Making Sense of the Oscar Grant Verdict.

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?

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Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs about race and ethnicity for National Public Radio. He is a native of South Philly and reads and writes and runs and rants. You can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to him on Facebook.

5 comments to Making Sense of the Oscar Grant Verdict.

  • “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. …”

    Profound and true. I think about the Harrison Act and the fantastic lies and stories purported that paved the way for officers to increase firepower to bring down “Super Negros” or “to bring down Negroes under the effect of cocaine.” There was no truth to the stories, however, the fear of such an occurrence gave just cause for more power and validity to reaction over rational action. Thus is the problem with colonization.

  • Christian

    This kind of racist action of fear does not seem to be limited to Black men, but Black males in a broader scope. In my hometown, a Black, male child was just killed by a White cop, as he played with a plastic, toy gun. Something has to be done to revolutionize the way in which Black people are seen in this country.

    I just have no clue as to what is wrong with these crazy people. I didn’t even know about this. Is it getting national coverage? I sincerely doubt it. Publicizing this kind of disastrous and racist police conduct is imperative if change is to be implemented. How can we solve this problem?

  • BenF

    The Adam Sewer comment is on point and I agree totally, but I think the Kai Wright quote is totally off base.

    I think Adam has it right, race comes into play here in that it is likely that had this happened with all white men, the policy wouldn’t have been acting the same and mistakes wouldn’t have happened.

    I don’t however believe it is beyond a reasonable doubt that this was in fact a mistake. A tragic one, a negligent one, and one that should result in a good number of years in prison, but a mistake none the less. Involuntary manslaughter was the correct verdict IMHO.

    I find it odd that people like Kai Wright think they are qualified to say whether or not one could pull a gun instead of a taser by accident. It so happens that the expert witness called by the prosecution admitted to having once done so. There are half a dozen cases in Ca of shooting by police who said they intended to use a taser. Oscar Grant’s friend, a witness for the prosecution, testified that as Mehserele was struggling to cuff Grant he heard him say “F*ck it, I’m going to tase him”, and then the shot rang out.

    Now, without being on the jury and hearing all the evidence, that to me sounds like at the very least reasonable doubt. Not to mention the common sense idea that a cop isn’t going to intentionally kill someone while being video taped by a dozen people. I think there was reasonable doubt. I don’t know of any evidence that actually proves intent to kill, which would have been required for the other charges. That does actually have to be proved, even though we are all angry and saddened by this loss of life. We can’t act on emotion, there does need to be evidence.

    I hope he gets 14 years or whatever the max is, but as far as I can tell the verdict was in fact correct.

  • [...] of Racewire, I wanted to echo G.D.’s sentiments and again include a link to their excellent coverage of the Oscar Grant [...]

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