Oscar Grant Verdict and Oakland’s Bad Rep

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I live in Oakland, Oscar Grant used to sell me meat at my local grocery store, and every time I get off of BART I pass by the spot where he was killed. I’ve been in Oakland my whole life pretty much; I saw the impact of the Rodney King riots and aftermath here, and I felt the 1989 earthquake and saw the metropolitan devastation it wrought. Basically I’ve been here long enough to know that Oakland gets the shaft pretty much all the time in the national news. Despite the post-verdict focus on looting (which this article notes was mostly by “outsiders” in “black face paint”) and the pictures of young black men busting store windows, yesterday was mostly peaceful. Peaceful like talking peaceful. Like people speaking their minds and saying they felt justice wasn’t served and expressing their anger through microphones. Peaceful like community leaders and young people (some community leaders themselves) speaking out for change and nonviolent action. Isn’t that what needs to happen? Almost irrespective of the verdict (more on that in a sec) what you want to come out of something so unjust is at least some movement in a positive direction. Will BART police train their officers better? Will transit and city police across the nation do the same? Cities probably have a keen eye on this case and its aftermath enough to shore up their TASER and firearms training.

Nothing will bring Oscar Grant back, and a guilty verdict of any kind against an officer in the line of duty is rare. Yet it was involuntary manslaughter, which seems hard to fathom given the videos and evidence (face down, unarmed, handcuffed, etc.), check out the Prospect’s Adam Serwer’s solid undressing of the verdict for more. The gun enhancement charge the jury added to their verdict shows that they didn’t buy his reaching-for-a-TASER story, as Oakland district attorney Nancy O’Malley pointed out yesterday. So he’s going to jail for at least a few years (5 minimum). Would justice be better served if he was going for a very long time? Yes, says his family (and the DA’s office). But there are other justice end-games here: better, more responsible policiing, better race relations, and a fair criminal justice system. The community calls for a federal civil rights investigation have been heard, so that’s a start. Oakland is doing its part; it’s one of the most diverse cities in the nation, low on dollars, but high on productivity. There’s more than crazy Raiders fans here, folks, we’re a proud, struggling folk, cut us some slack.

Hey, I know what might help: David Simon, once you leave New Orleans want to tell our story?

UPDATE: The SF Chronicle released a letter Johannes Mehserle wrote to the public last week, definitely worth reading. Grant’s famly is apparently unimpressed, saying it’s too little too late.

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