Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle was given a slap on the wrist for his January 1, 2009 murder of Oscar Grant. A jury found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and not guilty of the second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter charges he faced. It is sad that the lightest possible felony conviction for shooting a man pulled face down onto concrete while another officer held him down can be thought of as “at least something.”
Video and eyewitness testimony makes it apparent that Mehserle intended to shoot Grant. It has been said that Mehserle looked shocked after the shooting, but this is no sign of innocence. When the enormity of shooting a non-threatening individual in front of a crowd weighs down, it might be shocking to the shooter.
Mehserle’s defense claimed that the officer had intended to use his Taser but used his firearm instead. So the official story is that he meant to torture a man being held on the ground, but accidentally used a more lethal implement than the Taser — despite the fact that he had been trained on both the Taser and that the firearm and the two weapons are different sizes, weights, and carried on different sides of the body.
Not surprisingly, his fellow officers moved quickly to cover for him. They defended, rather than arrested, him, tried to confiscate videos of the homicide, and funded his defense. And they repeated whatever justification Mehserle made up for his actions.
Mehserle wasn’t even charged with murder until after major rioting took place in Oakland. Professional sycophants rushed to claim that the riots were the work of outside agitators, attempting to claim that business as usual would not be disrupted by ordinary people outraged at injustice.
Though Mehserle’s felony conviction is at least a small victory, the verdict shows that even having several videos of a police murder may not be enough to win in a government court. This is especially the case when the trial is moved out of the area in the name of “fairness” to an enforcer of the law. Supposedly the Bay Area saw too much media coverage and racial tension — as if media coverage is only influential when it is personal and race is only an issue when there are visible tensions.
A lot of thin blue whines have come from police and their supporters: The cops were in a scary situation; they were responding to a fight; bystanders were watching the cops and cursing at them; Grant had previous felonies for victimless crimes and has even been known to disobey police orders.
The slightest disobedience is enough to ruffle the feathers of these bullies. Police are tasked with enforcing laws written by professional politicians and bureaucrats, using whatever level of violence they deem necessary. And authoritarians expect them to be shown reverence and deference because the state’s enforcers are above other people.
And those expected to show deference the most are often those considered to be at the bottom of society, including people who appear to be in the poor minority demographic. Oscar Grant is cast as the urban minority youth who wouldn’t submissively accept his place — and the place the state assigned him was face down on concrete underneath several armed police officers inflicting whatever pain they felt like inflicting. Grant’s race will be cited to dismiss protests as a matter of “the blacks” being angry that one of “them” was killed.
Some would prefer not to address the roles of racism in establishing political hierarchies of whose life is more valuable and who will be the hero by default. They prefer the narrative that the solution for conflict is for everyone to shut up and do what the system tells them.
Nothing can replace the unique life of Oscar Grant, destroyed by the operation of government as usual. Hopefully Mehserle will give some kind of payment to Grant’s family, but most likely taxpayers will be forced by other state enforcers to foot the bill for any settlement.
Paramilitaries enforcing the laws of the state will act to secure state power. That is their job. When a superior comes into a situation it inherently causes conflict. A better solution would be conflict resolution among equals. In the meantime, Copwatching, Cop Blocking, and creating alternatives to government policing based on respect for individual liberty will have to pull society in the direction of freedom.