Tag Archives: police

Why There Are Riots Tonight in Oakland

I wasn’t surprised that officer Mehserle wasn’t convicted of murder despite all the video footage and witnesses of him shooting an unarmed teenager. I first had my suspicions when Forum reported there wasn’t a single black person on the jury. But then I took heart in thinking that the prosecution would want a whiter jury so it would be harder for the defense to appeal. Besides, the victim, Oscar Grant, was hand-cuffed face down with another police officer’s foot on his neck. So for weeks I held out some hope for a verdict of second-degree murder.

Mehserle claims that he accidentally grabbed his gun when he meant to grab his taser. I asked an ex-cop about this and he doesn’t think such a thing is possible. For one thing, a gun is much heaver than a taser and tasers are designed to have mechanisms that don’t work like firearms to prevent exactly this kind of situation. Moreover, officers’ training drills into their heads over and over the exact location of such things. The location of a cop’s firearm should be second nature.

The defense’s case is based on the very idea that Mehserle was poorly trained. Ironically, the prosecution’s case was based on this too. He probably was, since LEOs receive inadequate training in economies far less strained than California’s. In the last big election there was a measure to give more funding to California’s police force but that didn’t have a hope and a prayer of passing when the budget is taking huge cuts in education and social services. So he probably was under-trained.

When you get down to it though, why the hell should he be reaching for his taser in the first place? It’s not like they were busting an armed robbery. They were responding to a call that a fight had broken out on the BART train. A simple fight, possibly nothing more than kids horsing around—and on New Year’s Eve, the night everyone horses around. If you watch the video it doesn’t appear he’s resisting arrest. So there were lots of reasons to believe that the jury might hand in a murder verdict.

But I gave up hope of that when I heard on the radio that Mehserle cried on the stand.

I don’t think the jury was a pack of outright bigots. Surely they recognized that what happened was a tragedy. But racial identity is a powerful thing. Simply put, they saw Mehserle as one of their own. When they listened to him talk they tried to imagine themselves in his situation. “But it was an accident!” Aw, gee, poor guy, he was scared, the jury thought, I would be too. We can’t put him in prison with those people. Just imagine what they’d do to him! On the contrary, the victim was one of “those people.” They see a boy but they don’t see their own child. They don’t see themselves.

Oscar Grant, 1986-2009

If you don’t believe me, try to imagine it if the situation were reversed. Imagine a black man claiming he “accidentally” shot a white man who was lying on the ground completely defenseless and over-powered. That case would be a joke. It would be a guilty-verdict hands down, case closed. No way it would be a story the media clamor to cover all across the country.

Of course all this is conflated by the fact that Mehserle wasn’t just any white man but a man of the law. One could argue that a black cop who shot a young white man would get just the same sentence. Though I find that very hard to believe, it really doesn’t matter. Because black police officers aren’t shooting white men. Tends to happen the other way.

This sends a very clear message to black folks: the law does not protect you. It is here only to convict you. Protection from crime is for “those people.” They already knew this of course. America doesn’t need another black martyr. Hell, Oakland has enough to last us for the next hundred years, ThankYouVeryMuch.

Maybe that’s why there’s no part of me that cares whether Mehserle deep down and truly meant to reach for that taser. He knows that his behavior was inexcusable and unforgivable. He also knows that his identity as a white police officer is the key to him escaping a life sentence. If he had been a man of honor, he would have settled this case quietly, explaining his side while taking a guilty plea. I’m not saying I would have had the fortitude to do that if I were in his position. But it would have been the right thing to do for Oscar Grant’s family. Sure it would have been a sacrifice, but taser or no taser he took this boy’s life and he shouldn’t have, and he knows it.

So I don’t want to hear a word about how the jury are the only ones who saw all the evidence. Mehserle had a chance to step up and offer himself as America’s white martyr. Because everyone knows we have plenty of slots available.

“Some of Those That Work Forces Are the Same That Burn Crosses”

for Chris.

A while back a friend of my asked me (on myspace) what my thoughts are on law enforcement officers. I thought there is a whole blog in that answer but I wasn’t in a hurry to write it. That was until I found out yesterday that he is on his way to becoming a cop.

It should be noted that the blog where this question was raised I had mentioned that the men in blue had beaten my mother in the intake room. When they left her she was catatonic.

I was raised with a prejudice against L.E.O.s. My parents are hippies and they see cops as the people who send non-violent drug offenders to prison. They are also the people who did nothing to intervene when when I was eight and watching my mother’s boyfriend beat her in our front yard. Another childhood memory is my neighbors being busted for coke. I remember how the police tore up the house for five hours. They ripped open her furniture and confiscated her jewelry while detaining them by putting my neighbors on the ground with their boots on my neighbor’s backs.

So finding out that my friend is becoming a cop is about like telling someone in the KKK that one is converting to Judiaism.

My prejudice against L.E.O.s didn’t decrease with the wisdom of higher education. As an adult, I have seen officers beat non-violent protestors. I have seen them arrest hundreds of people under false pretense. I have stood for hours in front of riot police explaining the reasons for civil disobedience. They stand like statues.

police fire into crowd at FTAA in Miami. All pictures below are from the FTAA protest in Miami, though they are commonplace at large-scale American protests. Think of these as just one example.

I have seen a paddy-wagon accelerate towards street blockades. If anything has radicalized me, it is the memories of my friends with bruises bigger than fists from rubber bullets shot into crowds. If anything has radicalized me, it was seeing tanks riding through Savannah at the G8. Or hearing stories of officers confiscating film or medical equipment. Or talking to locals who were told by the cops that it was Okay to mug the protestors because they are bad people who don’t deserve protection.

The day after this ocurred, police were arresting puppeteers by the hundred at SOA in Fort Benning, GA, just so their protest numbers would be lower for the day of the march.

I have thought a lot about police officers because I believe that all people are essentially good. I believe that humans are compelled to do what they think is right, even if they must lie to themselves to do those things. There is no such thing as evil but misinformation and ignorance are to blame for what is thought of as evil in the world.

So when I see humans behaving like this, it really makes me question how they thought this is the right course of action. And I do have a theory.

protestor overcome by teargas.

Let’s face it, cops have a dangerous job (not the most dangerous government job, which goes to garbage collectors. When is Will Smith going to make a movie about them?). They don’t actually put their lives on the line every day, but the potential is there (when I think about it, this is similar to the daily fear women have of being raped.). When a cop approaches someone, they have to decide right away if this is going to be one of those moments where their life is in danger. In other words, is this person a good guy or a bad guy? If it is a helpless old lady crossing the street, they are going to see this as a moment to protect and serve, with emphasis on the later. Most of the time I approach a police officer they are eager to serve me. I am a white, middle-class educated woman. They are going to be relaxed and not worried I will shoot them in the face.

On the other hand, if I am at a protest I become one of the people that the nice old ladies must be proteced from. I am the bad guy. If they have to be prepared to shoot me if necessary then they must begin by dehumanizing me. Not after I have committed a crime but from moment one.

If it seems like brown people and the poor, especially men, don’t like cops who can blame them? All of their interactions with L.E.O.s begin with dehumanization and at best are viewed suspiciously as criminals. I know very few minorities that haven’t experienced this at least once in their lives.

Yet if I put myself in the position of a police person, I can hardly imagine behaving any other way. One cannot live their entire life in fear of every work-place interaction. But there must be an element of caution when approaching situations where criminal behavior is happening and it is your job to stop it.

Not to mention the fact that the people who are doing the real killing, the polluters and corporate thieves, aren’t likely to ever wind up in a gun fight with a cop. Sure, they may be slowly giving them cancer but all interactions can be civil throughout.

Thus, I do not think cops are bad people simply because bad people don’t exist. But I do believe that the law enforcement field encourages folks to see things in black and white; I believe it is an inevitable by-product of the job.

So, yeah, Officer Chris, I still love ya’. But I’ll be saying agnostic prayers at night that every man who reaches for his wallet doesn’t become the next Amadu Dialo. And that you remain stead-fast in your suspicion of old white ladies crossing the street.