Friday, July 9, 2010

The Verdict on Oscar Grant Shooting Prompts More Protests

The following is CNN video of one of Oscar Grant's family members speaking to media about the verdict convicting former Bay Area Transit officer Johannes Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter in Grant's shooting death at the start of 2009. That was the least of the possible criminal offenses of which he could have been convicted.

Per CNN:
The verdict was announced in Los Angeles, where the trial was held, shortly after 4 p.m. PT (7 p.m. ET). ... Johannes Mehserle, who was a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer at the time of the incident, was accused of shooting 22-year-old Oscar Grant on an Oakland train platform on January 1, 2009. ... Mehserle could have been found not guilty, guilty of second-degree murder or guilty of voluntary manslaughter -- or guilty of involuntary manslaughter, as the jury decided. The trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles due to pre-trial publicity.
According to CNN, 83 protesters were arrested after the verdict. His family, while angry, have asked for calm.

This blog's been receiving a lot of traffic from people wanting to read more about this case. In January of 2009, I wrote four posts, the first about the infamous video surfacing that showed police officers pinning Grant to the ground, chest down, Mehserle drawing his weapon and shooting Grant in the back as Grant begged officers not to taser him. Mehserle has maintained that he thought he was pulling out his taser when he drew out his gun and shot Grant.

Later I wrote more about the cell phone video itself posted by the AP and the ensuing Oakland riots. I am still dismayed by the people who think it matters whether Oscar Grant had a criminal record or not. For every two hits I see in my stats using the key words "Oscar Grant" or "Why did police shoot Oscar Grant," I see two searching "Oscar Grant criminal record" or "What did Oscar Grant do?"

The police weren't checking for warrants nor were they dealing with someone who had a weapon threatening them. They were supposedly policing a rowdy crowd returning home via BART after News Year Eve celebrations. They stopped Oscar Grant. He was chest-down on the ground, unarmed and not resisting arrest when he was shot. That could have been you or one of your children chest down with no record begging the police not to use a taser only to be shot instead. What will you say now, that you and nobody in your family would ever be out partying on News Year Eve? What does that mean?

So, what I wrote in 2009 still applies:
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.
The Oscar Grant tragedy is the exact case I had in mind when I disapproved of people talking more about the family of Aiyana Jones having a criminal connection than discussing information that not only were the police showing off for a reality TV show when they raided the house, but also that the police may have been at the wrong house.

Aiyana is the seven-year-old who died after police in Detroit stepped over her toys on the lawn, entered her house, and shot her in the head during a raid in May. The officer in that case says the grandmother struggled with him and it was an accident. The people choosing to discuss her family's criminal link instead of what the police did wrong are black people not white people. In the Grant case I've seen just as many whites wanting to discuss his criminal history as blacks, but I have seen blacks who choose that focus. I wonder what they would say if the police entered their homes, and shot one of them and people focused on a relative's criminal history instead of the police having committed outrageous procedural violations designed to stop innocent people from being shot.

We need to discuss accountability and crime, but immediately after the police have killed someone and were clearly wrong is not the time to do that. We have a hell of a lot of other criminal cases in our communities that are unrelated to police brutality that we can use to contemplate crime and how we can stop it.

You'll find all four posts about Oscar Grant plus this one and the one about Mehserle fleeing the state of California in 2009, claiming he feared for his life, all under the Bart shooting label. I may have more to say later, but I'm mulling the verdict over now and information such as there were no African-Americans on the jury.

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