In recent decades thousands of people have been killed by police. Men, women and children. The Department of Justice keeps a list of some of these, about 350 per year, all under the heading of “justifiable homicide.” The San Francisco Chronicle did some research and could find only 6 cases in the last 15 years where cops had been charged with murder for a killing committed while on duty. Of these six cases involving 13 police, most of the cops were acquitted, and none were convicted of murder. (“Ex-BART cop accused of murder in rare group,” 2/15/09.) In the case of Amadou Diallo, for example, the four cops who fired at him 41 times were acquitted of all charges.
In the majority of killings, the matter never even makes it into court. When a cop kills someone the stock phrase, of “he was going for his waistband” written in a report is often enough to rubber stamp the killing of an innocent civilian as “justifiable homicide,” and resolve an investigation.
Each police murder is a horrific event: the youngster shot in the back, a mentally ill woman shot while she waved a vegetable peeler (Cau Bich Tran, killed by the San Jose Police Department in 2003), the beatings, the chokeholds, and the electrocution-executions by cops wielding so-called “non-lethal” Taser guns.
Oscar Grant’s murder, seen from 5 different angles on video, was horrifying and quick. Oscar Grant and his friends had been celebrating New Year’s Eve, taking public transportation home because it was the “safe” thing to do. When their train pulled into the Fruitvale station the BART cops detained Oscar and his friends, on reports of a fight. The cops were cursing, waving Tasers around, pushing, beating and threatening them. Johannes Mehserle pushed Oscar to his stomach and shot him point blank in the back. The whole rampage lasted only several minutes.
Police murder happens every day. But THIS was a murder that many people protested in many different ways. First, at least 5 of the people on the packed train on New Year’s Eve saw the police cursing and shoving Oscar Grant and his friends and pulled out their cameras or cell phones to record the brutality. Three videos, surfacing one after another, played on TV and went viral on the Internet. People in Oakland and around the world began to demand justice for Oscar Grant. A memorial was set up outside the station where he was killed. Oscar’s family spoke out at his funeral where hundreds were in attendance. The politicians and preachers urged calm. But on January 7 Johannes Mehserle quit the BART police, and had still not even been arrested. And on that night there was a rebellion involving hundreds of people in downtown Oakland that lasted into the night.
As Revolution reported, “decades of pent-up anger at police brutality and outright murder, like the killing of Oscar—exploded onto the streets in righteous rebellion.” (Police Murder Sparks Rebellion in Oakland: People Demand Justice for Oscar Grant!, January 18, 2009)
The next night, a smaller crowd of 100 took the streets of downtown, with police helicopters once again hovering over the downtown area for hours, and there were more arrests. On Friday there were walkouts at Oakland High and other schools. On Monday a rowdy evening protest marched through downtown San Francisco, and there were more arrests. Amidst not only the aftershocks and echoes of the rebellion, but the unleashing of broad mass protests including people from different walks of life for justice for Oscar Grant, Johannes Mehserle was finally arrested in Nevada where he had fled, and he was initially charged with murder.
Of the six cops who were on the platform with Mehserle on January 1st, none have been fired from BART. And in their testimony at the hearing, these pigs said they had “no regrets” about their actions that night. One of them, Marysol Domenici stunned the courtroom as she described how she herself was mentally preparing to kill someone right after Oscar had been shot. And now Domenici and Jon Woffinden have, according to KGO News, been awarded a new assignment: tactical defense trainers for the whole department. The same cops who were part of a 2 1/2 minute rampage that ended in murder are now being assigned to train other officers in how it is done!
When people rose up in Oakland, they were going up against all that. People were acting with a basic understanding: “no more—enough is enough.” The slogans “we are all Oscar Grant” and “the whole damn system is guilty” resonated powerfully on the streets and throughout Oakland—and still do. This rebellion, although it involved only hundreds of people, was seen as being something with deep roots, something that could re-erupt again. And spread.
The system wants to sweep the murder of Oscar under the rug, and let its cops go free. But they also know that the spirit of those first days after Oscar’s murder, and the protests that followed still burns beneath the surface. The powers-that-be went into immediate overdrive to denounce the rebellion. The media called the people who took part “thugs” and targeted Revolution Books for upholding the rebellion. David, a teenage member of the Revolution Club was hit with felony charges, as were three others: including a journalist and a City College student. After the night of January 7, almost every protest against police brutality has been surrounded by hundreds of riot cops.
In March, when four cops were killed in Oakland the system immediately seized on this incident to unleash a counter-offensive to discredit people’s righteous anger and resistance against the murder of Oscar Grant and the larger epidemic it’s part of. A huge funeral was attended by 15,000 police, televised live in the Bay Area with eulogies for the “four fallen heroes” delivered by politicians. Barack Obama sent a letter expressing his sympathy, saying “We will always carry them in our hearts, and their legacy of service will inspire us as we work together toward a better Oakland, a better world.” No words of sympathy from Obama for Oscar Grant, though.
And California Attorney General Jerry Brown made fascist and pointed statements, calling the masses “urban terrorists.” And he targeted revolutionary activists when he promised to keep “in check” the “ideological opponents” who are “so fixed in their belief that the police are the problem.”
All this is why it is so important to defend those who were arrested on January 7 and are still facing charges. David, a member of the Bay Area Revolution Club, is one of four (and the only juvenile) charged with felonies. As a flyer for the Revolution Club put it, calling for people to attend a legal hearing in David’s case on Monday, June 15: “These same authorities and system, which continually carry out these violent outrages against oppressed people, are particularly singling out someone who brought to those involved in the righteous rebellion a clear understanding of the cause of these outrages—the system itself, and the way in which its oppressive nature is enforced, through brutality and murder—and the fact that the solution lies in building a revolutionary movement with the final goal of fully sweeping away this monstrous system.”
By charging David, as well as the others, with felonies in this case, the system is attacking everyone who is refusing to remain silent in the face of the murder of Oscar—and beyond that, everyone who dreams of a radically different world. Defending those facing charges is a crucial part of the overall battle for justice for Oscar Grant.
There will be twists and turns ahead in the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant. Mehserle is far from being convicted. In light of this, it is important to note that in ruling that Mehserle should stand trial for murder, Judge Clay said he agreed with the defense that the case came down to Mehserle’s “state of mind” when he shot his weapon, and said that to determine this, Mehserle would have to testify. Clay also said that while he thought they exaggerated, he did believe the officers’ claim that they thought Oscar Grant posed a threat—to the cops. In short, in binding Mehserle over for a murder trial, Judge Clay outlined key legal avenues that the defense could take which could lead to Mehserle being acquitted at trial.
Because of the struggle waged so far, there is a possibility of something happening that almost never happens under this system—that in this case, there could be some justice for a young Black man murdered by the police, and a murdering cop could go to jail on murder charges. There will be twists and turns and new things that people will have to learn and do—even to get justice for the murder of Oscar, let alone to put an end to the system and bring a radically different world into being.
As we wrote earlier in Revolution, “Powerful resistance can change the equation in society where too many people accept the unacceptable. It can give heart to those put under a constant death sentence by this verdict. It can call forth many more people to join in taking this on. And it can be a powerful force in building a revolutionary movement aimed at getting rid of this murderous system.” (“People Demand Justice for Oscar Grant!,” 1/19/09).
We Are All Oscar Grant! The Whole Damn System Is Guilty!
Fight The Power, And Transform The People, For Revolution.