Friday, July 9, 2010

Oscar Grant - Hollow Justice

I was gonna write about LeBron James today but since everybody else did, I'll wait a day and speak on something a lil more important.

It was a victory many should have been happy to see. In Los Angeles, it was the first conviction of a police officer in a murder trial since 1983. Johannes Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the 2009 death of Oscar Grant.

So why did it feel so hollow? Why did it feel like a Pyrrhic victory (a win at great cost)? Because it was clear this was no accident or “criminal negligence” – this was a horrible situation where a young man was shot in the back while being detained and video showed something different than negligence.

Confusing a taser for a gun should NOT be negligence for a veteran. You ought to be trained better than that.

The Grant family didn’t see this as a victory. Grant’s attorney was outraged at the verdict. And once again, it feels like police officers are the most protected people around besides politicians.

How many times have we seen this play out? A police officer goes above and beyond in his aggression and something awful happens. In my former city, Inglewood, there were several shootings in 2008 and 2009 of unarmed civilians by the police department where in each case, the officer involved fired first without provocation and someone ended up dead or hurt.

For once, a police officer had to answer for his actions. But in the end, he was given a slap on the wrist and could possibly avoid serious jail time (Up to 4 years possible).

It’s honestly why we suspect the shield is a get out of jail free card. Maybe the Clash were right after all – “You have the right not to be killed, unless it’s done by a policeman (or an aristocrat)”

Much has been said about fear of the police. It’s an issue where people like me who don’t plan on breaking the law anytime soon almost have to be extra careful around them out of fear of catching one on a bad day. It’s an uneasy relationship – we need police officers but do they serve and protect or intimidate?

Police officers have reason to be skeptical. They see a lot of things and have to be on their guard all the time. Most try to do their job and do it well despite facing incredible hassle and mistrust. Not all cops are heartless aggressors (that chick in Seattle deserved to get hands placed on after hitting first), but the bad ones make it bad on all of us.

Was it a victory for justice if the cop was found guilty of an accident? I call it a bait-and-switch, he was guilty BUT of being a sloppy cop. It’s almost punishing him for an excuse, not bad behavior.

I'm not just mad but I'm ready to offer solutions. I remember being at the newspaper and interviewing someone about the rash of police misconduct in Inglewood. The best thing he said was in order to make change – you can’t just make it solely about one person. That leaves the door open for people to demonize that person if they are a criminal and make them feel like they deserved.

He said you have to show a pattern of behavior to put the spotlight back on the force. Highlight it being one of many to make people stop and see the bigger picture. Ask why police departments don’t have much transparency or more independent commissions overseeing what they are doing?

Also, officers must be trained better in handling suspects. If you have to shoot, shoot not to kill but to maim or handicap. All the gun training in the world and you still have killers out there.

This is exactly why we have songs like Know Your Rights, F The Police, Cop Killer, We Had To Tear This MF Up, Riot Gear (Five Iron Frenzy), Bulls on Parade, Sound of Da Police, etc…police go unchecked in their power and that creates a hazard for bad assumptions.

Oscar Grant deserved justice. So did his family. He deserved more than his killer being slapped for an oops that he'll have to live with forever.

(And shout out to the Oakland residents who denounced the looting in their city - 75% of those arrested weren't from Oakland which shows you just like Toronto that people will go to a hot spot to tear stuff up. Grant's memory is descrated and I'm happy for the people standing up for their city.)

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