If anyone hasn’t heard about the police execution of Oscar Grant, please read up on the facebook page. In short, white officer Johannes Mehserle shot Oscar Grant, a black man, in the back of the head while Grant was handcuffed and lying facedown on a train platform. The murder occured on the early morning hours of New Years Day, 2009. The killing is a good example of how youtube video can greatly increase the public awareness of an incident of police brutality. If you can stomach it, watch some video here. Even Bill O’Reilly reported it, along with the assertion that protests are useless and that he was certain that heavy criminal charges would fall upon the officer.
In fact, the officer has been convicted of relatively light criminal charges, involuntary manslaughter rather than second degree murder. The mandatory sentence is two to four years, but a sentencing enhancement of up to ten years many be added because the crime was committed with a gun. The lack of conviction on the second degree murder charge, coupled with the total absence of african american jurors deciding on the case, motivated riots in downtown Oakland.
There are two things here which I think are key. First, that the statement of the defense lawyer was actually much more optimistic the statement from Oscar Grant’s mother. This is not to say that he thought what has happened was not a miscarriage of justice, but that this is the first time he’s seen a police officer found guilty of any crime committed against a minority in his experience working as a lawyer. So, we can probably be assured that the youtube footage contributed to a higher degree of justice than is usual in Oakland.
The second thing, however, is that this remains an injustice – and one in plain sight. Everyone with a computer can see that Grant was killed execution style by a police officer, and everyone knows that this constitutes murder. In fact, it probably constitutes some kind of hate crime – since it’s unthinkable that a similar amount of violence would have been used against white partiers on new years eve who had allegedly gotten into a fight on public transit.