Cell phone videos of police killing spark calls for change
By Kim Pearson on January 11, 2009
BlogHer Original Post
Thanks to cameraphones, Youtube and blogs, people around the world saw a young transit police officer fatally shoot 22-year-old Oscar Grant III in the back as he laid face down on an Oakland, California subway platform. The shooting, which took place in the early ours of New Years' day, touched off violence-laced protests in a city whose history of troubled police-community relations stretches back decades. While the city considers possible criminal charges against the officer, Grant's family has filed a $25 million wrongful death suit. In the meantime, conversations in the blogosphere raise the hopeful prospect that this time, perhaps, there will at least be greater awareness of the need for police accountability.
In case you don't know the details of this sad story, here's what appears on the various youtube videos. (Because of the graphic nature of these videos, they have been flagged as unsuitable for viewing by minors. Consequently, I'm posting a link here instead of the actual videos, so that you can exercise your own discretion.)
In the early hours of New Years' day, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police responded to a reported disturbance involving two groups of young men.) While subway passengers watched, the officers had several young men sit on the platform. In one of the videos, Grant can be seen raising his open palms. Words are exchanged between the young men and the officers, but what's being said isn't clear. Evantually, three officers pull Grant and force him to lay down on the platform. Grant writhes a bit. One of the officers, Then, one of the officers, Johannes Mehserle, 27 stands and fires a shot into Grant's back. The other officers back away. Mehserle bends down and cuffs the dying Grant behind his back.
Mehserle has since resigned and reportedly, his lawyers are keeping investigators from questioning him about the shooting.
The Baglady is bewildered:
A lot of people including myself are wondering why the officer did what
he did. Apparently in the past there had been two more incidents where
BART police blew away unarmed people, but this is the first time when
citizen reporting with cellphone cameras have brought so much attention
to a BART shooting.
Holly at Feministe wante people to watch the videos:
They made me want to throw up, made me feel dizzy and aching, but
they’re important. If bystanders hadn’t been leaning out of their
trains with cellphone cameras, this incident might have passed largely
unnoticed. According to witnesses, the BART police reacted immediately
by confiscating cameras and phones in the name of “evidence.”
At Hot Air, there's speculation about whether Mehserle meant to grab his taser instead of his gun:
Exit question for our police readers: Have you ever absentmindedly
reached for your taser and grabbed your pistol instead? If so, don’t
they feel sufficiently different in your hand that you’d know instantly?
Adrienne Brown has been thinking deeply about the shooting, the protests and what should come next:
As I write this there are no less than 6 helicopters circling
overhead in downtown Oakland. On the first day of the 10th year since
Amadou Diallo was brutally gunned down by police in New York City,
Oscar Grant was fatally shot in the back by a BART police officer, and
the event was caught on video.
As I write this, rumors are flying and media is fanning the riot
flames - car and trash fires, police in riot gear and tanks, restaurant
windows being smashed, tear gas and rubber bullets being used. We won’t
know the full picture till the night is over and the smoke clears, but
the story of the successful nonviolent protest earlier this evening has
been overshadowed by this angry chaos.
What is absolutely clear is that folks are furious about the murder
of Oscar Grant, furious that a week has passed with no statement or
acknowledgment of what happened. What is clear is that we currently
don’t have community accountability over our police here in Oakland. In
this bubble of progress we are hampered by the same brutal power
dynamics that plague the rest of the nation. Racially driven policing
that allows the use of lethal weapons in the pursuit of justice is a
Les Spence has a list of "Five Immediate Things to Do About Oscar Grant:"
1. Digg the story so that the national media can pick up on it
2. Contact BART Director Carole Ward Allen and demand that 1) the
officers involved be taken off duty without pay and charged and fully
prosecuted; 2) there be an independent investigation of the shooting
that includes a review of training and hiring practices; and 3) BART
establish an independent residents’ review board for the police Call
her at 510-464-6095 or email the BART Directors atBoardofDirectors@bart.gov
3. Call the BART police to complain about the officers’ conduct and
demand immediate action: Internal Affairs: Sergeant David Chlebowski
510.464.7029,email@example.com; Chief of Police: Gary Gee 510.464.7022, firstname.lastname@example.org
Call them toll free at 877.679.7000 and press the last four digits of the phone number you wish to reach.
4. Talk it up on your blogs, networks and talk radio shows (call
Michael Baisden 877-6BADBOY or Rev. Al, etc. to get this on the
5. Stay tuned for other actions, protests, etc., especially if you are in the Bay.
He has some other interesting thoughts here.
Ras Jayadev hopes that the existence of video evidence will keep this incident from following an all-too-familiar pattern:
Every city knows the story of an Oscar Grant, and the almost automatic
anti-climactic ending when the case hits the courts. The officers are
found innocent, they go back to work, and the family of the victim is
left without a son, father or brother. A community suffers the
indignity of knowing a grave injustice has been done without any
Because of the actions of citizen journalists, this writer for WebTVWire is hopeful:
This story is obviously very sad because a young man has been shot. But
it also shows the incredible power that citizen journalism and online video in particular can have. Without mobile video and video sharing Web sites such as YouTube, the truth of this case may never have been discovered. As it is, justice can now surely be brought.
I certainly hope that's the case, because as the mother of a young black man, I share the same fear in the pit of my stomach as Cutie Bootycakes:
I am frightened about releasing my only son into this world of unknowns
where statistically he is at risk because of the color of his skin. And
yes, I can teach my son how to respond if he is ever stopped or
questioned by police. However, his responses and behavior are subject
to interpretation. God forbid the officer he encounters is having a bad
day, a bad life or worse just dislikes his job and mistreats my son
because of a misunderstanding.
I can relate. I watched the last moments of Oscar Grant's life and thought of the rules that we've taught our young men, from the time they were little boys. Walk down the center of store aisles, with your hands visible, so no one will think you're shoplifting. Always get a receipt from the store clerk. And never, never talk back to a police officer.
This time, for once, let justice be done.
Related: Dear Oscar Grant by Terry Howcott
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