“What is the value of a life of a black man in America?”- No justice for Oscar Grant

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Oscar Grant mural in downtown Oakland
“What is the value of a life of a black man in America?”
It’s clear– NOT MUCH. Not fucking much at all. Rev. Keith Mohammed said these words this evening during the press conference after the verdict was released in the Oscar Grant trial.
Mehserle got involuntary manslaughter, y’all. INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER. That’s what you get when you get into a car accident. According to ABC News, “Regarding the upcoming sentencing, Burris [Grant's family attorney] said, ‘He should be going to jail for the rest of his life, but yet he very well may get a sentence that does not even require him to go to jail, which would be the ultimate insult and travesty that I can imagine.'”
A cop fatally shot an unarmed man and is basically getting away with it. That’s not news. What’s news at least for some of those who held a little bit of hope is that this completely racialized violence and police brutality is condoned by our justice system. As Rev. Mohammed asked, “what is the value of a life of a black man in America?” Depressingly, the message is clear. This ruling would be completely different if Mehserle or Grant was a different race. This is ALL about race, people. As Adam Serwer writes at the Prospect,

“Times change, but the radioactive fear of black people, black men in particular, has proven to have a longer half-life than any science could have discerned. This is not a fear white people possess of black people–it is a fear all Americans possess. It makes white cops kill black cops, it makes black cops kill black men, and it whispers in the ears of white and nonwhite jurors alike that fear of an unarmed black man lying face down in the ground is not ‘unreasonable.’ All of which is to say, while it infects all of us, a few of us bear the brunt of the suffering it causes.”

He goes on to quote a 2007 ColorLines study demonstrating the little progress we’ve made since the Civil Rights era. The study found that “New York City consistently has the highest number of shooting deaths by police in the country, an average of 12 every year. The city also has substantially disproportionate killing of Black people, who make up 26 percent of the population but represented 66 percent of those killed by police.” This verdict confirms this study: cops shoot and kill unarmed victims and get away with it, especially when the victim is black.
If I hear another mention of “post-racial” unless its a damnation of the phrase, I will explode.
At this moment in time we need to take care of ourselves. Not only are we healing from the pain that is the loss of innocent life, but now we have to deal with this twisting knife in our back. From someone we thought we could trust– the justice system. But I guess Rev. Mohammed said it best. If we thought there would be justice served in this verdict, maybe we hoped for too much.
I am writing this from my home in the Bay and trying to hold back tears. What kind of world are we living in?
Links here:
Justice or Just Us? Beyond the Hype of the Mehserle Trial
Justice for Oscar Grant- Please spread widely!
Justice for Oscar Grant: Update on Fruitvale BART Protest
Understanding the Dialogue around Lovelle Mixon.
There is no justice for Aiyana
If you need some good resistance music, listen to Native Guns new single “Handcuffs.” It’s all about police brutality, particularly about Grant and others. Very touching song and appropriate for these times. And Bambu’s (of Native Guns) video called “Bambu: Before The Verdict“. More background on this case and support for people’s right to be angry. Not hurt people.

Join the Conversation

  • Athenia

    I heard that the officer mistaken his taser for his gun.
    I can’t even believe that would hold water in a court of law.
    This is absolutely ridiculous.

  • susanstohelit

    This verdict was devastating. I absolutely believe that race played a huge role in what happened here. I refuse to believe the officer mistook his gun for his taser, and even if he did, using a taser on someone who is handcuffed and lying down on a subway platform is a totally unjustified use of force. Officers are not supposed to MURDER people because they were supposedly causing a minor disturbance on a train.
    Sadly, I fully expect some commenters to show up who will argue that you can’t question a police officer – that in the heat of the moment, accidents will happen, that he was just trying to protect public safety because there was a report of black men causing a disturbance on the train, that Oscar Grant initially resisted (although not violently and only because another cop had been cursing at him and threatening him with a taser), that we can’t argue racism because it was a threatening situation and/or because we all know black men commit more violent crimes so the officer’s reaction was justified. There’s a tragic undercurrent of fear that even “progressives” fall victim too and a belief among the privileged that the police are always there to protect them (them, please note – the privileged few, the ones who aren’t seen as posing a risk) and that if you question or resist or do anything other than what they demand you deserve what’s coming to you.
    I’m just heartsick over this.

  • cattrack2

    I can’t say that its a devastating verdict. The Rodney King verdict was a devastating verdict. I’m not pleased that he wasn’t convicted of more serious charges. Comparatively this is a step in the right direction.
    I didn’t follow the trial closely so I don’t know the ins and outs–did Mehserle take the stand himself and testify about confusing his gun for his Taser? As a black person, though, I recognize that Mehserle’s excuse is awfully self-serving, and difficult to believe (what trained cop confuses the grip of a handgun with the grip of a Taser?). I figure, though, that the jury found it equally difficult to believe that a cop could in cold blood kill an unarmed, handcuffed man with a shot to the back of the head.
    I hope we hear some interviews from the jury.

  • redmuser

    I will never understand why people are so terrified of the black community. I have been a white woman all of my life, and I have never seen the sense of it. It makes me remember a time when I was a canvasser for the rape crisis center in Denver, Co. We were assigned to canvass a predominantly black neighborhood, and all the other canvassers were so afraid that they would be hurt while working. All I remember from that night was how nice everyone was. It was a really cold night (20 degrees or below) and everyone was asking me if I wanted to come in from the cold for some tea and cocoa. Hell, the only people who scare me anymore are white people.

  • Comrade Kevin

    Being perfectly honest here, I was raised to be afraid of black men. It was how I was taught, both by my father and by the culture in which I grew up. So it’s been an exercise in deliberate reprogramming to remove that automatic response. I don’t like it, but I own that I feel it, too.
    Would my fear lend me to commit a senseless act of violence against someone else based on skin color? No, but it has limited me in the ability to be culturally educated and has prevented me from recognizing that every person is different—even though they might be of the same sex and race.

  • Emperor Zarkov

    I feel those tears with you. I was anxiously awaiting the outcome of this trial and wish I could say I felt surprised by the verdict. Instead I read the outcome and just thought “Of course. What did I expect?”

  • daveNYC

    “From someone we thought we could trust– the justice system.”
    Not ‘the justice system’, it’s the 12 people on the jury. I have been on exactly one jury, and it was no picnic. Hung on one charge because of one person, and no amount of logic would make him budge. All you need for this verdict is for one person on the jury to be unable to believe that someone would do something this stupid (and killing a restrained person by shooting them in the back on a subway platform in front of witnesses is very stupid) and the other members of the jury are then stuck trying to salvage the situation in order to get any sort of justice.

  • jstein

    I live in Oakland. I grew up in Oakland. I watched the trial. I listened to the press hype before the verdict was announced and I’m dealing with the fallout of the riots today.
    Personally, I think that Grant should have gotten a heavier sentence. I would’ve been happy with Voluntary Manslaughter or Murder 2 (though there was no way in hell they were going to give him that).
    Still, there are two things that piss me off. The first is holding this up as a trial that turned out the way it did because the defended was white and the victim was black. Was the act racially motivated? I think so. I don’t think Oscar Grant dies if he’s a white man in that position, and that pisses me off.
    But I’m not pissed off about the trial.
    I’m pissed off that people think we can’t trust people (not just black people, but people in general) to look at a case without hollering like this is going to be the next Watts. And I’m more pissed off that such mistrust is justified.
    There are real problems in the black community, in Oakland and (I’m sure) in other cities. We’re not post-racial, and I agree that anyone who uses the term should be invited to Oakland or Richmond to see the disparity. But I also think its pretty useless to complain about any sort of miscarriage of justice in the courtroom when the real issues are the acts going on on the street.
    Also, I’m sick of everyone talking like this guy is going to be let out on parole before we have a sentencing hearing. I had a friend post on facebook that “it’s a travesty he’s getting off with two years.” We have no idea what the sentence is going to be. He could get as much as seven. I don’t think he will, but this isn’t done.

  • Lisa

    I was a criminal justice major for awhile and everything you said about not questioning the police is true. There was a police shooting in Baltimore last year and my professor is a former cop (they have the motto “once a cop, always a cop” type thing like in the Military) so he did not question the cop who shot the teenage boy. I was outraged that he would defend the cop, the teenager was unarmed and could not shoot back, but he said (paraphrased) “the only thing you worry about is coming home alive. Even if that means you have to kill somebody.” My professor is rather progressive and that shocked me.
    Progressives do fail people who are forced to deal with the criminal justice system. Criminal justice reform is not an issue that most progressives will even think about touching. Racism is alive and well in the CJS and it is rarely talked about unless we are forced to confront it. However, once this is not talked about in the media, a lot of people will go back to ignoring criminal justice issues. We need real criminal justice reform in this country and it is not on anyones agenda. So we are failing a lot of people by not pushing to hold our police officers (and federal agents) accountable for their actions when it comes to racism, classism, sexist, etc.

  • davenj

    So true. I’m not sure how much people who haven’t served on criminal juries understand this. The reason lesser charges get introduced is exactly because of things like that.
    In my case I remember illustrating to a woman logically, over and over again, that the crime in question was unobservable, and therefore certain witness testimony had to be falsified.
    It didn’t matter. In the waiting room that day I heard her say words to the effect of “I can’t be convinced this guy’s not guilty.” The problem swings the other way, too.
    12 people is a large group to convince of anything as far as a consensus goes. Especially when not every juror takes the same approach. Some follow the instructions on the role of a juror, but some don’t.
    It’s difficult, but after my time on a criminal jury I completely understand lesser sentences, plea bargains, and the like.

  • alawyer

    For what it’s worth, saying he’s getting away with it is an overstatement. The base sentence for involuntary manslaughter in California is 2-4 years, but the use of a gun adds another 3 to 10, so he gets 5 to 14. That may not be as much as it should be, but it’s not a slap on the wrist either.

  • makomk

    Not just twelve people. Twelve white people. While it’s technically against the rules to reject people from the jury based on race, that rule ain’t worth the paper it’s printed on. All you have to do to get around it is to state a reason – any reason – for rejecting each person that isn’t their race or one of the other non-permitted reasons. Doesn’t even matter if it’s obviously bogus.

  • makomk

    This. Every time someone says the police aren’t that bad, that it’s just a few bad apples, remember: every single cop helps to protect those “few bad apples”. Every single cop is complicit. No exceptions.

  • Paul

    It was a bad shoot. I do not think that the crime meets the standard for murder. Nobody here has said they believe Mehserle intended to kill Grant.
    Lisa “the only thing you worry about is coming home alive. Even if that means you have to kill somebody.” Your Damn right. They had just had two weapons issues that night, they were surrounding by people yell and cursing at them. Grant was face down, hand hidden and resisting. He had
    cattrack2 – When Mehserle stood up he declared “I’m going to taze him, I’m going to taze him” then fumbled with the weapon and shot Grant. I’ve spent hundreds of hours training with a gun in my hand and it doesn’t change the fact that the job is dangerous and fast paced. Despite all that time, I have, in training, run up on some one with my gun ON SAFE and not gotten my shot of in time. I actually keep a 1911 grip pistol in my home so I don’t have that kind of problem.

  • supremepizza

    Really? Does that include my father…meh, what do you know?

  • Jessica Lee

    I’m sure people will try to defend this case, because he was resisting arrest and the cops thought he might have been armed, but I think those people are full of shit. If you’re a cop, there’ NO excuse for “confusing” a taser for a gun, and you deserve punishment for killing an unarmed HUMAN BEING. I say “human being” because citizen just doesn’t have the same impact. Calling Grant a human being gives him the dignity he deserves as someone who was carelessly killed for no good reason. No amount of unarmed resistance deserves a shot to the back, even if the cop mistook his taser for his gun (if that’s even the truth).
    I don’t pray, but my condolences go out to Grant’s friends and family, and I hope something good can come out of this down the road. I highly doubt the cop who did this will even get fired, with unpaid suspension at most (I don’t quite know police protocol when it comes to situations like this, but I have a feeling his “punishment” will be light). Even if we can’t necessarily do anything directly to change what happened, it’s very important that we tell others the story of Oscar Grant and open their eyes to the racism that still exists in the supposed “post-racial” America. My best wishes go to Oscar Grant’s friends and family, and I hope some form of justice, even outside of the judicial system, can be served.

  • makomk

    Have you asked him his thoughts on this case?

  • Luscious

    I have to completely agree with this statement. My mother works for a police department and though she is not a sworn officer, she, formerly a very progressive woman, now sides with police in every instance that we discuss whether it be on a local or national level. The complicity is astounding, and while I can’t speak for others, the change I’ve seen in her outlook and defense of police actions since she started working for them is really rather shocking.

  • Luscious

    If you’re a cop, there’ NO excuse for “confusing” a taser for a gun, and you deserve punishment for killing an unarmed HUMAN BEING.
    THANK YOU.