oscar grant

07/08/2010 § 3 Comments

earlier today, johannes mehserle, former BART police, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the shooting death of oscar grant.   the 12 person jury – 8 women, 4 men; 7 white, 4 poc, 1 n/a, 0 black – decided between involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter or second degree murder.

involuntary manslaughter carries a sentence of 2-4 years whereas second degree sentences would be from 15 years-life.

oscar was killed on new years eve at a transit stop where police were harassing grant and his friends on some routine racism.  as onlookers protested the excessive force against the young black men, mehserle pulled out his gun while grant was held face down, and shot a bullet into his back.

several videos were captured, and to watch it again at this moment is sickening.

mehserle’s defense revolved around testimony that he meant to use his taser, not his gun.  it is a pretty outlandish claim when you watch the haunting execution.  but in some ways, i actually believe that he didnt want to murder him even though he clearly meant to at the time.

less than 2 months ago, 7 year old aiyanna jones was shot dead by detroit police as they raided a house intending to apprehend a 34-year old black male suspect.  again, i don’t think the police wanted to kill a 7 year old girl, but their operations used fatal force making her murder more than voluntary.

while acknowledging the historical role of white supremacy in police eg lynching, this country has undergone a fundamental shift in major city policing strategy since racial integration; moving from models of crime solving towards that of domestic occupation.  i would argue that the police murder of african americans is inherent to the militarization of the US police force, intensified since nixon era federal war on drugs restructuring.  the enemy are young black men, and as in any war, constructing your enemy as a threat demands preemptive, unprovoked, lethal force.  when ‘unwarranted’ deaths are exposed, they are framed as tragic collateral consequences that are justified based on the broader containment of threat.

now im specific to equate urban policing with military occupation, rather than warfare.  after all, the death toll of iraqi and afghan people are of a completely different magnitude, and its true that our communities aren’t being bombed (at least not now).  but when you consider domestic check points (invisible to white people), constant surveillance, unjustified harassment and brutality, raids, imprisonment and intelligence gathering, the logic is strikingly similar.

without being there, the atmosphere in the bay seems palpably tense, and residents of the community i imagine are exasperated, outraged, disillusioned.  meanwhile, NY times has minute by minute coverage on lebron james signing to miami while the grant case verdict goes unmentioned in the top (web) fold.  im sure there will be talk tomorrow, but its a reflection of our establishment priorities, driven first by the movement of commerce.

the oscar grant trial should be driving a national dialogue on the fundamentally racialized policies of the criminal justice system (the new jim crow).  people should be freaking out that the US has the highest rate and largest number of prisoners of any country in the world.

despite having a black president, the US criminal justice system is more racially unequal than ever.  just as this country’s race lines have been moved by an abolitionist and then civil rights movements, the core sickness of mass incarceration must be carved out like a cancer from our body politic.

so really, f*kk the farce of post-racial america.  lets think about being post-racist first.

prison abolition: is about community policing that is accountable and indigenous to neighborhoods they protect; depopulating the prisons so only those who intend to hurt others are held captive; building restorative justice processes that aim to repair the harms to victims and prevent future crime, rather than pursue punishment as a dogmatic end in itself.  these alternatives are possible and are happening in pockets across the country.

but until that transformation takes hold, i can only mourn oscar grant, the people he represents and the country that killed him.


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