Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hell Breaks Loose: BART Shooting Protest, Oakland

News outlets report that about 200 people took to Oakland, Ca. streets to protest the death of Oscar Grant, a young black father who was fatally shot by a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer on New Years Eve at an Oakland subway station. He had been to a celebration in San Francisco. The peaceful demonstration turned into a riot (most people remained peaceful), and the above video shows the progression from peaceful protest to violent rage.

The YouTube video comes from an eyewitness who added music to tell the story from his/her perspective. At the end of this post, you'll find more links to news, video, and pictures about Grant's death and the riots as well as related posts on police brutality, racially-tinged injustice or our "post-racial" world.

Per KTVU television in the Bay Area:
While the majority of the marchers were well behaved, just after 6:30 p.m. a splinter group of protesters started causing trouble at the intersection of 8th Street and Madison not far from the Lake Merritt BART station.

A fire was lit in a dumpster on wheels that was rolled into the middle of the street and swarmed a police car that was nearly tipped over as the angry protestors beat on the vehicle with sticks and rocked it violently back and forth.

Oakland police responded in riot gear, shooting tear gas and approaching the crowd with shields, helmets and batons drawn to force them to disperse. The Oakland Fire Department was quickly able to put out the dumpster fire without event. (KTVU)
A story at The San Francisco Chronicle includes interviews with protesters and property owners whose stores or cars were vandalized.
The roving mob smashed a McDonald's, a hair salon, a pharmacy and several restaurants. As police in riot gear tried to control the crowd, some people retreated along 14th Street and smashed cars along the way.

A woman walked out of Creative African Braids on 14th Street holding a baby in her arms after her windows were smashed.

"This is our business," shouted Leemu Topka, the owner of the business she started four years ago. "This is our shop. This is what you call a protest?" (from The San Francisco Chronicle)
A 24-year-old female protester told the newspaper that Topka, the business owner, should be glad to lose only her shop and not her life.

However, a man coming from step class (dance) expressed to The Chronicle my sentiments on violent protests: "I'm for the cause," said Bell, who is black. "But I'm against the violence and destruction."

Yes, we need to protest police brutality in the black community and anywhere else it occurs, but this is not the way.

Some of the protesters yelled at the police, "Pigs!" per The Chronicle story. Sounds like the 1960s, and I recall when I was swept into a small riot as a child after going with older cousins to a James Brown concert in Oakland, Ca.

The city's mayor spoke:
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums went to the protest scene Wednesday night to urge for calm. He and several council members then led a group toward City Hall and further addressed them.

"Even with our anger and our pain, let's still address each other with a degree of civility and calmness and not make this tragedy an excuse to engage in violence," Dellums said. "I don't want anybody hurt, I don't want anybody killed."

However, many of the demonstrators booed the mayor and decried the incident as yet another case of police brutality. (KTVU)
In a separate article, The Chronicle reports that the BART officer who shot Grant resigned. The story says Johannes Mehserle, 27, quit, "avoiding" a BART Internal Affairs interview.

On Tuesday, I wrote about the BART shooting of the young black father and posted the cell phone video taken by one witness. By now, much of the nation has seen that video, which makes Mehserle's shooting Grant look like the reprehensible act of a coward. Grant was lying face down and had already been subdued when Mehserle, a young white officer, appears to draw his weapon and shoot him in the back.

Here's clearer cell video from a different witness. The video at the other post shows Grants position more clearly and possibly Mehserle's startled expression.

Economic crisis, conflict in Gaza, Democratic scandals, and civil unrest -- President-elect Barack Obama has his work cut out for him. Americans who've been concerned about police brutality for a long time see the Grant killing as the perfect rallying cry, and even before the Oakland riot felt the first African-American President of the United States, who will be inaugurated in less than two weeks, should address the issue.

I didn't see the need for Obama to address Grant's case specifically, but I did see a need for him to give the Justice Department a mandate to look into questionable cases that smack of police brutality across the nation. Police brutality and the tendency of some officers, even African-American officers, to take action based on biases against black Americans rather than the facts of an individual situation is not a problem isolated to San Francisco.

If the Grant case had been handled more quickly, if BART hadn't seemed to stall and ask for patience to investigate what seemed apparent from the video seen on major networks and the Net, if authorities had not sounded as though they were gearing up to call it an accident, then the Grant case may have remained a national outrage but local shame to be addressed by San Francisco area residents and government. Now it's a mega-mess that will only further frustrate people who want justice and racial harmony.

If Mehserle's gun just went off, then I'm sorry he's going through this public trial. I imagine you feel like scum and don't need others to tell you how scummy you should feel if you accidentally shoot and kill someone, and certainly not death threats. It's noted that some viewers of the cell phone video say Mehserle appears surprised as do the other officers when the gun goes off. Nevertheless, we must ask, "Why did Mehserle pull the gun in the first place? Was he so afraid of black males as potential threats to his life that he felt compelled to draw his weapon on an unarmed, subdued black man?" If so, he was unfit for duty.

As usual, the victim's criminal record is being discussed, even though it has nothing to do with his tragic death. Grant's parents are having to defend their son's past and declare that he turned his life around. But, really, he could have been released from jail New Year's Eve morning, and still, there would be no reason visible to video viewers for why Mehserle needed to draw his gun.

No matter how unjust, a violent act against an African-American person may be during a tense situation, it appears injury becomes the victim's fault, not for what he or she did that day, but what he or she may have done as a supposed criminal on some other day or in some other life. It seems too often that all police officers, and sometimes ordinary white citizens, have to say is, "You know, that black man did drugs once, or he was busted for stealing before" and no questions asked, at least not hard ones.

BlueStateCowgirl dropped by on my first Oscar Grant post with questions about BART officer training. Another reader came later and left a link about the BART police force education. Sounds like these police officers are professionals, but the Oscar Grant case has us wondering what professional police officer means.

Other Links:
More video:
Local Coverage



THEdave said...

The man looked obviously surprised. It's amazing how a group who does not want to be profiled, will profile a group of people as all bad. I miss the days when those who fought for civil rights and against racism had diligence in these matters.

These protesters disgrace their forerunners and serve only to add fuel to the fire.

How much of what happened to Grant can fall on the careless shoulders of the crowds around the officers the night of the shooting? They too were careless.

I will say, someone's record does not justify anything as much as it hints to clarifying what the scenario was. If someone has a record, they may be less likely to trust cops. No doubt that if Grant had never been tasered, he would of panicked, which caused the "resisting arrest" which caused the "necessity" to subdue him.

Its obvious in the video too, that the friend to Grant's right, realized Grant was making the scenario worse, and threw his hands in the air to keep from escalating any fears of the Officers of more trouble.

David said...

POLICE STATE - The citizens of Greek cities have been protesting a police shooting there. The difference is that in all but the most repressive societies on Earth such naked violence against the citizenry is uncommon. In our country it is considered normal. Black uniformed, hobnail boot wearing, machine gun toting, sadistic thugs made anonymous behind face shields have replaced 'Peace Officers.' War has been declared by a repressive regime against its own people. When an airport is like a prison with 'cavity searches' probably being the next indignity we will be forced to endure - When we have to live in fear of being beaten and murdered by Police State Goons are we a Free People? I think not. If there had not been a video - this would have been just another day. The L.A. Gun Squad murdered 'undesirables' decades ago and everyday in America people are brutalized and murdered by sadistic goons with badges. It is quite rare for a murdering cop to face any kind of discipline because the authorities always call repression of the people - 'Justified'.