Saturday, January 10, 2009

Oscar Grant, Young Unarmed Black Man Shot By Oakland BART Police

I'm a little late to this, but on the morning after New Year's Eve, Oakland Bart police shot and killed Oscar Grant, a 22 year old black father, who was unarmed and lying face-down on the ground with his arms behind him. There were MANY bystanders and witnesses present who recorded the incident on their cell phones and cameras. You can see footage of their videos here, here, here, and here, although apparently the police immediately tried to confiscate all recording-devices as soon as Grant was shot. There have been protests in Oakland the past few days, which have resulted in rioting and the destruction of property completely unconnected to the incident. The (few) (kind of) major news outlets that I've found covering this story (e.g. San Jose Mercury News, Yahoo News) have focused mainly on the destruction resulting from the riots or on excuses proffered by the police department, and have barely addressed the police-brutality and race issues that this incident brings up. What is it going to take before people take this issue seriously?

Racewire has a list of Five Things You Can Do Right Now About the Oscar Grant Shooting, and Holly and Davey D make good points about why this is more alarming than just an unarmed black man being shot. As if you needed more than that. Holly discusses the police mindset that questioning their actions makes you the enemy, which results in you getting shot (Grant), arrested (Amy Goodman), pepper-sprayed (Holly & Jack), or otherwise harassed. Davey D interviews Dereca Blackman, who asks why police can confiscate cell phones and other recording devices after such an incident, why do police have the privilege to not be interviewed for days after the incident, thus allowing them time to "get their story together," as it were.

We're now being told that it was an accident, that the officer's gun discharged, that he thought he was reaching for his taser, etc. I don't think it really matters, honestly. You can clearly see from the video that there were at least 2 or three officers in physical contact with him. He was on the ground, unarmed, arms behind him -- as Grant's family lawyer asks "WHY did he take his gun out???" (emphasis mine). There was clearly, CLEARLY, no need for him to take his gun out. Christ, Grant wouldn't have even been able to see that he was being threatened with a gun since he was face-down on the ground. This illustrates, oh-so-clearly, the effects of a society that vilifies black and brown bodies and gives deadly weapons to (mainly) white police officers. Renee discusses the racial implications and what she will tell her two young sons about Oscar Grant.

Amid all of this awfulness, I do want to say how awesome it is that the bystanders and witnesses to the shooting were NOT passive bystanders. That they recorded the incident, that they made it clear to the police that they were watching, that they thought what the police were doing was out of line, that they yelled "let him go!" Way to be citizen journalists! Way to do the work. Why do we never hear THEIR stories when people talk about apathetic youth and bystanders who do nothing? Holly has an interesting discussion of what kind of effect this sort of citizen involvement has on the police.

This HAS to be talked about. It's really alarming to me that I found out about Grant's death and the rioting from my friend who lives in Oakland, rather than from the friggin' news. Man, this is the TIME to be talking about police brutality and racial profiling now that we finally have someone sympathetic (and not batshit crazy) in the White House. There need to be nation-wide protests in solidarity to highlight these problems across the country, not just in Oakland, and we need to be talking to our local elected officials about what they plan to do to address police brutality and racial profiling in our own communities. Go organize a protest.

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