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Oakland's Verdict, July 8th 2010
by Gina
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 3:07 AM
The recent verdict of involuntary manslaughter in the criminal case brought against Johannes Mehserle reveals the duplicitous scandal of the enforcement of law and its participation in institutionalized and violent racism against black and brown people in America.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Oakland, California

The recent verdict of involuntary manslaughter in the criminal case brought against Johannes Mehserle reveals the duplicitous scandal of the enforcement of law and its participation in institutionalized and violent racism against black and brown people in America. This criminal case is far from a unique story in this country’s history. It is not just about an instance that involves this one police officer and this young African American man; this case is about the terrifying and truthful reality of state brutality and state violence in America that has been legally sanctioned by a line of work that calls itself public protection. This reality is fact, and it must not be buried behind the scenes of dramas of courtrooms, the limelight of the police-sponsored, corporate media frenzy, or exhaustive deliberations about agitators who may pose as outsiders to Oakland’s city. Let’s not get the story twisted: this case reflects a reality about violence in America. This is not an issue of violence enwrapped in homicide statistics or “stop the violence” tactics. No. This violence, this extralegal violence, is and has been a political reality that our society and city must contend with.

What function does the black body have in our political democracy? What function does handcuffing a young black man to a stop sign in broad daylight, and asking him to lift up his nuts while being searched or habitually detained on the street, have within a “free and liberal” society? What does that image impress upon our psyche public? What becomes normalized to passersby, tourists, residents, students and children? Imagine walking along a street in West Oakland. Police officers pull up to a home on a residential street and position themselves on a street, pointing their weapons. Out of the home walks a four-year-old little black boy with his hands up. What have we done? Each day, children, teenagers, mothers and fathers walk out of their homes, with their hands up in the air, and still they face the threat of death. As BART police overtly demonstrated their pre-emptive fear of the black and brown youths’ on that BART platform, what opportunity was afforded to the youths to articulate their fear of the violent presence of the enforcers of the law? Who could they have gone to? And who would have listened to them? What honest answer can you offer?

According to Oakland’s December 11, 2008 Citizens’ Police Review Board’s Policy Forum on Officer-Involved Shootings, an estimated 45 reported officer-involved shootings occurred from 2004-2008 in Oakland. Victims’ ages ranged from 16-50 years old; of these victims, 36 were African American males, 7 were Hispanic males, and the remaining 2 were an Asian male and an African American female. All of the shootings were “deemed to be in compliance with Departmental policy.” In 2008/2009 the Oakland City Attorney’s office paid out $3,755,698 for documented claims and lawsuits on police matters. These payouts were founded in claims and litigation about excessive police force and fatal/non-fatal police shootings. These claims do not reflect the thousands of complaints brought to the Oakland Police Department’s Internal Affairs Department, nor does it reflect experiences of harassment, violence and racism of residents at the hands of the police that go undocumented.

Some residents of Oakland believe that black and brown people engage in criminal activity more than other groups of people and they believe that black and brown people deserve to be apprehended by police violence. These residents gravitate towards Neighborhood Watch Groups that celebrate gentrification’s development while living their lives in fear within their homes. These residents need to take a hard look at the institutional racism and ideological racism that has played them and shaped their ignorance. Crime does pay—it keeps the police paid, it keeps prison contractors paid, and it eclipses the role of authorities in allowing for such a sham to present itself as a legitimate response to public safety. Poorly run as a bureaucratic, overpriced cost to taxpaying pockets our crime and gang hysterias, police layoffs, and declining homicide statistics have intentionally veiled our senses to the inordinate political power of a police union who can take public stands against city officials, post bail for Johannes Mehserle, and pressure the pockets of city councilors who allow our city to run as a police state. We live in a city that spends more than half of its budget on police (police and fire departments account for 85 percent of the money the city has to spend)—evidence enough to conceive of Oakland as a police state.

The daily socialization of black and brown people by police stops, searches, and harassment generates an overabundance of black and brown people on paperwork. While these interactions are both financially and psychologically disruptive to the everyday lives of people who are criminalized based on their skin culture, these interactions also act as rhetorical justification to normalize policing as a legitimate response to public fear of black and brown people. Poor black and brown people present an ontological dilemma, a dilemma of being, the scandal of the law—the law designates differences between poor black and brown people and the rest of the public through racist presumptions of criminality and contradictory claims of public safety as an assurance for a racial democracy. The irrationality of black and brown people against the white mainstream culture of America may necessitate the irrational exercise of the fatal power that yields black death, so that white American life can rationally lives. Already confined and silenced to the criminality of their skin, black and brown people confront the legality of their illegality when they meet the police. The police embody the reminder of that continuing reality of violence, and the police come to be seen as a criminal and racist threat to community well being.

On July 8, 2010, jurors decided that the ex-BART police officer who shot unarmed Oscar Grant III in the back on the Fruitvale BART platform on New Year's Day 2009 in Oakland, California had no intention of killing Grant. Whereas a murder conviction demands establishing an intent to kill, jurors believed that Mehserle was criminally negligent and acted with "reckless disregard for human life." While this was the first documented case in California history in which a police officer was charged with murder for an on-duty shooting, but it is far from the first time that a police officer has murdered a black man while on-duty. The scandal that jurors, the media, nonprofits, city and police authorities choose to not speak frankly about is that Johannes Mehserle represents a workforce of police officers who professionally presume criminality within the blackness of one’s skin. This assumption of the criminality of one’s black skin, allows police violence to become police negligence—a matter of poor oversight or of a lack of proper training. And so the scandal continues and the “pain” of racial tension that police chief Anthony Batts urges us to talk about resides romanticized in the memory of a dream unfulfilled, rather than the egregious ravages of racists violence that his own officers exercise on poor, residents of Oakland.

To think that police violence against the black body is unintentional police negligence is to believe the lie that racism is over, or that the Klu Klux Klan is an emblematic vestige of the past, or that the anti-blackness that manifests as anti-poorness is a construction of the past in a post-racial Obama era. To believe such a farce is to fool yourself and to deny that anti-blackness is still made in America, made under the “legality” of the law. The extra-legal practice of gratuitous violence on black and brown people in America has served its function, and it continues to do so. This racial violence exploits vulnerable people in their communities hastening their death; this institutionalized violence occurs without fear of political consequence or moral shame. Every case of violence, excessive force, misconduct, and corruption on the part of the police is emblematic of the historical and current reality of violence in our city. It is precisely why police authorities, city, state, and federal authorities must not condone it and must publicly denounce and prosecute its criminality, as it threatens the legitimacy of any semblance of a democracy. Instead, Oakland is met with city, police, and nonprofit authorities who make irresponsible, criminal decisions based on political fears of delegitimizing the police force and its police union. The verdict on July 8th 2010 condoned, defended, and legitimized by the very city and court authorities who in actuality neglect to serve the representative functions of their jobs. To defend the extralegal execution of police violence over the poor is to legitimize and perpetuate the terrifying and truthful reality of gratuitous state violence against black and brown bodies. To perpetuate this history amidst current city politics is to condone racism, institutional racism and to lynch any semblance of a racial democracy in America. To condone such violence is to ensure that racial violence will also continue in America.

Gina is a doctoral student of education, at the University of California Berkeley.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

Most jurors do not know about the daily police state terror in the black and Latino workingclass communities as most jurors are not workingclass and are not black or Latino. The only reason there was any guilty verdict was because this was a Los Angeles County jury that most likely has some memory of the 1992 LA police-Rodney King acquittal that caused 6 days of riots, 53 people dead, thousands injured , over 1,000 buildings burned, the closure of the LA Airport for 1 week, and the lack of bus service for 1 week to the affected area. Most jurors are, like most voters, white property owners who make over $100,000 a year. They rarely see the police and are not likely to have any problems with the police.

Now we are left with:
(1) Paying for the existence of this one cop in jail where he will get no rehabilitation who should have been fired long ago as he has a history of violence. He should be deported to his native Germany so we do not have to pay for his existence.
(2) Paying for BART police and their guns and Tasers. THE BART POLICE SHOULD BE ABOLISHED, as should Tasers, pepper spray, wooden bullets and rubber bullets everywhere. THE MONEY WE SAVE FROM ABOLISHING THE POLICE SHOULD GO TO ABOLISHING FARES ON BART. Instead we pay outrageous fares for BART. If people get into stupid fights on BART, let them argue with each other. That is no reason to call in heavily armed police capable of killing and seriously maiming lots of people in very close quarters.
(3) Paying for at least 2 civil lawsuits: The mother and father of Oscar Grant are each suing for millions of dollars to be paid by the taxpayers. Considering the girlfriend and child got $1.5 million, the mother and father can expect to each get the same, if not more. It is civil lawsuits that have bankrupted small police departments, and all police departments are finally closing or laying off lots of cops due to insufficient funds. The police obviously have too much money, too much armor, and are completely worthless. TIME TO BAN ALL POLICE DEPARTMENTS AND TRANSFER ALL THOSE TAX DOLLARS TO SOCIAL SERVICES.

It is easy to blow off steam when the phony legal system ends its staged TV show called a trial. It takes serious organizing to ABOLISH THE BART POLICE, TASERS, PEPPER SPRAY, WOODEN BULLETS, RUBBER BULLETS, THE DEATH PENALTY, PUNISHMENT-PRISONS AND ALL OTHER POLICE DEPARTMENTS.
by Former defense attorney
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 10:30 AM
Immediately after the murder of Oscar Grant, the story was "accidental use of taser." This became the dominant theme throughout the time after the murder and continues the day after the verdict. In other words, the police and their attorneys set the narrative. Just about every story revolves around this issue. We need to counter this. We need to develop our own narrative. We need to be able to speak immediately after this sort of thing happens. We need to present our own story, our own narrative, so, at the least, people immediately hear two versions of the story, rather than one.

Also, prosecutors work hand in hand with police officers 365 days a year. They are literally partners. Then, when a police officer murders a young African-American man, those same prosecutors are supposed to present a case against the very people they work with??!! I find it hard to believe that prosecutors take this seriously.

by toner deeski
Friday Jul 9th, 2010 2:26 PM
i have seen too many fights on BART trains that were not responded to. my car has been broken into too many times at BART parking lots. what the fuck do BART cops do?

i remember one time i sat down in a back section of a car where there were 3 other passengers sitting, all young black males. at least one of them was definitely carrying a large amount of weed, and it smelled like good stuff. a BART cop came walking in the car (this was during one of those terror alerts that used to happen all the time under Bush/Cheney). As he approached us, obvioiusly intent on simply passing out of the car and into the next one, he suddently stopped dead in his tracks (unfortunately, right in front of me). I figured that he noticed the obvious. He composes himself, and strikes a pose like he meant to just stop there and chill. I have no idea what was going on in his mind, but I could tell that he had no intention of actually doing anything. He just wanted to make someone sweat. When we got to the next station, he exited the side doors, pretending that that was his stop.

It's cops like that, the avoiders, who end up snapping and murdering someone.
by me myself & I
Saturday Jul 10th, 2010 1:58 AM
@Former defense attorney:

Everybody's talking about how impassioned, eloquent and persuasive Deputy DA David Stein was in his closing arguments and rebuttal. I'm glad.

But here's what I don't get:

Why didn't Stein put Kenneth Carrethers on the stand, to give his testimony about having been savagely beaten by Mehserle and other BART cops 6 or 8 weeks before the Oscar Grant shooting? I would think establishing a pattern of brutal conduct would be part of a prosecutor's job. If he does not demonstrate a pattern when one exists, has that prosecutor done his job? Could Mr. Stein be charged with professional misconduct?

Is Mr. Carrethers that difficult to contact? Is he okay? If not, what happened to him? Has his story been buried? Has he?

Just questions that keep occurring to me and disturbing my sleep at night....