Monday, May 20, 2024

Justice denied in Oscar Grant shooting trial…

July 9, 2010 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( Yesterday, Johannes Mehserle–the former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer charged with the New Year’s Day shooting of 22-year old, unarmed Oscar Grant–was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. The conviction carries a maximum sentence of four years, however, the additional guilty gun charge may enhance the sentence by as much as four more years. Though one would be challenged to find a uniform interpretation of what “justice” would look like for the fatal shooting of an unarmed man, “involuntary manslaughter” may challenge many of our modern expectations.

At Mehserle’s hearing, protesters shouted, “We want justice. We want it now.” Some held signs that read, “I am Oscar Grant.” Others taped signs to their backs that read “don’t shoot.” All of these are signs of a festering discontent with the manner in which police brutality disregards the human and civil rights of individuals in favor of a rogue behavior that has no place in a modern civilization–especially one that’s supposed to be “post-racial.”

Needless to say, Oscar Grant’s family is greatly disappointed by the verdict. According to Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, the system failed. “This system places no value on the lives of African-American males,” he said. “We need the community to stand up and use their First Amendment right to speak up against police brutality.”

It goes without saying that the historical relationship between law enforcement and African-American communities, and other communities of color, is complex. Everyone recognizes the inherently valuable function of law enforcement in maintaining order. However, this appreciation is compromised by the overall crisis of integrity that has informed a long and contentious history between law enforcement and African-Americans–leading to a mutual distrust that allows for the lack of accountability and trust to develop.

But, sometimes as a collective, we fail to see that it is because of this lack of trust that implicit biases are allowed to continue without the proper interventions to promote a fair enforcement of the law and interactions with the communities they are entrusted to serve.

It is because of this lack of trust that law enforcement is deployed into communities of color at disproportionately high rates, thereby inflating the rate of negative contact and arrests in communities of color.

It is because of this lack of trust that school resource officers are disproportionately placed in urban districts populated by children of color, thereby contributing to disproportionate minority contact and the school-to-prison pipeline for children of color.

It is because of this lack of trust that African-Americans avoid contact with law enforcement, thereby increasing the tensions (or the suspicion that someone has a gun–as Mehserle contends he did with Oscar Grant) that lead to police brutality and misconduct.

Though the family’s wrongful death suit against BART was settled in January for $1.5 million, no amount of money can ever lead to a full recovery from police brutality. Anyone who has ever looked into the eyes of a grieving mother, like Wanda Johnson, knows that. A year and a half after the murder of Oscar Grant, we should now pay close attention to some of the systemic problems with law enforcement’s relationship with communities of color that allow for a disproportionately high rate of “involuntary” fatal interactions.

Justice is–and always has been–about accountability for one’s actions. Mehserle was remanded into custody immediately, but the sentencing will take place in August; and only then will we see if he will be held accountable for his actions. So to, in the coming months and years, will we see if law enforcement training agencies will begin to spend more time in police academies and precincts working consistently and intentionally to prevent misconduct and the use of excessive force.

Oscar Grant’s family, backed by Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and a host of community and civil rights advocates–including the NAACP–have denounced the verdict and framed our collective dissatisfaction as the culmination of decades of injustice. Our work is just beginning to make this situation more than just a moment of reflection; but rather, an opportunity for structural change to a deeply rooted problem. The egregiousness of police brutality, particularly given its troubled racial implications, is a human and civil rights violation that deserves the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice.

It’s time,” Johnson said, “to mobilize for change.” We want justice, and we want it now.

Written By Monique W. Morris

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