All Eyez On Oakland

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 serveNor 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.

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13 thoughts on “All Eyez On Oakland

  1. thanks for the post. THIS FOTO! These MF’s with their ideologies use other people’s home as a place to put their chaos loving politcs to play.

    i’m sad by a system has institutionalized white folks the ability to get 2nd – 3rd – 4th and 5th chances for destroying and terrorizing and ending the lives of people.

    race places such a part of all of this.. .what if oscar grant was white? what if the officer that killed him was black, latino or asian? just the fact that those scenarios give us pause — makes us know we live in a world in which race and class shape who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s guilty, who’s allowed to live -and who’s life is valuable enough to hold someone accountable for taking it.

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  2. Well said. Out-of-town troublemakers, who don’t even give a damn, ought to be hung out to dry for using the injustice of the case to just break stuff. As if the regular folks who live in Oakland don’t already have enough to worry about…

    Isn’t there a some sort of additional legal issue to the cop’s conviction of manslaughter that because he used a gun, it carries a heavier sentence or additional years?

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  3. I think, if Oscar Grant were a middle-aged white man who had been dressed in a suit…he’d be alive right now.

    That said, I don’t think the situation comes remotely close to warranting a murder conviction…even though Mehserle behaved like a guilty murderer in the aftermath of the incident.

    And, yeah: the media should have made more mention that 75% of those arrested in both the 2009 and 2010 riots hailed from outside of Oakland. Of course…they came to Oakland because they knew there would be a big protest amidst which they could hide and blend in.

    It was painful to watch the media trip all over themselves to dramatize what ended up being rather small-scale and isolated looting and very minimal violence…rather than discuss how all the hysterical hype leading up to the verdict was mostly alarmism…and that the people of Oakland can speak their conscience in a peaceful and responsible way.

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  4. IMO, it warrants a murder charge. if a jury can convict lionel tate, a black CHILD at the age of 12 for murder, subsequently destroying his childhood and fast-tracking him into a path of self destruction, then i cannot comprehend how this TRAINED cop, who should be able to tell the difference b/t a GUN and a TASER, can get away with a manslaughter conviction. HE KNEW EXACTLY WHAT WEAPON HE WAS PULLING OUT. this bullshit conviction clearly highlights how inequitable our justice system is in this country. people of color, particularly black folks, will always be seen as a bigger threat and more violent than white folks, thus the harsher sentence, regardless of the degree of the crime. so yes, in my opinion, mehserle should have been charged with murder. plain and simple.

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  5. I don’t really see any parallels between the Mehserle and Tate cases. Regardless of what you think of Mehserle’s intentions or state of mind, his killing of Oscar Grant took place within a second or two. Tate beat a 6-year-old girl to death with his bare hands. While one could dispute whether or not he intended to kill her, what he did to her could not be depicted as an accident, no matter how far one’s imagination can stretch.

    (The first-degree murder charge was inappropriate, but Tate was offered a second-degree plea deal and rejected it. And while the case could be seen as an example of overly-harsh sentences for black convicts, it wasn’t because of the race of his victim, as the girl he killed was black.)

    Everyone has the right to believe whatever they want regarding Mehserle’s intentions. But, from where I stand, the only person who might know what Mehserle intended to do is Mehserle himself. And even he might not truly know.

    Certainly he should immediately know the difference between a pistol and a Tazer. But whether or not he pulled out his pistol and fired it accidentally is not something that can be proved. I find it very hard to believe he drew and fired his pistol on accident but I find it even harder to believe that he would murder someone in front of hundreds of witnesses.

    I agree that the system is biased and people of color frequently get shafted. It does not automatically follow, however, that the Mehserle case is an example of this. That, like a first-degree murder charge, would have to be proven.

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  6. i’m not sure how if, in both cases, neither of them intended to kill, why it’s more justified to convict a 12 yr old child of murder, while a sound minded, trained officer of the law can get away with involuntary manslaughter.

    in any case, a trained cop knows exactly what a gunshot can do, even within seconds of pulling that trigger. if he knowingly pulled out a gun and shot it, it’s not involuntary manslaughter. it may not be premeditated, but that shit was not just a tragic mistake. i would argue that a 12 yr old child that goes overboard with his horseplay doesn’t necessarily understand the deathly effects of his actions. so how that equates to a murder charge is beyond comprehension. i’d also question the depiction by the media of how tate “beat” the little girl to death, we all know how questionable the media is when reporting news involving folks of color. i also wonder if tate was a 12 yr old white kid, what punishment he would have received for his mistake.

    we can argue back and forth whether or not mehserle is a murderer (which he is!), bottom line is, he’s being given a chance to come back into society and live his life as a free man who once upon a time was convicted for committing tragic mistake. yet, tate was not given a chance for recourse. he was branded a murderer at the age of 12. initially locked up for life without a chance to right his wrong and reenter into society. the mehserle case most definitely highlights the bias and injustices within the legal system.

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  7. I understand where you’re coming from and why you feel the way you do. In the end, I’m just trying to explain why the trial resulted in a manslaughter conviction (Mehserle is *not* “getting away with involuntary manslaughter”…he was convicted of it). There have been a lot of angry folks bandying about charges of conspiracy and rigging of the system and when I hear that, I cringe, because it dilutes the power of such charges when such charges do apply.

    On the Tate case:

    – Tate “beat the girl to death” because…he literally beat her to death. I don’t see how there’s any other way to put it. She had broken ribs, a fractured skull, and severe internal organ damage. Catastrophic damage distributed to different areas means he didn’t just slip and fall on her or accidentally dropped her once. You don’t do damage like that just innocently horsing around.
    – Tate went to juvenile prison for a couple years and then was allowed out to serve a year of house arrest and then probation, community service, and counseling. Do you think he should have had a milder penalty? The initial charge and conviction of 1st Degree Murder was bullshit, but in the end, he went to a juvenile prison for a couple years, and then basically rejoin society.
    – If Tate were a white kid and the victim were white…I wouldn’t bet that he’d get off any more lightly than he did.

    On the Mehserle case:

    I’ll try to not belabor the point, but I just find it far more plausible that Mehserle made a horrible and criminally negligent mistake…much more plausible than Mehserle executing Oscar Grant in front of hundreds of witnesses.

    To prove murder — even 2nd degree murder — the prosecution would basically have had to prove that Mehserle drew his gun and fired it into Grant’s back on purpose. They simply failed to prove that contention — certainly, they didn’t prove it beyond reasonable doubt.

    The big issue here, of course, is that Mehserle was a cop. So there’s more doubt that he would just wantonly murder someone in front of hundreds of witnesses. On a theoretical level, I find this unfair. But, practically, it makes sense.

    There are obviously big problems in holding some police accountable for overreaching their authority, being abusive, racist, or otherwise behaving not just professionally, but also criminally. This needs to change.

    I just don’t think that this particular case of Mehserle killing Grant is a good example of that.

    I’m going to say one more thing, at the risk of coming across as patronizing: I sympathize with your viewpoint and your view of the system, but I haven’t seen you make any argument or point that directly critiques a problem with the Mehserle case. Like the prosecution during the trial, you’re not really making your case to me, even though I sympathize with your case.

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  8. Also…I look at the Mehserle case and find it encouraging. It’s not a small thing that he was held criminally guilty in Grant’s killing. It’s also not a small thing that numerous different police officers spoke up critically about his actions and behavior.

    Then again, the pessimist in me says that this was an incident in which a police officer’s mistake was caught by hundreds of witnesses and a handful of video cameras and, if it had occurred more privately, he probably would have gone totally unpunished for wrongly killing Grant.

    Still…I find it encouraging that he was criticized so publicly by folks like Frank Jordan and Gary Delagnes. Even an inter-city/agency chipping away at “the blue wall” is rare enough to find encouraging.

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  9. what other purpose would a cop, trained to use a gun, have other than to fatally hurt an unarmed man by shooting him in the back? he knowingly pulled a gun out and pulled the trigger. oscar grant was not resisting arrest. he was not reaching for that mythical gun. there was not a single reason that warranted a gunshot in that man’s back. in any other situation, a person who pulls the trigger and fatally shoots someone for no reason whatsoever, would have been convicted of a murder. so why not johannes mehserle? we know the excuse he had that he thought he was pulling out a taser was total bs.

    an involuntary manslaughter charge is telling everyone that he didn’t knowingly intend to shoot this man in the back. which i still cannot comprehend of he’s a trained officer. perhaps he didn’t think oscar was going to die from that gunshot, but he did. the bottom line is, he KNEW he was shooting oscar grant. how is that not murder?

    with regards to the tate case, my problem with that case is the fact that this kid was branded a murderer at the very start, without any thought into rehabilitation of the kid. we can disagree with the state of mind of the child and the degree of his crime, but why aren’t people of color ever given a chance to rehabilitate? why is the initial course of punishment the most severe? had this child not have been branded a murderer and treated like one by the jury, the public, and the media, and given the proper resources, guidance and support, i strongly believe his course in life would have looked very differently. the parallels i continue to draw between these two cases is that in both situations, the question remains “intent to kill.” mehserle, a 28 yr old trained cop was not a murderer for knowingly shooting a man in the back. tate, a 12 yr old child, was convicted of murder for his over the top actions that resulted in the death of another child.

    with all due respect, i don’t need to prove my case to you. from the start, i’ve said In My Opinion. my opinion stems from years of witnessing how the prison industrial complex continues to brand young people of color as violent murderers, while white males continue to get a free pass through the justice system. a conviction of involuntary manslaughter is still a slap in the face for the many many young men of color who are sitting in jail for the exact same crime mehserle committed.

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  10. “what other purpose would a cop, trained to use a gun, have other than to fatally hurt an unarmed man by shooting him in the back?…there was not a single reason that warranted a gunshot in that man’s back”

    His defense was that, in the heat of the moment, he mistakenly pulled out his gun instead of his Taser. I believe his claim was that Grant was resisting being handcuffed and that he decided to use his Taser to bring him under control. That is a reason.

    So then the question becomes: is the reason true? Can this reason be proven false beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury felt that it was not.

    So long as we’re asking questions, I have yet to hear a compelling answer to this question: why would a police officer, with no prior record of violence as a private citizen or abuse as an officer, suddenly decide to murder someone who was a stranger to him just minutes before, in front of hundreds of witnesses, including a handful of police officers.

    You state that Mehserle “knew” that he was shooting Grant with a gun…how do you know that? What proves that? And what reason would he have for knowingly shooting Grant?

    These are all questions that both the prosecution and you have failed to answer. Without answering those questions beyond reasonable doubt, a murder conviction is impossible and would be improper.

    “why aren’t people of color ever given a chance to rehabilitate? why is the initial course of punishment the most severe?”

    I understand your point regarding problems within our society/system and agree with that viewpoint, but it is inaccurate to claim — as your rhetorical questions do — that people of color are *never* given a chance to rehabilitate and *always* are given the most severe punishment. There are countless examples of when your accusation is true…but also many examples that prove your statements cannot be made in the absolute.

    Secondly, Tate was sent to a juvenile prison and was released a couple years later. He was not given “the most severe punishment” and I think the idea that the initial charge of murder being a singular reason why his life continued to be negative is unconvincing.

    Tate’s course in life was troubled before he killed Tiffany Eunick. That he killed her in the way he did indicates that, frankly, he was seriously fucked-up. I would agree with an argument that Tate was a product of poverty and parental neglect…and that these are systematic problems that must be addressed if we want an equitable society.

    They don’t, however, absolve him of individual culpability. And, frankly, they don’t explain how he could “play” with a six-year-old girl in a way that would result in her having broken ribs, a fractured skull, ruptured liver, and a swelled brain…this damage resulting in her death.

    Again, the two cases are not parallels. And I don’t think bringing up the Tate case bolster’s your charges regarding Mehserle. Yes, the two cases involve the question of murderous intent, and both relate to issues of race and jurisprudence in America, but charging that Tate did not deserve a murder charge does not, in any way, prove that Mehserle did deserve a murder charge.

    Any individual accused of a crime deserves to have his case examined on its individual merits. I agree that, in general, the system is not fair to blacks, in general, but that does not prove that the system was unfair in the Mehserle case. And just because the system is unfair to many young men of color does not mean that it should be unfair to Mehserle, in compensation.

    He — anyone — deserves justice even if justice is denied to others.

    And I was not meaning to imply that you “need” to prove your case to me. I was just pointing out that, from an analytical viewpoint (mine, at least), you are not proving your case. That’s certainly your right, but given how much you obviously care about social injustice, I would imagine that you care about people learning to see all the injustice within our society/system. I presume this is one of the reasons why you write about such issues on a public blog.

    Perhaps this is not the case. But, if it is, I am simply suggesting that, in my opinion, if you tighten up your rhetoric, it can be much more than rhetoric and more effectively influence people to both perceive and act to address the social problems that you and everyone should care about.

    (That all, again, may come across as patronizing. I don’t mean it that way and I don’t mean any of this to be simply rhetorical. It’s certainly not meant to be sarcastic or inflammatory in the way that most “debates” on the internet are. I’m earnestly and sincerely intending to have a constructive discussion here, and I hope I’m coming across that way.)

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  11. if the argument is that he didn’t know he was using a gun and that’s why there isn’t intention, thus the conviction of manslaughter, then i disagree. i don’t believe a man who is trained to use a weapon can’t tell the difference. i believe that argument is crap and there was the intention to use the gun.

    the justice system in this country doesn’t argue in terms of law alone, race is always a factor. with that said, if you’re going to convict a man of color for murder for the same crime that mehserle committed, then i will continue to argue that mehserle also deserved a murder conviction. if the legal system isn’t equitable to people of color, then why would i argue that this is the right conviction for this white man?

    i won’t debate with you my views on youth of color and the perpetuating systems that have failed them. i will say this though, to brand a 12 yr old a murder, then send him to juvenile hall and then put him back into society thinking that he’s got a second shot at living a normal life, is not the reality that i see in doing youth development work. without the proper resources for these youth, you’ve pretty much condemned them to a life sentence the moment you told them they were a violent killer and gave them no real support for rehabilitation. at the age of 12, no kid should be branded as a killer. the kid either made a horrible judgment or had serious mental health issues.

    all that being said, i appreciate your views and opinions. however, i definitely haven’t changed how i feel about mehserle’s manslaughter conviction or the failures of the justice system to folks of color.

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  12. “definitely haven’t changed how i feel about mehserle’s manslaughter conviction or the failures of the justice system to folks of color.”

    Sure. We’re generally going to continue to believe what we’ve been believing. That said…I was only really disagreeing with you on the former and not the latter.

    “i don’t believe a man who is trained to use a weapon can’t tell the difference. i believe that argument is crap and there was the intention to use the gun.”

    You have the right to believe that, and Mehserle’s defense is certainly difficult to swallow. I couldn’t say with meaningful certainty that I know Mehserle meant to fire his Taser. I would object to anyone treating it as a matter of course assumption that everything went down as he decribed it.

    That said, I don’t understand why other people will say, with total conviction, that it was murder and that it’s obvious Mehserle intended to kill Grant. I get that some people may intuitively feel that it’s obvious. But, at the same time, it seems obvious to me that the evidence at hand leaves reasonable doubt –at least — as to his intentions.

    And I have yet to hear anyone offer a convincing explanation as to why Mehserle would choose to murder a stranger in front of hundreds of witnesses.

    “with that said, if you’re going to convict a man of color for murder for the same crime that mehserle committed, then i will continue to argue that mehserle also deserved a murder conviction.”

    What case are you referring to, in which a man of color did the same thing as Mehserle? The Tate case? That’s simply not even close to analogous. (Police officer restraining a subject vs. a large child roughhousing with a small child…and a split-second shooting versus a beating that was estimated to last 1-5 minutes.)

    “if the legal system isn’t equitable to people of color, then why would i argue that this is the right conviction for this white man?”

    I’m not sure what you’re saying here…if the system isn’t fair for defendants of color, it shouldn’t be fair for white defendants?

    I wouldn’t expect anyone to argue that the Mehserle conviction was just — it isn’t something I find terribly satisfying.

    What I expect and hope for is that our system provides a fair hearing for everyone. If there was a mountain of physical evidence suggesting a white man killed his black ex-wife and her black male friend, I wouldn’t want the system to let him off as some sort of misguided recompense for O.J. Simpson seemingly getting away with two murders.

    “i won’t debate with you my views on youth of color and the perpetuating systems that have failed them.”

    I doubt there’s any reason to, anyway, as I imagine we largely agree on this topic…at least in principle.

    Relatedly…on Tate…

    “without the proper resources for these youth, you’ve pretty much condemned them to a life sentence the moment you told them they were a violent killer and gave them no real support for rehabilitation.”

    I don’t disagree with that, but my point is that, seriously…Tate was failed by his society, family, and community long before he killed Eunick. That he killed her the way he did is a pretty clear indication of how fucked-up he was. It’s something his record of disciplinary issues also reflects.

    I believe that Tate was largely a product of his upbringing and the environment that our society built around him. But I object to the idea that the initial charge of murder is the main thing that damaged him as an individual. And I object to the insinuation that, if his killing of Eunick is murder, then Mehserle’s killing of Grant is murder.

    The two situations are not analogous. Moreover, if you believe that they are analogous and they committed the same act, then what you’re saying is that Mehserle did not commit murder, but should be convicted of murder because Eunick was (initially).

    That’s just not how the system works or how it *should* work.

    For whatever it’s worth, I hold Mehserle morally responsible for much of the wound that has been inflicted upon the community. I’m still dumbfounded by his inability or refusal to apologize or express remorse until he did so in a written note, released by his lawyer, after the conviction.

    Personally, my opinion is that less people would presume he is a murderer if he didn’t do such a good job, after the fact, of acting like one.

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