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Justice or Just Us? Beyond the Hype of the Mehserle Trial
by Jakada Imani, Ella Baker Center
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 1:32 PM
An article from the Ella Baker Center wrestling with the complexities of 'justice' in the Mehserle trial and Oscar Grant case.
On New Year’s day 2009, Johannes Mehserle shot Oscar Grant in the back, that much is clear. What’s less clear is what justice in this case should look like.

I am clear that Mehserle must be held accountable. But that alone is not justice. Locking him up won’t give Oscar Grant’s daughter her father back. It won’t give his mother the chance to see her son continue to grow. And it won’t take away the terror in the hearts of black and brown boys when they are stopped by police officers this summer. A guilty verdict for Mehserle won’t make up for decades of police brutality, racism, unequal justice, exploitation, racial profiling, or socio-economic systems that are rigged against the poor.

I have been an activist for far too long to think that sending someone to prison ever sets things right. Prison adds damage-to-damage and trauma-to-trauma. We don’t want prison to be the only option for young folks who make mistakes. Is it really the only answer for police who make mistakes?

At the same time, Oakland Police and leaders are preparing for the worst – riots to erupt in Oakland, civil unrest- if the verdict of the trial absolves Mehserle. The media is more interested in the idea of cops facing off against the community than uncovering the problems of the justice system, police accountability, and racism at the root of this case. Furthermore, the resources being spent to address this possible unrest would be better used in addressing the distrust and strained relations and trust between police, community leaders, young people and residents. It’s as if the authorities in our community expect the worst from us, planting seeds of fear which could end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy, rather than investing in true community safety and system reform.

In all the media hype surrounding the trial and the cops vs. protester coverage, something is lost. That something is healing, transformative justice. How do we transform the system that recruited, trained and armed Mehserle and thousands just like him? How do we change the fact that police and civilians alike see young men of color as threatening? How do we build a powerful social movement and not just participate in one-off flash mobs?

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we have to take to the streets. I am down to march, chant, rally, block an intersection, commit civil disobedience- what ever it takes. But not just to make myself feel better. When we take to the streets, we should be saying what we want, clearly and resolutely- not just point out the problems but also demanding the solutions. I know too much to protest the sky, to mistake commotion for motion.

That is why we are supporting Emergency Leadership Forum. A gathering of young leaders from through out Oakland, organized by our allies at Urban Peace Movement and Youth UpRising. The four-hour Leadership Forum will inform youth about the status of the current legal case, provide young people with a positive process through which they can explore their feelings and frustrations about the situation, and educate them about Social Movement history. The Forum offers youth the tools and the space to work on not just a vision for justice, but a plan. Young people did not get us into this mess, but do have the wisdom to help get us out. Please invest in Urban Peace Movement and Youth UpRising by donating your time and/or financial resources to work with youth on peaceful responses to violence.

In our Families for Books Not Bars Network, we train parents to advocate for their children in the juvenile justice system by telling them not to let the court see their children as the sum total of their worst moment. For Johannes Mehserle, it’s too late. He will forever be seen as the cop who killed an unarmed Black man, as he lay prone. He will have to live with that reality for the rest of his life no matter what the jury decides in Los Angeles.

But for you and me there is time. How will we be remembered? When the jury makes its decision, will we feel victorious or defeated? Which outcome would trigger which response, anyway? What solution would mean that justice has been achieved – for Oscar and his family- and for all of the victims of State violence in our communities? Please share your ideas, your questions, and your feedback so we can move forward together.

As we heal our society so that there can be true and transformative justice, I am reminded that there is just us- we are all we have. We must come together to find the answers and move forward with our heads held high and our commitment to real solutions always lighting our path.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

good piece. very thoughtful, and definitely willing to speak truth to power and fight for justice, including civil disobedience, although I don't see the same sentiment coming from your allies at UPM. yes, to civil disobedience when civil rights are violated. but if not now, when? is that just talk or do you really mean it? are you instructing youth on how to conduct safe and effective civil disobedience actions? or just how to be "leaders" that never truly challenge authority?

I'm not too concerned about the only answer for murdering police being jail. it's not an answer at all today. when prisons are overfilled with cops who beat, kill, lie, and steal then maybe it will be time to reevaluate cops being thrown into jail. maybe it should be looked at before they actually overfill prisons. right now, though, NO cops EVER go to jail for shooting and killing unarmed people while on duty, and THAT is the problem
by MF in Oakland
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 3:42 PM
@ me
yes i think there is a place for civil disobedience but busting up a bunch of property in our city does not equal civil disobedience. other than make the rift between people and cops bigger, i am not sure what it accomplishes in bringing justice for Oscar or helping address all the problems of Oakland, including our reputation.
by curious
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 8:34 PM
that the Ella Baker Center and others like UPM are accepting bribes from the City of Oakland to attend their "speak outs" and to bring others??

Not relevant information?
by (yes there's more)
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 11:51 PM
and they still have the nerve, despite an otherwise thoughtful piece, to ask for EVEN MORE donations :

"Please invest in Urban Peace Movement and Youth UpRising by donating your time and/or financial resources to work with youth on peaceful responses to violence."

while not mentioning that it is these two orgs, but particularly Urban Peace Movement, that have been working with the City and OPD to preemptively condemn any rebellion as the workings of "outside agitators"
by not jakada
Friday Jul 2nd, 2010 9:21 AM
this is the perpetual bullshit line out of the non profits: we're down for civil disobedience, we'll do it later. they aren't down for civil disobedience, they aren't down to get in the streets, not the way real movements do. real activism, real organizing is scary, its risky, you don't know the outcome ahead of time. these folks avoid risk like the plague, no matter how good their intentions, they are always going to act as an extension of the state.

this time, unfortunately, they chose to actively counter organize on behalf of the state. we should be happy, though, that the state is this scared. these "grassroots" organizations are about as deep into the community as a single sheet of paper. they dont have pull with their so called "base" because most people can sense the fraud, the fact that the whole ngo non profit complex is about putting radicalism out to pasture. we will win, and if the NGOs continue on the path they are on, if they are going to be an extension of the state, then they should expect that the rest of us will begin to target them like we do the state.
by USSF?
Saturday Jul 3rd, 2010 11:49 PM
to all of you that attended the USSF in detroit taking time/resources/movement building out of the bay area, what was the strategy developed around the oscar grant movement? Was it even discussed?What is it that you are bringing back that we can apply to the situation now?
by Jan 14th
Saturday Jul 3rd, 2010 11:54 PM
Do any of you remember? Remember being tricked into protest security by very credible leaders and organizers including Brown Berets and BAOC?

Do you remember being told that we were to work as a diffuser between the opd and protesters?

We weren't there to keep protesters back but to make sure everyone was 'safe'?
Do you remember Jakada getting into a heated debate with the so-called 'white agitators' and tried to make an issue of not taking his direction (to go home, listen to the police) where he commented it was because he is Black?

I know I was there for all of that and sure learned my lesson about never trusting any Non Profit leader working in conjunction closely with the city/state.
by otilija
Wednesday Jul 7th, 2010 10:31 AM
I am so disappointed to read this hodge podge coming from the Ella Baker center of all places. There are kernels of truth in there, but let me lay it down to you very simply. Cops have to do time for their crimes. I am a prison abolitionist, but they have to do cell time. Hard time. Yes, it makes us hypocritical, but I am not interested in cops being the first recipients of our restorative transformative justice plans. Now, it would be cool and sophisticated to be able to pitch an interesting alternative to incarceration amidst all of this fucking hype. It would give the abolitionist movement the moral high ground--which is a very important place to try to dwell politically--but this is not the time. Eye for an eye might make the whole world blind, etc. And you are correct for bringing this up. Just not in this case. Mehserle needs to go down for this--big time.

Also, you assume that Mehserle will be privately struggling with the consequences of his behavior. I want to live in a world where I can assume that everyone is HUMAN and does not want to cause the suffering of others, but I have not seen this to be the case. There are sadists out there, racists, straight UNHUMAN people.... What do you think was going through his mind when he grabbed his gun? You are naive to imagine that he wasn't thinking the worst!
by otilija
Wednesday Jul 7th, 2010 10:59 AM
I should have read the comments before I posted, because I also have some stuff to say about non-profits. Be very weary of them when it comes to any type of movement activity. They are funded and they get into a myopic mentality where they only care about their pocketbooks! Never deal with anyone who is cutting deals with the city, state, police. No Way!