ColorLines has been doing a fantastic job covering the trial of Johannes Mehserle, the cop who shot and killed Oscar Grant on a subway platform. Kai Wright flags a comment from the blog on the verdict.
As a former defense attorney, I respect the jury system–it’s better than any alternatives. But jury trials can and do commit injustices. The jury captures both the wisdom and the folly of the community it comes from. This result shocks me from an evidentiary point of view (but certainly not from a socio-economic one). A trained police officer simple cannot be allowed, as a matter of law, to base his defense solely on a patently unbelievable claim that he mistook a yellow, unholstered, differently shaped and weighted Taser device for a holstered black firearm. A person of color would be laughed out of the Courtroom and given a Go Directly to Jail for Life card. You put on the badge, you’ve got the highest set of standards that will judge your conduct, not the lowest!
Adam Serwer puts Grant’s shooting, and the tragic mundanity of those like it, into historical context.
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. …
What’s worse is that we we don’t just fear, we fear talking about it. Our president tried once. He mentioned the fear his own grandmother felt for men who looked like he does, and we responded with the level of maturity we’ve come to expect from our political discourse. If you’ve ever had a relative of another race confess to you that they’d find you frightening if they ran into you in a dark alley, you know what he meant. But we fear what this fear says about us more than we fear letting it go.
America remains in the thrall of this ever-present fear, even in the aftermath of the Mehserle trial, as the media concerns itself not with the verdict or with justice but with the potential for more violence from the black community in Oakland. Fear is always the enemy of justice. Today in America, the former threatens the latter like never before. Forget what you see on your TV screen — Oscar Grant isn’t the only victim, and the people who share Grant’s skin tone or hair texture aren’t the only ones who should care.
War on Drugs, War on Crime, War on Terrorism. There’s always another War. The question is, when will we stop being afraid?