by BCB co-founder and Oakland native Sherdizz
This past year and a half has been filled with all types of emotions. Anger. Anxiety. Fear. Sadness. Through modern day technology, the murder of a young unarmed black male by a uniformed white police officer was captured on video cell phones back in January 2009. The nation saw and heard the shot that tragically ended the life of a father, a son, a friend, a loved one. It wasn’t the first time a young person of color has died by the hands of a police officer sworn to protect and serve. Nor was it the second. Or the third.
It was however, the first time it was captured on camera. A year and a half we waited to hear the fate of a killer caught on tape. With the evidence on our side, we stood on the precipice of what would have been the most historic verdict ever, an on duty cop guilty of murder.
Then after 2 weeks of trial and less than 7 hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a verdict of guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter, a conviction that would sentence the killer to anywhere between 2 to 4 years in jail, which means Johannes Mehserle, the white police officer, could quite possibly serve less time in jail for killing Oscar Grant, than Michael Vick served for his role in commissioning dog fights. So yes, once again, the justice system failed us horribly. Then, all eyez turned to downtown Oakland to wait the aftermath of the verdict.
What brought tears to my eyes after the verdict was announced wasn’t just the sadness I felt for a clearly broken and unjust legal system in this country, but because of the impacts this tragedy has taken on the city of Oakland. As an Oakland Tribune writer so eloquently stated, Oakland had nothing to do with the tragic murder of this young man. The murderer was a BART cop, not an Oakland police officer. The victim was a resident of the neighboring city of Hayward. The killing took place on a BART platform, which just happens to be within the boundaries of Oakland. But why blame Oakland for this murder? Had the killing taken place on the Bayfair platform, would San Leandro police have prepared for post-verdict rioting as well?
As though Oakland doesn’t already have enough tragedies, injustices, and challenges to overcome, it appears to also now be the punching bag for regional public discourse. It was disturbing to read the articles and hear the news reports about the preparation for mass rioting in the streets of Oakland post verdict. But why Oakland? Why was it Oakland back in January 2009? Why take to our streets and destroy our small business? Why use up our tax dollars to clean up the aftermaths of broken glasses and burnt trash bins? More importantly, why must our young people have to defend their image to the nation that they are not about violent protesting? During the 2009 riots right after the murder of Oscar Grant, police records show that over 75% of those arrested were NOT residents of Oakland. Outside agitators took to our streets to make a statement that was not only counterproductive to the movement for social justice, but also reinforced to the nation an even more violent image of our beloved Oakland.
Caught in the line of fire, Oakland became the battlegrounds for this fight by default. Realizing this, Oakland residents and those who truly care about this city, took on the call for action. Immediately after the verdict, peaceful protestors demonstrated outside Oakland city hall to voice their frustration, not just with the verdict in this case, but for the many other cases of excessive force by police officers on people of color. These folks held banners and posters with Oscar Grant’s image and name, not to make a martyr out of him, but to symbolize a call for change in the broken justice system in this country. Young people from local youth organizations spoke about not just the need for justice, but for peace and strategic actions to bring about this justice. They live in violence everyday of their lives, not by choice, so to knowingly cause violence is not what these youth of Oakland are seeking for. These messages came from people who truly care about changing the broken system and truly care about Oakland.
And then, the sun set, and the anarchists and self profiteering individuals decided that Oakland doesn’t deserve peaceful protesting. They decided that breaking storefront windows, vandalizing my gym (gawddamn you!), looting foot locker, and causing massive chaos was how they wanted to deliver their message. But what was their message? So for these individuals, I ask you, why Oakland? Why loot our businesses, tag on our walls, and burn our street benches?
My message for these agitators, be they from Oakland or not, you might not care about the impacts that your actions have on this city, but the rest of us who are connected to this place do. We care about the image, the people- young and old, and livelihood of this place. We care about the movement for social change. And we care about fight for justice for all the Oscar Grants out there. So don’t represent our city with your counterproductive actions. You, are not Oakland.