A Wake-Up Call in Oakland

The verdict in the Oscar Grant shooting case was a slap in the face to a community sure that this time justice would be served, says radio journalist Davey D.

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It would be one thing if people in Oakland sat back and just complained and this was the result, but Oakland isn't like that. I saw people rise to the occasion and do all the right things. Seeing folks from all walks, ages and ethnic backgrounds come together, link similar struggles and seriously put their shoulders to the grind in the name of getting justice for Oscar Grant and his family was breathtaking.

There were town halls held every single week at Olivet Baptist Church in West Oakland. There were dozens of marches, sit-ins, teach-ins, speak-outs and fundraising concerts. A number of artists created songs for the cause. Others made T-shirts and posters.

Coalitions were formed and bridges built, linking elected officials, activists and folks from different communities who saw Oscar Grant not only as a young black man who got killed but as someone who could just as easily have been them or a member of their community. When the trial moved to Los Angeles, organizers from the Bay Area linked up with organizers in L.A. to form tight coalitions.

Most importantly, people sat down and developed strategies with the Grant family, who have been a source of inspiration and have been incredibly strong throughout these past 18 months. The end result was an impressive string of victories that included an unresponsive Alameda County district attorney Tom Orloff and BART police chief Gary Gee being forced to step down and resign, two of the officers on the platform with Mehserle (Tony Pirone and Marysol Domineci) being fired, and BART itself being investigated by an outside firm, which concluded that the agency mishandled the shooting case and had inadequately trained its police officers.

A Stacked Deck

Although jaded by seeing acquittals in high-profile police shootings, such as the cases of Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, I was hopeful this case would turn out differently. The dozens of videos documenting Grant's shooting spoke volumes. No way this was going to be covered up and swept away. Unfortunately, when you have every police union in the state throwing their weight behind a rogue officer, what seems an obvious conclusion can quickly become complicated.

When you take into account the consistent polling data that show the huge differences in the way whites and blacks view police, you can understand why this was cause for concern. Many of us believe that no matter how egregious their acts, the police can do no wrong in the eyes of whites. One of the reasons cited by Mehserle's defense and Alameda County Judge Morris Jacobson for moving the trial from Oakland to Los Angeles was because African Americans could not be impartial. They cited as proof an unscientific poll that was widely reported by local news outlets.

It was troubling that Mehserle's violent past was not allowed into the courtroom, thanks to California's powerful Policemen's Bill of Rights. The Los Angeles jury and many in the public were not privy to hearing how, six weeks before he murdered Oscar Grant, Mehserle is alleged to have savagely beaten a 41-year-old black engineer named Kenneth Carrethers, whom he overheard dissing the police to a friend. After the beating, Mehserle is said to have driven around to three different hospitals, looking for a place that would support his "he got hurt because he was resisting arrest" narrative. Why a guy like this was still on the force is beyond me.

Time to Refocus

Mehserle's lightweight conviction was jarring, and the pain was intensified by the fact of so many communities across the nation focusing instead on the "big" decision that basketball great LeBron James was going to make. Why weren't our urban broadcasters rallying us around Grant's case? Where was our progressive media to weigh in and do some serious investigative reporting on this? Why weren't more black folks outside Oakland talking about this?