Hey people. I’m not sure of what sentiments I can express that haven’t already been echoed by numerous people who are extremely dissatisfied and disgusted with Thursday’s verdict in the Oscar Grant case. So I’m just going to highlight something that has been apparent to me for some time now; something which I cannot hold back any longer. Oscar Grant was a human being. He was a son, a father, a friend, and a man. He was also black. We live in a society where this one cultural marker determines the entire value of one’s life. I always say that if you really want to know what American society at large is thinking, read their blog comments. Nowhere is the hatred and racism more evident than in many folk’s attempt to air extremely poisonous, demeaning views under the guise of online usernames. Here, in these comments and in many other media outlets, there is a terribly uneven balance given to the weight of this atrocity. Users pick apart everything from Grant’s appearance in photos, his black skull cap, and smile, to his very presence on the BART train that New Years night that “caused his own death.” Really? I always attempted to ignore these views but I cannot help that they funnel a deeper, more venomous message that runs rampant in this country. Many people’s lives are not valued. It is clear here. And those that are valued, seem to be for far more problematic reasons than not.
There is no reason that news coverage of Lebron James change in NBA teams should’ve overshadowed that of an unarmed black man who was shot in the back while his hands were behind his back. There is no rhyme or reason why people would flock to this coverage and not even know who Oscar Grant is. This lop-sided importance placed on black sports players as commodities continues to reign supreme.
There is also no reason that coverage of Michael Vick’s past dog-fighting ring should’ve garnered more hate and outrage than an innocent person being murdered. I recall seeing people crying on the news in the response to the maiming of those dogs. I also recall reading death threats on blog sites, that were addressed to Vick himself. But when a young black man is murdered while laying face down and unarmed, there is no such outrage. There is something SERIOUSLY wrong with this. And it is this stigmatization of the black existence and body that contributes widely to the air of indifference that exists currently. Not to mention, there is a possibility that Mehserle could get less time than Vick did for the dog fighting conviction. Mehserle murdered a PERSON, not a dog.
I am angry, as we all are, but this anger must be used to move forward and combat what’s ahead. In the memory of Oscar Grant, Latasha Harlins, a teenage black girl who was shot and killed in LA by a store owner for allegedly trying to steal soda in 1991, Amadou Diallo who was shot at 41 times in NYC and killed for reaching for his wallet, and the countless black women who’ve been murdered over the years by serial killers, but whose deaths haven’t garnered more than a single headline in the local news, I write. There are ways that communities can fight back against the constant hatred aimed at its human citizens. One way is by serving on juries. The fact that the Oscar Grant case was decided by a jury with not one black juror on it, and by jurors with several close ties to law enforcement is not a surprise, and sends a message that we must demand to take part in these proceedings. There are also numerous organizations that organize Cop watch activities where communities help police their neighborhoods in an attempt to decrease the presence of police aggression.
Ultimately, I can’t say that I expected a verdict any different than what was given. However, my logical, humane mind still can’t help but take issue with the erroneous nature of the ruling. I am enraged, but also expectant of this when it comes to the American legal system. This is a problem. I’m going to close this post not with words but with a photograph. I shot this while at the Oscar Grant Memorial rally in Oakland last January. The photograph shows Grant’s young daughter smiling into the camera. This photograph is all the evidence we need to know that lives should be valued and respected. This child should not have to grow up without a parent because a police officer made the decision that her’s father’s life didn’t matter.
Oscar Grant was a human being.