to a talented artist.

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6 Responses to “New beginnings and sad endings”

  1. Duane Deterville Says:

    Casper Banjo’s murder by OPD is tragic. I have spoken to a couple of Mr. Banjo’s friends and none of them mentioned any erratic behaviour, drug induced or otherwise. In addition, I would like to know if the fake weapon in question was a toy. The use of the word “replica” seems to protect OPD from their racism and incompetence in a situation wherein they murdered a 71 year old senior citizen who allegedly had a toy gun. I also hear that Mr. Banjo was shot with a high powered rifle of all things. Has anyone other than OPD known Casper Banjo to carry a weapon of any type? I knew him and I never saw or heard him speak of such a thing. Casper Banjo was not mentally unstable. I don’t hear anyone asking OPD any hard real questions.

  2. Sálongo Lee Says:

    I just want to say that his home was his studio for all the years that I knew him and photographed his work for him starting in 1990. He taught me some of his printing techniques and shared his thoughts about my work sitting in his living room/kitchen studio. Casper was rich in spirit and he was happy working out of his apartment/studio not because he was to poor to travel to a studio. Everything he needed to create his art work was in that apartment. He wasn’t making do, he created in that apartment and I learned more about printmaking shooting his art pieces, watching and taking to him than I did taking classes at CSUSFSU.He was a master printmaker no matter where he worked and he will be missed.

    Peace,
    Sálongo Lee
    Photographer/Visual Artist

  3. Angela Woodall Says:

    The article in Tuesday’s paper http://forums.insidebayarea.com/forums/node/1107?source=article
    was sadly brief because of space but I am planning to write more once the family has arranged services for Mr. Banjo. I am sorry I unable to fit comments from Mr. Deterville and Art Hazelwood and Joan Finton and so many others who spoke about him with deep admiration. But I think the sense of bewilderment at the idea he would have any kind of gun people felt was evident in the article, as was the comment that he was not mentally unstable. But several people said he complained side-effects of his medication.
    The gun was called a replica by police because they said it was made from cast-iron and painted black and brown. I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t say what it looked like.
    As an addition, Carla Patterson commented on the Trib Web site that Mr. Banjo also was in the Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame for many years, making handprints of the actors and directors honored there. That was a part of his life which he really had fun with, she said. I would have needed another 10 inches to list all of Mr. Banjo’s accomplishments and shows and affiliations. Like I said before, a sad ending to a talented artist. Feel free to send me any additional stories about Mr. Banjo, or your thoughts/questions about the shooting.

  4. FULANI Says:

    This shit stinks,I’ve known the man for over 5yrs. I’ve been in shows with him. I don’t give a fuck what the PIGS,say they didn’t have to kill the man. these mfs train and supposely know how to aim their guns. We all know that this is just the usual bullshit,to justify killing a blk man or women.
    Does anyone plan on saying or doing anything about this? This sit was barely mentioned on the news,why? When Channcey died it was news for over a month. If this man had of been a white artist,do we really think,we wouldn’t be hearing more about it.
    Its a sad reality first off blk people do give a flying fuck about their own artist dead or alive. We are on the path to selfdestruction with our eyes closed and mouths full of bullshit!

  5. hershell west Says:

    of late the bay area black arts community has witnessed (Three) too many “sad endings.” in early august 07 we were shocked to the core by the brutal death of chauncey bailey. with chauncey’s death the black community of oak town lost a passionate and resolute voice against injustice and inequality. the bay area black arts community lost an advocate, promoter, and friend of the arts. still the freshness and promise of the new year rained with grief within the black arts community of the bay area with the unexpected passing of our beloved rae louise hayward, co founder of the art of living black. rae’s death certainly affected the entire black arts community with a tremendous void and irreplaceable influence. casper’s death seems so surreal and yet so familiar in an inner city community where black men are gunned down on a regular basis without consequence,without justifiable cause. the black community must need demand a full and accurate account on this unforgivable outrage. my hope is that casper’s life, his art, and his dignity, will require a more resolute action bv the community to demand unequivocal justice, not only for the humanity of casper, but rather, and more importantly, justice for the future of black manhood in the inner city of oakland.

  6. Akilibanjo Says:

    Thank You all for your kind words. My uncle did not deserve this kind of treatment. He was obviously shaken and unresponsive before he was shot. My family and I will investigate the situation to find justice for Uncle Casper.
    God Bless You all

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