Friday, January 9, 2009

Ah, Progress...

I  decided to watch something on YouTube that I'd heard about, and thought beforehand, "how bad can it be?"

Sure enough, it was awful.

New Year's Day, 2 AM, Oakland, CA. Apparently, there was a fistfight on a train in the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (known to current and former residents of the San Francisco Bay Area as BART), and the BART Police (a publicly paid for, but privately managed security force) came in to break it up, wind it down, hand out citations, whatever.

In the video, there appear to be four or five of these cops (who appear to be either all-white or mostly white, and there's at least one woman in the crew), and three or four African-American males. The young men are a bit hostile, but all of them are seated. One stands up and attempts to talk to the police. From the video, it's unclear what he is saying (the video was shot using a cellphone, from inside the train with the doors closed). The cops bring him down to the ground, face down, and force his arms behind his back. One of the cops puts his knee over the man's neck and head to further restrain him. There are three cops holding him down at this point, while the others are standing back, watching both the man on the ground and the other young men sitting watching their friend. One of the cops holding the young man down is facing the camera.

He stands up, unholsters his gun, and shoots the prone man in the back. 

The gunshot is audible on the video.

The bullet ricochets off of the platform floor back into the man's body. He is pronounced dead at the scene. The BART police attempt to confiscate every video camera they can find. They miss at least two.

The streets of Oakland erupted in riots during what was supposed to be a peaceful protest march on Wednesday, January 7th. Some who suffered property damage at the hands of the rioters weren't surprised, nor even terribly hurt, by the injuries done to their property. African-Americans in Oakland are getting tired of hearing about their young men being shot by the police. If a policeman shoots a civilian, he is put on administrative leave, and expected to turn in his badge and gun. If a civilian shoots another civilian, they are arrested and put in jail. If a civilian shoots a cop, other cops might kill them and claim self-defense (not that I believe everything James Ellroy writes). 

While the organizers of the protest and even the victim's family decried the violence, I can understand it. While it may be counterproductive, it really depends on how long you've had to deal with living in a kind of siege state. Oakland has had it's murder rate go rather high in recent years, and one of the usual complaints by the locals is that the cops will come when it suits them, but not when it scares them. Black-on-white crime gets the full-court press, but black-on-black crime is routinely ignored or downplayed. Interestingly enough, in the protest this week, there was a large Latino contingent along with the African-American crowd. When it comes to the police, they agree on who the problem often is.

The police officer's name is Johannes Mehserle. He is 27.

The victim's name is Oscar Grant. He is 22, forever.

And we just elected an African-American President.


Samantha said...

You may be happy or at least interested to know that OPD arrested Mehserle, who had resigned from BART Police rather than answer questions for the in-house investigators. There is a theory that Mehserle might have thought he had his hand on his Taser, not his pistol.

It should also be mentioned that Oakland's mayor (who didn't want to run to begin with) barely shows up for work and has left huge gaps in city government leadership, so as a result it has none.

Also I think "nor hurt very much" understates the business owners' experience. They may not have been surprised, but in this economy, in downtown Oakland, anything that disrupts business hurts. When a second protest was scheduled for last Wednesday everyone prepared for another riot just in case.

I'm always interested in what you have to say and usually agree. Now I know how this local event is playing in Seattle.

Samantha said...

I just want to be clear that I think that what Mehserle did was wrong and I am not excusing him. Additionally, the fact that he resigned his position rather than answer to internal investigators shows a lack of integrity at the least.
The rioters were wrong, too, and I don't know that most of them were "out of town (read: Berkeley) agitators". People in Oakland are angry and they have a right to be - but no one has the right to hurt their neighbor. You may be interested in this SF Chronicle story:

stEn said...

Samantha -

In terms of property owners "understanding" their vandals' feelings, came from what Oakland Tribune writers said about having their cars trashed. There were, of course, other business owners who's livelihoods were pretty much destroyed by some of the idiots who threw newspaper boxes through shop windows. That, I know, didn't go over well.

I did hear that Mehserle was arrested, and his lawyer is already saying that the "video doesn't show everything." Hmm...

I did read a piece at Counterpunch by an anarchist who walked with the marchers in Oakland. She talked about basically disrupting the police, and keeping folks from getting arrested. When we had the WTO riots, the anarchists (again, out-of-towners from Portland), many of them gave protesting a really bad name by trashing local businesses, and (my personal favorite) trashing the Niketown store while wearing Nike shoes. Needless to say, the local media had a field day with them.