I'm horrified. I'm anguished. And I'm disgusted. I've seen these kind of incidents over and over all my life and increasing, it seems to me, as times goes on and I'm just out of angles to discuss them.
I mean, WTF?!!
Two more young African-American men lie in their graves. Families huddle together, heartbroken. But no one has been arrested. And authorities are talking about making a "complete" investigation. Not really investigating yet, you understand, from what I can tell. Just talking about investigating.
What's to investigate?
In New Orleans, 22-year-old Adolph Grimes III, having just arrived from Houston to celebrate New Year's Eve with his family, a man with no record, with a good job, and with a fiancee and 17-month-old son, was shot a total of fourteen times -- twelve in the back -- by nine (count 'em, nine!) "plain clothes" police officers at 3:00 a.m. that morning after discovering Grimes commiting the heinous crime of waiting in his car for his cousin. The police say Grimes shot first. Unfortunately, Grimes can't say. My question is, for starters, did they shoot Grimes in the back FIRST and then roll him over and shoot into his dead body two more times just on general principle or did they shoot him twice from in front and then gun him down in cold blood as a group while he was running for his life?
In Oakland, California, only a few hours later, another 22-year-old man, Oscar Grant, was detained and forced onto his face on the floor (for whatever reason) in a Bay Area Rapid Transit station, and then, while one BART cop held him down with his knee, Grant was summarily -- almost casually -- shot in the back at close range by another BART cop in full view of multiple witnesses, a number of which filmed the incident. Almost instantly, the media started positing excuses for the killer ("maybe he thought he grabbed his taser") and indictments of the victim ("Grant appears to have had a record"). What either of those two ideas has to do with the fact that one man has killed and another is dead is entirely unclear to me, but such excuses and indictments ALWAYS form the litany of responses to situations like this one. ALWAYS.
What bothers me most, though, is that when protesters in Oakland aggressively went to the streets eight days later, primarily because of the usual under-the-rug-sweeping process, all I heard on the news was how awful and inexcusable and wrong that was. "It's NEVER right to use violence!" declared one radio announcer on PBS before I hit a different button not to hear any more. While the man who killed Oscar Grant has been charged with nothing to date, dozens of the protesters were arrested and at least three charged for crimes against property. Does there seem to be a disconnect here somewhere?
Where is the media outrage at the senseless deaths of two young men, only the last two in a long, long line of such deaths of similar men? In fact, why aren't we ALL in the streets over this? If a young White man was shot to death by the police under specious circumstances every few weeks somewhere in this country, there would be noise (although, obviously, this is a meaningless analogy since this would never happen in the first place in a nation operating under the paradigm of White Supremacy).
When Ida B. Wells, forced this nation to face its culpability in the use of lynching as a means to oppress African-Americans, the Ku Klux Klan, apparently, just joined the police force, where it would be legal to do the same thing. Admittedly, a more or less clean kill doesn't have the extra drama (and satisfaction?) of a full-tilt boogie lynching, but it's just as effective as a means of social control and intimidation. And you don't have to hide your uniform in a closet or wear a hood either.
George Ciccariello Maher's Znet piece on the uprising in Oakland is the best thing I've read yet on this on-going outrage. But just writing about it isn't enough for me any more. And I don't know what to do. Jonathan Adams suggests calling the Bay Area Transit Authority and I do believe in speaking truth to power, but it just doesn't feel like enough for me any more.
The first open forum the student organization I advise is co-sponsoring this semester is on police brutality. I'm almost afraid to go for fear I'll wind up saying something that could cost me my job. And that's what I like least about institutionalized oppression. It doesn't just work on the targets. It works on us all. When will we finally get that and respond accordingly?
UPDATE: Even though Johananes Mehserle has now been charged with murder for the killing of Oscar Grant, Color of Change is reminding us not to ease up on the pressure. The usual game plan is for the authorities to do only what they feel they absolutely have to do and only for as long as they have to do it. If they can string it out long enough, we get distracted, quiet down, and the matter "goes away." Color of Change writes:
"In 14 years as Alameda County District Attorney, Tom Orloff had never before charged a police officer for an on-duty shooting. And when asked, several legal experts were unable to come up with any examples of officer-involved shootings becoming murder cases in California...He said that 'because of the intense public interest I think more resources were put into wrapping this up than would be put in in other situations.' Orloff...poured investigative resources into this case that his record tells us he never would have otherwise. We need to keep the pressure on Tom Orloff to make sure he keeps devoting time and energy to Mehserle's prosecution."
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