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Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Oscar Grant Shooting - A Study Of America's Dualistic Justice Systems

Video of the Oscar Grant shooting that we first covered here on 01/05/09 when the video was released to the public by witnesses.
updates available here, here, and here

In the early hours of New Years Day 2009, 22 year old Oscar Grant pleaded with the officers who detained him by telling them he had a young daughter at home in the same way one might try to personalize oneself to a criminal in hopes that a connection will be made when being threatened with harm.

Yet, for as of yet unknown reasons, officers pushed him face-down to the floor of the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland California and while one officer knelt with his knee on Grant's neck BART officer Johannes Mehserle attempted to pull Grant's arms behind him... and the world now struggles to make sense of what several witnesses captured on video next.

Videos show Mehserle making a furtive move for the firearm holstered on his right hip, then show him pull away to grab Grant's arms again. Then Mehserle grabs at the same firearm holstered at his right hip a second time, draws his firearm, cradles it with his left hand, and fires a round into Grant's back while he laid, face-down, on the station floor while a second officer controlled him by leveraging his body-weight on his neck.

The shot that killed Oscar Grant spurred angry yells from the multitudes of passengers who witnessed it, yet BART officials kept quiet about it for days, and sought to keep it quiet by confiscating any video equipment and cell phone cameras they could find. Yet some made it out, and the videos went public five days later...

...and now the angry yells from the multitudes who have witnessed this shooting via video haven't stopped since.

The tragic injustice of the shooting itself is compounded by the injustice of America's dualistic justice system, a system that unbalances itself against citizens accused of wrongdoing to the point of punishing them prior to determination of guilt and a second system that goes out of it's way to find any means necessary to find police officers innocent of any accusations... even in the face of something so obviously criminal as the video of the Oscar Grant killing shows us.

Any similar case against a civilian would spur an instant arrest, the suspect would have been taken into custody and officers would attempt to interrogate him immediately after reading the suspect his rights.

Meanwhile officers would gather any evidence that they could find which would bolster the charges made against the suspect, including witness testimony, and ignore any evidence or testimony that would run counter to their case.

The suspect would then be jailed and, depending on the conditions of the jail, this entails a varying degree of punishment in and of itself which in many cases can include the denial of medical care, starvation rations or inedible food, exposure to unsanitary conditions, or even abuse by guards.

There the suspect would stay until pulled in front of a judge some days later for a probable cause hearing where prosecutors would argue for the highest bail possible in hopes of keeping the suspect in custody as long as possible until an actual trial while they worked to bolster their case against the suspect.

This cycle would continue with other hearings and more gathering of evidence in the hopes of getting enough incriminating evidence to win a conviction while officers would release damning statements and information via the press to show how they did a good thing by getting the suspect off the streets.

But this isn't what happens when the suspect is a police officer. As BART officials, prosecutors, and Oakland's public officials have shown us, instead of building a case against officer Mehserle they have been desperate to consider any and every possible explanation that could clear him of any wrongdoing. Instead of prosecuting him, they are acting as his defense attorney.

The roles of the American justice system reverse themselves when it's a cop accused of wrongdoing. Police officers are paying for Mehserle's defense lawyers and issuing statements of support to the media instead of slights about his character.

Prosecutors are seeking any evidence that might clear officer Mehserle or throwing out any possible excuse for his actions that cost the life of an unarmed father that night when otherwise they would have painted it in the worst light if it were a civilian.

City officials are begging citizens to disregard what their eyes have shown them, begging them to consider the officer innocent until proven otherwise when they would never give any civilian suspect that consideration or effort.

They insist the video we see is too inconclusive, that something unseen in a piece of video evidence that would have been sufficient to convict a normal person is somehow insufficient to press charges against one of their own cops.

While the mere accusation of wrongdoing of any sort would have been sufficient to get a normal person fired and arrested, in the US it gets you a paid vacation while you wait for the investigation to clear you if you are a cop... and even then, if there is an investigation you can still refuse to cooperate as Mehserle has done.

After a full week's worth of paid vacation for officer Mehserle after the shooting the department finally sought to question him about the shooting.

But the wonderful thing about being a cop is that Mehserle was allowed to resign before that questioning could happen... and the department still urges the public to consider the possibility that it was just an accident or that it was somehow Oscar Grant's fault that he was shot in the back by officer Mehserle.

In Oakland, the Oscar Grant killing illustrates the dual injustices of the American justice system. They have given us a clear example that shows how, in America, authorities treat you as if you are guilty until you can prove otherwise... unless you're a cop.

What is this dualistic justice system costing Oakland now? How much good will from the public have officials wasted by trying to convince the public that they should treat this killing different than how they would have if it were done by a civilian and captured on video for the world to see?

Yesterday the riots just started in Oakland... and with those will come more questionable arrests captured on video, and more outrage, and more frustration with the dual justice systems that protect cops and make citizens vulnerable to abuses... which will spark more violence from one side or the other.

Yes, riots and violence in response to this is counter productive, violence always is... but how can we expect lawful behavior when the government and police enforce one set of laws on the populous while giving themselves an entirely different set of laws?

But even the riots won't show the true cost this injustice will exact in trust and good will from the public, the same trust and good will that the police must ultimately depend upon to do their jobs effectively.

That cost will have to be paid down the road when officials wonder why witnesses don't come forward to the police with information about crimes or when officers get dirty looks or glances of distrust from a public kept in the dark about the misconduct of police.

Reminders of the tragic death of Oscar Grant will continue to keep the injustice of it fresh in our minds and the outrage of it on our lips for some time to come... yet the response by public officials to the tragedy only serve to deepen that sense of loss, amplify it, and makes the wound that Oscar Grant's death leaves all the more difficult to heal.


Anonymous said...

While watching the video, the only thing I could imagine was that the suspect was resisting to the point that the officer thought he was drawing his Taser, and thus thought he was tazing the resisting suspect. If that were true, the BART would be sued for a negligent death, and the officer could possibly be charged with Involuntary Manslaughter. That is the only way he could not be charged with Manslaughter, and or Murder. I wonder what the F*&k the real story is. I cannoty imagine a police officer, with obvious witnesses, shoot an unarmed, face down man. The things that make you go ......HMMMMMMM

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how videos are often used by the authorities as evidence of wrong doing and they say there it is on video, clear evidence but if it is a case of crimes committed by an authority figure they always say "you can't really see what was happening here". Just remember Rodney King. Yes Rodney was an idiot and just could not stay out of the way of trouble but he was clearly brutalized by police. The powers that be in the trial got the cops off partially by selling the concept that the video wasn't really telling the whole story. It was an easy sell to a jury of non peers in white/upper middleclass Simi Valley. If this officer is charged I am sure his trial will be just as big a farce as the Rodney King case trial.

anonymous said...

Great commentary. I linked to it on my blog-

America 20xy said...

First, great blog! We need more like this. I'm going to link it to my webpage.

Second, the instinctive push to justify what the cop did is not just in the justice system but in the general populace. I debated with someone over this the day after it happened who's argument for the shooting was "we don't know what happened BEFORE he was handcuffed" and "it's hard to be a cop".

While those facts are undeniably true, those truths in no way justify shooting a man face down on the floor with his hands behind his back. The simple concept of a person's constitutional right to a fair trial seems to be evaporating from minds of people, (even the Manson family got a trial) as well as the right of a person to serve their appropriate amount of time, depending in the crime, and then try to change their lives and do something with the. (we all hear those stories about guys who went to prison for armed robbery, then "found Jesus" and became pastors when they got out).

I have no idea what led to Grant's detainment at the BART station, but it doesn't matter. Whether or not it was justified would have been for a jury to decide. Pop culture and mainstream entertainment is indoctrinating the public to belive that the justice system is an OBSTACLE to maintaining public safety and that respecting human rights is a sign of weakness in society. (In other words, 2 +2 = 5) I think it's all by design.

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