On January 1, 2009 in Oakland CA, Oscar Grant an unarmed black man was handcuffed, face down, and then shot in the back by a white police officer. Former police officer Johannes Mehersle detained Grant on a BART station platform responding to a disturbance call allegedly involving Grant. He stated that Grant was resisting arrest and being verbally abusive. Officers arrived and detained several individuals. Grant was lying on his stomach handcuffed when Mehersle drew his weapon and fired into his back. The officer claimed that he thought he was reaching for his taser. The events were captured on multiple digital and cell phone cameras in front of dozens of spectators.
22 year old Grant died and the city of Oakland was outraged. Mehersle was arrested.
A verdict was reached July 8, 2010. The Oakland police department prepared for the worst, increasing their numbers and presence throughout the city. The people wanted justice. The verdict came in...guilty...of involuntary manslaughter. A verdict that comes with a 2 to 4 year sentence, and because of the involvement of a gun a possible 10 years added to that.
Once again, Oakland was outraged. Citizens began lighting trash cans and smashing windows. Bottles were thrown at police officers and looting began.
A verdict reached without the presence of one African American juror more or less passed down a slap on the wrist to a white police officer for killing a black man...
Now I can personally say that I was upset when this verdict came in. I know our justice and legal system isn't perfect. I know that people are not equal in a court of law, whether it be based on ethnicity or tax bracket, exceptions are made.
What stands out most about this is not if Mehersle received a lighter sentence than if he were black and Grant white. Nor that he was treated differently because he was a police officer. What sticks with me most, still to this moment, are the responses.
I typically read comments to news articles or even other blogs to get a feel for other points of view. I like to see different takes and perceptions of the same event. But this particuliar event has me disturbed.
The blatent, consistant, and overwhelming negative feeling on African Americans in this country. Granted, a blog or news comment doesn't speak for everyone, but they do make up a good percentage.
The repeated use of the "N" word and deragatory feeling of blacks as a whole seemed prevalent on sight after sight after sight. It just seems that Black is now synonomous with, "thug" or "ghetto". That black people are; ignorant, irresponsible, lazy, drug addicted criminals. People going as far as to say that Grant "got what he deserved because he probably was nothing more than a gang banger anyway."
Views on white Americans wasn't much higher coming from the African American prospective.
This country has made many strides in the ways of equality, but we have to be honest, we have a long way to go. People still have deep rooted views and opinions about other races that lead to nothing but division. Would the people of Oakland have responded the same if the cops and Grant were the same race? Or if Grant were white and the officer black? If everyone involved was black, would it even be news?
In a country that just elected its first African American as its 44th president, we are still struggling to break old habits and ways of thinking. Yes we as a nation have greatly progressed for this to have happened, but let us not lose sight of our goal. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. Not that one day black people would rise to the top and look down upon past oppressors, but that one day we would all reach the mountain top and stand together. In acknowledgement of our differences and embracing our diversity.
Oscar Grant is gone, no riot, law suit, or prison sentence is going to change that. His 22 years of life will forever be overshadowed by his death. This senseless passing has opened my eyes a little wider to the necessity of open dialogue. For people to get to know each other and to have a true understanding of our differences and similarities. Only then can we filter out the misconceptions, rumors, and stereotypes.
Johannes Mehersle may have taken the life of Oscar Grant, but let's not allow this nation's dream of unity to die as well.
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