Here in Oakland, we are anxiously awaiting the verdict in the trial of former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle’s murder of the unarmed Oscar Grant. The murder, which was captured on video by bystanders and seen on Youtube by millions of people, sparked massive protests and militant actions around Oakland last year — and has the potential to generate further unrest depending on the jury’s decision.
The verdict could come down as early as today, and there’s a lot of questions in the air about what’s going to happen. I can’t say for sure what my own reaction will be. Still, I decided I need to make a list of personal principles that I’d hold myself to, no matter what the decision is. So let me say that when the verdict comes…
I will be in the streets, either in celebration or outrage. Possibly both.
I will be at 14th and Broadway at 6:00pm the day of the verdict, helping create a safe space for people to speak out freely and without censorship. This is a rally, a grassroots gathering, and a place to decide what to do next.
I will remember that this is the first time in California history that a police officer was charged with murder in the death of a citizen — and that it was our protests and actions that made the Alameda County DA bring those charges.
I will remember how after Mehserle shot Oscar, he never offered him first aid or tried to apologize — either then, or later to his family. That doesn’t seem like the actions of someone who committed “an accident.”
I will question how a jury that included NO BLACK PEOPLE is somehow a “jury of your peers.”
I will wonder how Mehserle’s defense paid $50,000 to a “video expert” to explain to the jury members why they should not believe their own eyes.
I will remind people how fellow BART officer (later fired for this incident) Tony Pirone called Oscar a “bitch-ass nigger” multiple times before Mehserle shot him.
I will tell people what the jury wasn’t allowed to hear — how three weeks before he shot Oscar, Mehserle viciously beat up another young black man, Kenneth Carruthers, and sent him to the hospital.
I will demand that the federal government intervenes (where you at, Eric Holder?) in the case of an unjust verdict.
I will not be more concerned with property damage than the murder of innocent people. As a woman said at the Town Hall on Saturday, “Windows are replaceable, our babies aren’t.”
I will walk with the words of One Fam organizer Tony Coleman: “The cops are the outside agitators to our community, not the protesters.”
I will love Oakland, and make sure my actions reflect that love.
I will encourage my young people to be safe — but more than that, to be brave. To be smart. And to be together.
I will be prepared with a camera, water, legal phone numbers, and the things I need to be safe in the streets. The cops are getting ready, so should we.
I will participate in actions that are both militant and nonviolent. I don’t believe in testosterone activism (“You think you hard? Oh yeah, watch this…”), but neither do I believe in standing around aimlessly. I believe in strategic, serious action that moves us closer to actual victory.
I will understand that this is part of a larger struggle. White supremacy and police violence didn’t start with this case, nor will they end here, even with a guilty verdict.
I will stand with Oscar’s mother, Wanda Johnson, and uncle, Cephus Johnson, who have stood strong and brought a community together over the past 18 months.
And above all, I will remember the man in whose name we are continuing the cry for justice.