Oscar Grant Verdict and Oakland’s Bad Rep


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.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.