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.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Against Injustice, Unity

It’s with all that in mind, along with knowing all the work people put into organizing around this issue, that I’m disheartened by the jury’s verdict. The Mehserle trial should have been an open-and-shut case, with this man being charged with voluntary manslaughter, at least, if not second-degree murder. I’m still bewildered by it, as was everyone else who took to the streets the night the verdict was read. What more was one supposed to do?

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.