Saturday, January 17, 2009

Today I Witnessed a Murder

Oscar Grant, 22, was killed on New Year's Eve. He was shot execution-style by a transit police officer in Oakland, California. Shot in the back while facedown on a subway platform, unarmed and posing no threat. Many people who were on the station platform at the time witnessed this killing.

Today I received a copy of a video of the incident. A person on their cell phone camera filmed it. It is little more than one minute but it is very powerful. It left me in tears.

Here is the website if you wish to view it.

The officer (now called ex-officer) has finally been arrested after two weeks of waiting for action on this. In California, Oakland city officials have confirmed a white former transit officer has been arrested in the New Year’s shooting of an unarmed African American passenger. He was arrested as a fugitive in Nevada. Cell phone videos show Mehserle pulling out a gun and shooting twenty-two-year-old Oscar Grant in the back while he was lying face down on the ground on a subway platform. Grant worked as a butcher at an Oakland grocery store and was the father of a four-year-old daughter.

The killing has sparked a series of protests in what has been described by some as the Oakland rebellion.

The main point of contention that a lot of people have is why haven’t the officers that were on the platform with Mehserle been arrested. What’s the accountability for them? This week there was a large protest in downtown Oakland. More than a thousand people showed up. The emphasis was on peace, at the request of the Grant family. “We know that he was pleading for his life. We all heard the stories about him trying to talk to the officers and calm everybody down. He was shot in front of plain view of hundreds of people.”

This incident brings to mind, memories of others who were shot by police officers.

Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo. New York

Gary King, Jena, Louisiana (Jena Six).

Adolph Grimes III, 22, New Orleans - The Orleans Parish coroner said Grimes was shot 14 times, including 12 times in the back.

These are just a few names that come to my mind instantly. Just Google ‘police brutality’ and you will see the number of deaths caused by those in authority.

Rodney King (26) was the victim in an excessive force case committed by Los Angeles police officers. . Four LAPD officers were later tried in a state court for the beating but were acquitted. The announcement of the acquittals sparked the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.

By the time it was all over, 54 people had been killed, 2382 injured (including 228 critically), 7000 fires were set, over 12 000 people were arrested, over 1 billion dollars of damage had been done.

The officers went to trial again and the jury verdict was announced in April 1993: Officers Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell were deemed guilty, each sentenced to 30 months in prison.

The following year, Rodney King was awarded $3.8 million in his civil trial against six of the officers present at the beating. The videotape was introduced as evidence in that trial as well.

Has it really been 18 years since the video of the beating of Rodney King was viewed all around the world? Has so little changed? Yes the country is moving forward in many ways but is at a standstill in others.

So now we have another tape of police brutality and in this case murder. Technology has become so sophisticated that a clumsy, heavy, handicam is no longer needed. Almost everyone has a cell phone that takes photos or video. It is hard to understand how, even when the bullies know that they are being recorded, (in Oakland there were hundreds of witnesses) why they act in such a way?

This is not a criticism of the police establishments across the country. I am aware that police officers do a wonderful job every day and that their lives are on the line also. However, as usual it is the deeds of the very few, who give the reputation to the many.

What can we do?

1.Be vigilant about the negative actions of the police, they are public servants and we do have the right to comment on such actions.

2.Establish effective Community Review Boards to investigate charges of police brutality. It seems to be difficult for the police to publicly condemn their own. This puts the onus on the civilians to see that they are brought to justice.

3. Educate our youth on how to respond when approached by a police officer.

4. Pray for the safety of our youth.

5. And above all SPEAK UP!

Rodney King himself responded to the escalating violence with his famous plea -

              “PEOPLE, CAN WE ALL GET ALONG?”

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