Monday, November 8, 2010

Life and Its Relative Value

Oscar Grant was a father. He was a son and a brother. Oscar Grant did what a lot of young men do. He got into some stupid trouble. Then he got into some more stupid trouble. And he served his time, which is how things are supposed to work. Commit crime, pay your debt, go on with your life.

But Oscar Grant doesn’t have a life to go on with does he? He’s dead. Shot in the back in a tragic moment.
There are a lot of things that need to be said about this incident. A lot of them are broad social and/or political points that very much need to be made. I’m going to do my best to make some of them in a logical coherent fashion but while I’m doing that and whenever you talk or think about this incident I want you to remember two things.

Oscar Grant is not a political football. He isn’t some point to be scored in a debate. He was a man. This is what he looked like.

The child that he is holding in this picture is, I believe, his daughter. She was 2 years old when her daddy died. At that age, you don’t remember a lot of important things, like the way your father sounded when he told you that he loved you, the look in his eyes when he held his baby girl, the kind of person he was. Oscar Grant’s daughter will never know what it was like to hear her father’s voice, look in his eyes. She may form an idea of what he was like but that will be from stories. She will never know him.

That, more than anything else is what matters in this story; the lives that have been so irreparably damaged by these events. That’s what you need to keep in mind.
Now to the issues.

Here are the facts of the case as far as I understand them:
It was New Year’s Eve. Lots of people were on the street and in the subway. Lots of people were rowdy. Cops know that. Hell, everyone knows that. It’s just common sense.

Some people were fighting on the subway.

Grant and another man ran back onto the train after being detained, but Grant voluntarily returned to the platform when Officer Tony Pirone grabbed the other man and dragged him from the train.

Officers removed Grant and several other men suspected of fighting from the train and detained them on the platform.

According to Mehserle's motion for bail, Pirone confirmed with the train operator that the men detained were involved in the fight. However, this has been disputed by every witness who isn’t a police officer.

A cell-phone video broadcast on local television station KTVU on January 23 showed what appeared to be Pirone rushing towards Grant and punching him in the face several times two minutes before he was shot.

Witnesses testified that Pirone was the aggressor during the incident.

Additional footage from a cell phone was presented in court showing Pirone standing over the prone Grant before the shooting and yelling: "Bitch-ass nigger."
In his past, Grant had been tazed.

In the process of detaining Oscar Grant’s friends they threatened them with tasers.
More than one witness has stated that Grant begged the officers not to taze him and his friends.

The police officers bellied Oscar Grant, but could not apparently get control of his hands.

As a result Officer Mehserle grabbed what I honestly believe he thought was his taser.

He pointed and pulled the trigger.

One bullet entered Oscar Grant’s back, passed through his body ricocheted off of the concrete and entered Grant’s body again.

Officer Mehserle’s reaction clearly indicated that he did not intend to shoot Oscar Grant.

That does not, in my mind, change a damned thing.

There are several aspects of this case that are simply wrong.

WHAT THE FUCK WAS BART THINKING? Why the hell are they using trigger grip tasers?
Why did they pull those guys off of the train in the first place? There had been weapons found and taken from young Black men earlier in the evening but not from these men. The officers claim that it was confirmed that these were the men who were fighting but everyone who doesn’t have a vested interest in protecting the officers disputes that.

Why did the BART authorities act in the way they did after the fact, demonizing the victim and later the people who protested the event? Those protests were largely peaceful.

Why so many lies and attempts to abrogate responsibility?

Why, above all else, did the jury return a verdict of guilty only on the charge of involuntary manslaughter? While I believe that Officer Mehserle did not intend to shoot Oscar Grant the fact is that he did mean to do him harm. The man was begging for the officers not to taze him. After they had, as far as I can tell, already used excessive force, they decided to jump the shark and hit him with the taser too?
You can, and are in some cases mandated, to do more time for a property crime than the guilty party in this case will do.

Aside from the obvious legal issues there are the social ones. More than one person has mentioned the history of race related violence is San Francisco including one man, in the 1960s who was shot while surrendering, and several others more recently, including one person who was handicapped and in a wheelchair.

So, more than one person has had their life taken by police in Oakland. And a not small portion of those people have been something other than Caucasian. And today, a judge, as a direct result of the actions of a California jury told the whole world that this man’s life was worth less than many types of property in that state.
Why is that acceptable anywhere, ever?

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