Sunday, January 11, 2009

Is Open Season Ever Going To Close?

I've been busy of late. Brought several major projects to fruition -- finally. Have done rather more socializing than is typical for me. Have a fifty-pound dog now named VooDoo who absolutely DEMANDS to be cuddled and played with (he's not a baby, he just acts like one). And, of course, I'm hard on the process of preparing for the new semester's classes. But all this isn't why I've been silent on the killings in New Orleans and Oakland this past two weeks. I just don't know what to say.

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."
The poster featured above is available from the Northland Poster Collective.


Anonymous said...

You get to a point
where you sit
in silence
staring at nothing
while your mind spins
out of control
at the insanity
and the pervasiveness of it.
All the while hugging yourself close
and wondering
what in the world
you can do
to stop it
or even stem the tide.

Changeseeker said...

Beautifully said, LL. Thank you. said...

Hi there!

I think it is a shame that the BART officer resigned after committing murder captured on video and he has not been arrested by Oakland police.

It is also a shame that Oscar Grant is being mentioned along with Adolph Grimes III when these two men were leading VASTLY different lives.

Oscar Grant was a thug who had a criminal record and had been incarcerated numerous times.

His mother says he was trying to turn his life around. Well lady, your son was fighting on the darn train on New Year's Eve!!!

I am not saying that Oscar Grant should die for being in a fight on a train...that is NOT my point at all...

I am saying that Oscar Grant encountered police due to this OWN stupidity and what ensued was tragic and also criminal.

Adolph Grimes III should never have been approached by police at all!

I am sure some will say "well Lisa that is besides the point!" and maybe to them it is.

To me, it is a darn shame when a thug becomes a martyr in death.

Yes...he was someone's son and someone's father...and his life mattered.

Yes...the police were criminal... was cold blooded murder... is disturbing to me when I hear people turn a thug into a martyr as if he died like Malcolm X.

Anonymous said...

I should have bookmarked the video in which it was explained why violence was sometimes the only possible reaction (this was in relation to Gaza, why Gaza residents were fighting back).

Changeseeker said...

BBBTT: If you feel justified in villifying Oscar Grant, I most certainly do not. I don't see him as a martyr and did not present him here as a Malcolm X, so I don't really get your point. I do, however, see him as a young Black man in an institutionally oppressive country that socializes young Black men to become thugs in the first place and then convinces even other Black people that he is an inconsequential being whose death is meaningless. If only the purely good have a claim to human rights, many of us, nay, ALL of us are in trouble.

According to the records of White Supremacist authorities, many Black men have achieved "thug" status (whether based on facts or not), but even if it were true by some more "objective" criteria, a sociologist would ask, "WHY did Oscar Grant move in that direction instead of another?"

My post was not about Grant, in any case. It was about police who still have carte blanche to kill African-Americans in this country without penalty or even castigation while they are held to a different standard for everybody else. I have said for years, "If a government can take all the rights away from ANY group, it can take all the rights away from ANY group." As long as "officers of the law" can kill without being held responsible, we are NONE OF US safe. Unfortunately, it doesn't surprise me that so many in this country don't realize this yet. But they will eventually, I assure you, because history tells us that this kind of thing can only go one direction. A rogue government doesn't only vamp on "outsiders." It will run its course until we stop it. Which will not, I suspect, be easy to do.

PZ: Yes, you should have. Please find it, if possible. Thanks.

Renee said...

To add insult to injury I keep hearing the proposition that this might have been an accident. Every time I hear this suggestion I see red. They didn't accidentally shoot Madoff and he ripped off millions. These "accidents" always occur with POC. When will people realize that even if he was reaching for a stun gun (which I doubt) this was still abusive. He just saw black man and went into killer mode PERIOD.

Changeseeker said...

I know what you mean, Renee. When I read tonight that the killer had been arrested and charged with murder, I thought, "Bet he doesn't get convicted..." I don't wish the man ill, but this is a sick, sick system.