by Megan Cornish
The murder of a 22-year-old unarmed Black man, Oscar Grant, by a transit cop in Oakland during the early hours of New Year’s Day sparked national indignation. Onlookers captured the shooting on cell phones, and their video footage was transmitted to millions via the Internet and TV.
Community members continue to demand justice for Grant, an apprentice butcher and the father of a 3-year-old, and an end to police brutality. But to win justice in this case and forestall future repression requires overcoming government resistance and demanding effective community control over the police.
A blatant execution-style killing
Oscar Grant was one of several Black men taken off a train by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officers while appalled passengers shouted for police to stop. Grant was assaulted before being forced facedown onto the platform by one cop, Tony Pirone, while another, Johannes Mehserle, shot him at close range.
Black community groups, left organizations and the Alameda County Labor Council mounted or participated in a series of demonstrations. Some protesters vandalized cars and shop fronts. Over a hundred people were arrested.
Public condemnation, including the militant protests that resulted in arrests, finally forced the authorities to indict Menserle for murder two weeks after the shooting. The rage of the arrestees is fully justified, and they should get amnesty. Oakland has a long history of police murders of young Black men, including the infamous 1968 shooting of “Lil” Bobby Hutton, a 15-year-old Black Panther Party member.
The anger of young Black male protesters interviewed by video blogger Zennie62 leaps off the screen. “It was a modern-day lynching!” one yells. “Black people need to get together, and not just Black people, everybody in Oakland!” says another.
The murder charge itself is almost unprecedented.
As is usual in police brutality incidents, excuses are being manufactured for Mehserle after the fact. One flimsy story is that he mistook his gun for a taser. Predictably, Mehserle also has big-money support from the BART Police Officers Association, which posted $3 million for his bail. Pirone, the cop who assaulted Grant and held him down, has not been charged at all.
Again according to pattern, the character assassination of the victim has begun. Like many inner-city Black men, Grant had a police record, but that is irrelevant to the case.
Lives measured differently
On March 21, traffic cops stopped Lovelle Mixon, a Black Oakland man with a parole violation. No doubt desperate, Mixon ended up killing four police before being killed himself.
This event provoked establishment fury and demands for more police and stricter probation requirements. The killing of Oscar Grant took a back seat.
More police, however, are not the answer. The cause of violence in inner-city Black communities is the economic blight and terrible living conditions there. These circumstances generate the despair that sets off violence.
That exploited urban population must be kept down, and that is the reason why cops commit murders like Oscar Grant’s over and over. Under capitalism, it is the job of police to repress poor people of color in order to protect the property of the rich. Inevitably, someone will occasionally lash out against those carrying out the repression, as Lovelle Mixon did.
The whole profit system needs to be overturned. But to oppose injustice and demand relief from abuse right now, an elected civilian review board that is completely independent of the police is worth fighting for. This review board should have full power to conduct its own investigations and subpoena witnesses and have the services of an independent special prosecutor at its disposal. End police brutality!
This story first appeared in the Freedom Socialist newspaper, Vol. 30, No. 3, June-July 2009, www.socialism.com.