Etched posters on Webster & 14th St (-ish).
Last week at West Oakland Middle School, normally calm adults jumped at loud noises. The week before we started teaching summer school, we found out about a shooting injuring five mourners in a crowd.* The vigil in West Oakland was for a young man killed at a bus stop in East Oakland. Youth taken by violence—unfortunately the line rings like a cliché. As we rolled out the first week of summer school, instructors and principals alike have been startled by July 4th firecrackers and trucks backfiring as the city awaits the verdict of Johannes Mehserle, the killer of Oscar Grant. Police control stations have been set up in advance and businesses have been boarding up their windows in preparation for a riot. I say—no matter what the verdict is, no matter how powerful the uprising—justice will not be served.
People are angry. Things will burn. I pray we all stay safe. These conditions have been building up for years. Though I do worry about the outcomes of an uprising, it is not this for which I am afraid.
What I fear is that—in anger—we lose the deeper analysis. What is the bigger picture we strive to see? First, even in the proceedings of the Mehserle trial, officials carried out unfair measures. Jamilah King from Colorlines reports, “Mehserle’s trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles after the presiding judge ruled that a fair, local trial wasn’t possible. The jury currently deliberating Mehserle’s fate doesn’t have a singly [sic] Black juror, and reports from the courtroom are that some local Black press and outspoken Black journalists have been banned from the court room. All this sets up a false hope in justice through a court system predicated on exclusion, say some advocates. And the assault and murder of unarmed Black men wouldn’t end, Gomez says.” As community organizer Christina Gomez reminds us, let’s continue pointing our finger to the racism in our country, killing segments of our society.
Furthermore, the conversation needs to progress to what we think is the role of policing. Do we think that security increases proportionally to the number armed men and women? I hope not. U.S. “defense” policy alone demonstrates my point. If we want to take it local, the complex development of crime can be read in a recent article in East Bay Express, which describes the relationship between crime and health care. Parolees linked with the services of health clinics are less likely to return to prison than those who were released from prison without similar support.
I would also argue we should expand our definitions of crime and justice. Our government officials operate under criminal impunity (seriously Oaklanders– check out the link), whether one looks at SB1070, Prop 8, poverty, or unwarranted raids. On the point of impunity, Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic writes, “…if an officer can can [sic] demonstrate that he was afraid for his life, he’ll walk [away from charges]. How do you know the officer was afraid? Because he says so. It’s not important whether Amadou Diallo had a gun or not. What’s important is that the cops thought he did.” Police officers are innocent until proven guilty, while people of color are guilty until proven innocent. Our laws protect our supposed protectors more than they do us. It is about time our laws protect people, in a country “for the people.”
In the end, what is “justice” to Grant’s family? Real justice would not have involved his murder.
The point is, no matter what the Mehserle verdict, I know that justice has not been served in this country. Not in this trial, not in many others. This doesn’t anger me as much as it saddens me. My greatest fear is not the violence. It is that the sadness of this place and time will eat at me. So I keep working. Let’s keep working.
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* I believe one of the young people has passed and another may be blinded.
See the clip to the right-hand to get a sense of police response:
Mural on Broadway & 17th