The verdict is about to come down in the case of Johannes Mehserle, the BART cop who killed Oscar Grant, as he was riding home on BART the morning of January 1, 2009. This is more than a murder trial. The system of police violence that rules the streets is being put on trial. This so-called justice system will never deliver real justice when a young African-American man is killed. In anticipation of the verdict, the city officials and their cops are ramping up for a massive assault on people who demonstrate against letting Mehserle off. So everyone is waiting…
The facts of the case are clear. Oscar Grant was murdered in the early morning on January 1st. Like every New Years, the ride on BART after midnight is packed with people going home from New Years Eve parties. There was drinking, fighting and people getting knocked down. The train was held at Fruitvale station by the BART cops responding to the situation. The cops moved in, pulling individuals off the train and threatening them. Grant was put face-down on the BART platform. But within minutes the cops’ intimidation went beyond threats and Mehserle shot Grant in the back. He died the next morning at Highland Hospital in Oakland.
Police murder is common enough that this event could have passed by without comment. The police always say they responded to threats of violence from the victims. And of course this is what they say about the night Oscar Grant was killed. So what makes this case any different? Only the fact that it was caught on video and put on the internet, so they couldn’t lie about it.
What was the response of the city authorities and BART? Not a word! They hoped like other police shootings this one could be swept under the rug. It wasn’t until a week after his murder, the day of Grant’s funeral and the demonstration that followed, that they broke their silence. Their silence was an insult to Oscar Grant’s family and every person concerned about justice. And even then they took no action. By then Mehserle had left the state. He was not charged until January 13th! If anyone else committed a murder, would they be free to walk for two weeks? And what about his accomplices – the other BART police? They are still at large.
The trial has also shown that justice will not be served by their so-called justice system. The trial was moved to Los Angeles before a judge who is known for his defense of police violence. He tried the notorious Ramparts station case where cops charged with all sorts of corruption and extreme brutality were let off. The lawyers and the judge have made sure no African-Americans are on the jury. The judge allowed Mehserle’s defense to present Oscar Grant’s past arrest record with the police to the jury. Was the fact that Grant had been arrested in the past, like many young African-American men, a license to shoot him? Who is on trial here? Obviously they want us to believe that if a young African-American man is shot by the police it must be his own fault.
There will be no justice in this trial. Even if Mehserle was convicted, it won’t stop the police, the judges, and the politicians from terrorizing working and poor people and defending the racism and inequality of the system we live in. But it might make the cops think twice before they shoot someone.
When the verdict comes down, it is our right to protest – to show that we will not tolerate the killing of young people by the cops. Smashing the windows of small businesses and burning cars, even police cars, will not be a blow against the authorities. We have to find a way to exercise our real power – to organize and ourselves in the tens of thousands to state clearly that we will not tolerate this continued injustice.