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Lessons from the Oscar Grant Tragedy - We Need to Get to Work

by Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010 at 7:48 AM
bro.kokayi@gmail.com

A current look at the developments of the Johannes Mehserle murder trial, the work on behalf of Oscar Grant and the significance of these efforts to the broader movement for social justice.

In many instances, the second pre-trial hearing for Johannes Mehserle could be seen as a victorious day for the family and supporters of Oscar Grant. After weeks of nervous speculation, presiding Judge Robert Perry rejected motions put forth by Mehserle’s legal team to reduce his bail amount and remove the Alameda County District Attorney from the case. While Judge Perry acknowledged that prosecutors employed some questionable and perhaps, unconstitutional tactics during the course of their investigation, those acts failed to substantiate the extreme requests of Defense Attorney Michael Rains.

Victory also extended to outside of the courtroom as scores of activists and supporters braved the early morning chill to hold signs, recite chants and talk to onlookers – all in the name of making the often apathetic Los Angeles populace aware of one of the most significant court cases in state history. While the number people who attended the rally this time was slightly smaller than that at the first hearing, the crowd contained an impressive intensity, dedication and discipline that was appropriate and effective.

However, in the midst of countless examples that spoke to the triumphant potential of this case, it was difficult for me to enjoy the moment. In the background of the day’s court rulings and grassroots activism stood the realities of an unjust system that leaves too many families – particularly Black and Latino – mourning the loss of a loved one at the hands of law enforcement. In Black and Latino communities across the United States, there are too many women like Oscar Grant’s mother who have to learn how to live again after having their child’s life ended prematurely by those sworn to “protect and serve”. This tragic situation is compounded by the fact that police murder – unlike murder committed by civilians – often leaves the family with little or no hope of ever receiving legal justice. While some may receive financial settlements, the court system fails time and time again to convict and sentence police officers for murder. For Black people in particular, this perpetual lack of legal re-dress for one of the oldest problems impacting our community has created deeply entrenched pain, fear and anger. No matter the social status, economic class or skin tone, almost every Black person in America has experienced a nervous moment whenever a cop came near. This is not because we are a community of cowards – rather it is because we recognize that the police can arbitrarily kill us without any threat of jail time.

The Mehserle trial is so important to all of us because it can establish a more humane legal precedent in terms of police conduct. A just verdict of murder can help shift policies and practices of law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles, Inglewood and across the country. In order to ensure victory in the case however, we need every resident – especially Black and Latino – to become aware and active in the work. We need established civil rights organizations and leaders in the city to step out of the shadows and become public advocates for the Oscar Grant family. In a case so important, no one who yearns for the full expression of justice can afford to sit on the sidelines and carry on like business as usual. For if we choose that route, another unarmed Black man will be murdered without any accountability and our current attempts for social revolution will be exposed as a hollow and weak impersonation of the 1960s. As the great Afrikan leader Amilcar Cabral taught us, we cannot “claim any easy victories”. Victory in this case not only means the conviction and sentencing of Mehserle, but as Dr. Maulana Karenga teaches, a corresponding re-building of a strong movement capable of instituting progressive practices and policies throughout the society. Lets get to work.

About the Author

Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi is a community organizer with the Families for Community Safety Campaign, a grassroots effort to create a more just and peaceful society by holding law enforcement officers accountable for their actions. Kokayi is also founder of the MA’AT Club for Community Change. He can be reached Bro.Kokayi@gmail.com.

If you are interested in supporting the family of Oscar Grant, please contact Los Angeles Coalition for Oscar Grant at 213-663-6316.

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