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New Year’s resolution: Stop shooting young Black men

January 9, 2009

by Darwin Bond-Graham

Oakland’s “finest” arrest a Black youngster protesting the police execution of Oscar Grant. – Photo: Brooke, IndyBay
Oakland’s “finest” arrest a Black youngster protesting the police execution of Oscar Grant. – Photo: Brooke Anderson, IndyBay
Oscar Grant III and Adolph Grimes III shared a few things in common. They were both third generation men named after their fathers and grandfathers. They were both new fathers themselves. They were both 22 years old. Both men were celebrating the New Year’s holiday. They were both young and Black, and therefore both were gunned down by police in the early hours of New Year’s Day.

That the police often unjustifiably kill young Black men is well established. It’s the obvious tip of a far larger iceberg: systematic police brutality targeting people of color in the United States. Structured into the police state are lethal inequalities that ensure differential treatment, from surveillance, profiling and harassment to arrest, torture, imprisonment, conviction and the “capital” punishment – death.

Many of the arrests in Oakland Wednesday were very brutal. – Photo: Brooke, IndyBay
Many of the arrests in Oakland Wednesday were very brutal. Note the cop's knee on the neck of the protester on the ground. – Photo: Brooke Anderson, IndyBay
These are the all too frequent outcomes of policing as experienced by non-whites, historically and contemporarily. There’s an immense sociological literature to prove the point. Here’s just one peer reviewed study demonstrating that police violence is most common and deadly against non-whites and the poor, precisely because they are non-white and poor.

Is it any surprise then that this new year – the year of “change,” a mere 20 days away from the inauguration of America’s first Black president – has been rung in with gunshots? Two young Black men have been murdered on the streets of America by the police.

Happy New Year, America. This is your creed, your most terrifying and fundamental method of keeping “safe” your social order of grotesque wealth and privilege built upon poverty and exploitation.

A brief search of news reports shows far more questionable uses of deadly force by the police since Jan. 1 across the country. Nearly all killings and assaults involve young Black and Latino men targeted by the police.

In Oakland, California, Oscar Grant III was shot execution style by a BART police officer in front of dozens of horrified onlookers. Per the police state’s usual methods of operation in the aftermath of an unarmed Black man’s death at their own hands, the department circled its wagons against criticism.

As George Ciccariello-Maher shows us, BART, Oakland’s City Hall, and the whole establishment on up to the governor and out to the news media and much of the state’s white middle class citizenry has called for “calm” during the investigation. Now they’re decrying the “violence” of outraged protesters, mostly young people of color who have no other way to contest the injustice they see and feel.

Two of the most repressive institutions demonizing Black youth are pictured here: the Oakland Tribune newspaper headquarters towering over the Oakland PD, clinging to their tank. – Photo: Brooke, IndyBay
Two of the most repressive institutions demonizing Black youth are pictured here: the Oakland Tribune newspaper headquarters towering over the Oakland PD, clinging to their tank. – Photo: Brooke Anderson, IndyBay
The “investigation” that supposedly will make everything all right is proceeding amid the establishment’s tacit backing and support of the officer who murdered Grant. The officer remains free. His voluntary resignation from the BART police force, initially framed as a kind of accountability by the media and authorities, is instead a means for the officer to extricate himself from any internal BART investigation. It has allowed him to hire legal council and largely recuse himself.

Meanwhile, about a hundred protesters have been jailed for expressing their rage in the streets. No one was killed at the demonstrations that rocked Oakland, even though a few protesters were shot with rubber bullets.

And still the authorities call for calm and understanding so that the system can proceed. The youths who marched in the streets on Wednesday night understand all too well what’s going down, how this system works. Grant was the symbol of so much more violence directed at their bodies and the very sinews of the communities. To expect any less than a street rebellion is to expect young working class people of color to adopt an attitude of suicidal resignation.

While the authorities call for calm, the youths who marched in the streets on Wednesday night understand all too well what’s going down, how this system works. Grant was the symbol of so much more violence directed at their bodies and the very sinews of the communities. To expect any less than a street rebellion is to expect young working class people of color to adopt an attitude of suicidal resignation.

Meanwhile, about 2,000 miles southeast of Oakland’s flatlands, in New Orleans, Louisiana, another young Black man is being buried by his grieving family. Another community is fuming about the police killing of Adolph Grimes III and the already bunk “investigation” promised by the authorities. In the wake of Grimes’ shooting by nine undercover NOPD officers, also in the early hours of New Year’s Day, the police department has orchestrated a similar damage control plan to deny real justice.

Just like the Grant case, the NOPD has conspicuously touted Grimes’ possession of a firearm – a legally owned and registered pistol – and a shotgun they say they discovered in the trunk of his car, days after his death when they finally searched it. The point has been to cast suspicion on Grimes’ character and to play to racist assumptions that any young Black man with a weapon must have been a criminal and deserving of death. The same tactic is being used in Oakland. Grant, while totally unarmed and cooperative, has been subjected to a posthumous whisper campaign bringing up his possible, but not confirmed, criminal record.

The result is that sympathy disappears for the victim who is raced and written up as a karmically justified thug corpse. This is an especially effective police tactic in New Orleans where blog comments on several news articles about Grimes’ killing have expressed satisfaction that another one of “them” has been taken off the streets. Such rhetoric would never follow the questionable shooting of a young white person by the police. One commenter on the Times-Picayune‘s web site  echoes a mass sentiment grounded in this tactic stating:

“Everyone in this city gripes about the crime, yet when cops are proactive, it’s always the ones who complain the loudest who are ready to tar and feather them for a job well done.”

Grimes, a graduate of one of the city’s most prestigious high schools, had no criminal record. He was the father of an 18-month-old baby, husband and hard worker living in Houston, Texas.

While Oakland’s rage against police brutality has taken form as a street rebellion, the response in New Orleans has been more restrained. Not because the affected communities are less angered or saddened. Instead, the hyper-active violence of the police state in New Orleans seems to have taught many a painful lesson over the years: Stand against the police and you too could end up dead. Especially if you too are young and Black.

On Thursday, Jan. 8, a protest in front of the police station garnered only two dozen citizens. As if to scare away even these critics, the police sent out at least six plain-clothes officers from the building to stand around across the street, monitoring the activists. One undercover officer filmed the entire protest. When asked by a photographer from the Times-Picayune who he was with, he reportedly responded, “That’s not for you to know.”

Darwin Bond-Graham can be reached at darwin@riseup.net or through his blog, http://darwinbondgraham.blogspot.com/.

3 thoughts on “New Year’s resolution: Stop shooting young Black men

  1. P.B.inLosAngeles

    As a middle aged white guy, who was the only white player on an otherwise all black high school basketball team here in Los Angeles in the 70’s, I can say that through my own observations and experience, most of the time when the scenarios occur, police and Sheriff’s personnel are indeed more aggressive with black people during “street scenes” than they are with white folk. But, can it not also be said that black folk are more aggressive in their behavior than their white “contemporaries” in such situations? Look, despite the comedic intonation of what he said, Chris Rock said it best: “Black people don’t have time to break white people into little groups, black people hate everybody”
    So if this is even remotely true, folks who specifically perpetrated, regardless of skin color, the riotous activity in Oakland the other night are not only unable to “see” white contemporaries, they are UNWILLING to do so. ITEM: Most white people are just as appalled about what happened and frightened of the cops as blacks are; surprise! Not!
    I am of the position that those who made violence are not of the black “community” but societal punks on the fringe who, regardless of the color of their skin, are always at the ready to take advantage of societal chaos; If I am wrong here, believe me, I am all ears. I’ve lived through the Watts Riots, forced integration, seeing my white elementary school friends beaten by black kids because they were white and passive, the subsequent “white flight”, and the Rodney King riot to name a few. And if one objectively takes the time to watch the aerial footage of the Rodney King riot, one cannot miss the fact that the majority of the looting and pillaging of retail establishments was being carried out by what appeared to be Latino folk; and therein lies the problem with such reactionary behavior. The reporting by the media, not to mention in this day and age, the camera phone and the internet, is one sided. Are we to believe that the cops didn’t peacefully resolve ANY of the scenarios they were confronted with on the street the other night? Come on!
    Additionally, the instantaneous dissemination of information, around the world, more and more often doesn’t allow for cooler heads to meet and talk; obviously!
    Am I making excuses for the BART shooting, or for the Cincinnati shooting a few years ago or any situation such as what has happened in Oakland? Of course not! But to potentially target me or my family simply because we happen to be white? I’ve studied the video very closely, the cop grabbed the pistol thinking it was the taser; tragic. The last thing I’d like your forum to consider: There are many very honest statistics being posted all over the internet about how most violent crime, gun crime in particular, in the U.S. is perpetrated by white middle aged men. The question, among many questions, I pose is this: Are their white guys pulling residential burglaries in the black community? And if this is the case, why aren’t black policemen shooting them? I wonder why “white people” don’t riot when a black cop kills a white guy? Don’t you?

    Reply
  2. Darwin

    “PB,” you just don’t get it, and you are just making excuses for this shooting. It’s white folks like you that need to listen to Black America, listen to Latinos, and other people of color who experience this daily violence. Shut your mouth and listen for once. Listen to the outrage, the fear, the pain. Try to understand.

    Reply

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