It has been a year and a half since the fateful night a New Year’s celebration turned deadly for a 22-year-old Black man in California. He wasn’t engaged in a gang transaction gone wrong, nor was he evading police or hiding somewhere as a fugitive. No, Oscar Grant was handcuffed face down on the ground with a police officer’s knee pinning his neck when another cop decided to draw his weapon and shoot him in the back.
The single bullet ended his young life as his friends and a train station full of people watched on in horror. And now, on the heels of a verdict in the trial against the accused officer, Johannes Mehserle, the revulsion only intensifies.
Oakland, CA has long endured racial strife, and relations between law enforcement and the community can be described as uneasy at best. But for a handcuffed man to be killed in front of dozens as he lay on a train station platform floor, the calls for justice have taken on new heights. Unfortunately, in our still unequal criminal system, the cards are still largely stacked against Oscar, despite several bystander videotapes clearly depicting officer Mehserle discharging his weapon into Grant’s back. As everyone anxiously awaits the verdict in his trial, I ask, when will the system begin to work for us? When will people of color be respected and granted the same privileges as those who still choose to oppress us? And when will the individuals who are sworn to serve and protect us be held to the same standards they so readily impose on others?
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Almost immediately after the 2009 shooting took place, officer Mehserle fled California to Nevada – though his attorney maintains he wasn’t running away and ‘was not a flight risk’. Once his trial began, it was quickly moved from Oakland where the tragic death occurred, to far away Los Angeles because the defense ‘didn’t feel they could get a fair case in Oakland’. In Los Angeles, among the jury of his peers, not a single juror is African American. There are numerous reports of journalists, activists and others being kicked out of the courtroom and in some cases arrested – as was a correspondent from Youth Radio who was in contempt of court ‘for charging a device that had the ability to record’. The Judge in Mehserle’s trial, Judge Robert Perry has eliminated first-degree murder charges, and has instructed the jury to consider second-degree murder, manslaughter or an outright acquittal – all of this taking place in the same criminal courthouse where the infamously polarizing OJ Simpson trial occurred years before.
And then there are reports that officer Mehserle’s own track record of abusive behavior has been systematically left out of the court proceedings. Just weeks before Oscar Grant lost his life, an individual by the name of Kenneth Carrethers says Mehserle viciously beat him for criticizing BART police officers (which is where Mehserle served). Carrethers was treated at a hospital before Mehserle took him to jail, but following Oscar Grant’s death, the charges against him were dropped. As the jurors in Los Angeles deliberate, will this history of violence at the hands of police play in their minds? Just as victims have their entire lives dissected in courtrooms all across this country, should we not do the same to those with a badge and shield? Why are their lives held to a different standard?
It has been a year and half of mourning and immeasurable suffering for the Grant family. And with each passing day, each insulting act of disregard and each violation of their child’s civil rights, the quest for a semblance of justice continues. As we await this jury’s final decision, let us not rest until we do obtain justice in Oscar’s name. We will not take to the streets and riot should a negative outcome occur, but rather march peacefully and plan our next steps in a nonviolent strategic manner as the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted us to.
As I always say: justice delayed is justice denied. Justice for Oscar Grant and the many other voiceless victims out there.
OPINION: Oscar Grant Trial Highlights Importance Of Law & Mutual Respect