Another Year, Another Unarmed Black Man Killed by Police

January 7, 2009

The below piece was written in January of 2009.
Police continue to kill people with impunity in numbers close to 1,000 annually, disproportionally impacting black people.
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Today is Oscar Grant’s funeral.  He is the latest in a long string of unarmed black men to be killed by police.  The night he died, Oscar, 22, was out celebrating New Year’s Eve.  At around 2 a.m., he and friends were pulled off of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train- Northern California’s subway system- by police officers.  He was unarmed and cooperative, even telling friends to calmly oblige the police.  That did nothing to save Oscar Grant.  Within minutes, without cause, a police officer would shoot him in the back, execution-style.

Watch the video yourself.  You’ll see Oscar sitting up against a wall with several other young men, cooperating with police instruction.  Eyewitnesses report that “the cops were hitting, yelling and cussing at the guys”, while dozens of people called out about the mistreatment.  Oscar put his palms up, a clear indication of compliance.  Then officers dragged him from the wall and pushed him onto his stomach, his face pressed to the floor.

Oscar feared for his life.  Witnesses describe Oscar pleading for police not to taser him, begging, “Please, please, don’t tase me.”  Instead, one police officer pressed his knee onto the back of Oscar’s neck.  A second officer, Johannes Mehserle, leaned over him, reached for his gun, pointed it within about a foot of Oscar’s body and shot him in the back.  The officers look at each other as Oscar writhes in pain and turns to look at the man who killed him.  On video, you can see Oscar speaking to the officer.  Witnesses tell us that he cried, “You shot me!  I got a four-year-old daughter!”  The video doesn’t show the officers immediately administering first aid to the man they shot.  Instead, it appears to show police handcuffing Oscar, who wouldn’t live to see the sun rise on a new year.

I take the killing of Oscar Grant personally.  Not because it happened in the area of my birthplace.  Not because I’m a person of color who, like many people of color in the country, has experienced police abuse of power, first-hand.  Not because I grew up in fear of the police after my father, the safest driver I know, was told by a police officer on a bogus stop, that the cop was considering shooting my dad.  Not because of the fact, that despite the shield of my lawyer’s license, my heart still pounds at the sight of a police badge.

Oscar’s killing is personal because his death offends the fundamental principles of justice, every notion of dignity and the idea that through those threads, all of our lives are connected.  As human beings, we are responsible for each other.  His death means that we must work for his justice.