Race, Place and Police: The 2009 Shooting of Oscar Grant

Host/Sponsor: 
Love Not Blood Campaign
Room: 
Timeslot: 
Abstract: 
The Incident: Oscar Grant’s Death and Aftermath Shortly after the Bay Area welcomed the new year in 2009, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police arrived at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, responding to reports of fighting. Among the men taken from the train was Oscar Grant III. According to SFGate, “as [Officer Johannes Mehserle] moved to cuff him . . . Grant violently pulled his right hand away,” perhaps “[reacting] to abusive words from [another officer].”[v] The abusive words came from Mehserle’s partner Tony Pirone, who called Grant a “bitch ass nigger,” although it is unclear whether Pirone or Grant said these words first.[vi] Thinking Grant might have been reaching for a gun, Mehserle pulled out a weapon and shot Grant in the back. In reality, Grant, a twenty-two-year-old Black male, was unarmed. Public outrage arose following the shooting, stoked by YouTube videos of the incident posted by witnesses. Days later, “hundreds of protestors rampaged through the streets of downtown Oakland, creating a near-riot that lasted for several hours.”[vii] The aftermath included “protestors [laying] prone in front of police, hands behind their backs, saying, ‘I am Oscar Grant.’”[viii] The New York Times reported, “civic leaders said . . . that the violence reflected anger among young people—and particularly young Black men—who feel that they are unfair targets of the police.”[ix] The components of the incident’s aftermath can be loosely characterized by three themes: (1) prosecutorial aggression, (2) judicial intervention and independence, and (3) responsive public outcry. Nearly two weeks after the shooting, Mehserle was charged. After initially charging Mehserle with first-degree murder, the judge ultimately ruled that the most severe charge possible would be second-degree murder. Protests continued, beginning with a “largely peaceful rally of more than 1,000” but also “demonstrators [who] began a rampage through downtown, smashing windows at a dozen businesses, vandalizing several cars and forcing police . . . to spray tear gas.”[x] The bail hearing provided another opportunity for judicial intervention and independence. More than two weeks after the indictment, bail was set at $3 million for Mehserle, causing “thousands of residents [to gather] to voice their outrage . . . and to demand that Mehserle not be given a chance to leave jail on bail.”[xi] On Friday, 6 February 2009, Mehserle posted bail and was released. The trial components included several key moments of judicial intervention, many of which led to public outcry. Mehserle’s preliminary hearing began on 18 May 2009, against the backdrop of protests. In advance of the trial, the defense outlined its intention to bring Grant’s past encounters with law enforcement into its arguments. John Burris, an attorney for Grant’s family, labeled such tactics as character assassination. Also crucial to the defense’s argument was the notion that Mehserle meant to use his Taser on Grant. The prosecution asserted that the shooting was intentional, following a contentious interaction that featured racial language directed at Grant. Also of note, the trial was relocated to Los Angeles “because of pretrial publicity and the threat of violence.” [xii] The Los Angeles jury did not include any Black members. Ultimately, the jury found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Following the verdict, the Grant family’s attorney asserted, “’the system is rarely fair when a police officer shoots an African-American male.’”[xiii] That evening, more than 1,000 people rioted in Oakland. According to the San Jose Mercury News, “wearing black masks, many looted stores, smashed windows and rolled trash bins into the streets while setting them on fire.”[xiv] In the end, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry reduced Mehserle’s potential prison sentence down to four years and ultimately sentenced him to two years (of which he served only eleven months). Protests followed both Mehserle’s sentencing and early release, with Grant’s uncle asserting, “I do believe it’s a racist criminal justice system.”[
Panel Track: 
Policing: Repression, Brutality, Mass Incarceration, history, international perspectives, organizing for abolition
Panel/Workshop Presentation Documents: 
Chair/First Facilitator/Speaker First Name: 
Uncle
Chair/First Facilitator/Speaker Last Name: 
Bobby X
Chair/First Facilitator/Speaker Affiliation: 
Love Not Blood Campaign
Chair/First Facilitator/Speaker Biography: 
Cephus Johnson, a.k.a Uncle Bobby, is a social justice activist at the forefront of ending police brutality in America. After his nephew, Oscar Grant, was murdered by a Bart police officer in 2009, Cephus founded two social justice organizations, the Oscar Grant Foundation and Love Not Blood Campaign. Since then, Cephus has received many prestigious awards for his activism, including The Fannie Lou Hamer Award 2016, The Hero of Forgiveness Award 2016, The Henry Moskowitz Award 2015, The Kwame Ture Black Star of Labor Award 2015, The Black Organizing Project Award 2014, The Martin Luther King Jr Gene Young Award 2014, and many others. He was a consultant for the movie Fruitvale Station, and has served as a leading expert on the creation of the Motherhood and Fatherhood Movement of children murdered by police. Over the years, Cephus has appeared on many national and local television shows and radio stations as an expert in police brutality, including Katie Couric’s “Race in America,” MSNBC’s “Caught on Tape”; and many others. He is a sought-after speaker who has delivered workshops on topics such as, “Knowing your Rights; “How to survive if stopped by the police”; “Criminalization of young people by the justice system”. Cephus has presented on these topics, and others, at The Left Forum conference, US Human Rights Conference, The Netroot Nation Conference, The ACLU Conference, The Free Mind Free People Conference, The National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE), The Congressional Black Caucus Conference, Teachers for Social Justice Conference, and The National Bar Association Conference. He has also spoken at universities, high schools, and community events, and served as the West Coast Organizer of the United Nation Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent visiting the United States at Merritt College, Oakland 2016. Known as the “People’s Uncle,” Cephus is a much beloved presence and invaluable resource for families suffering from police violence around the globe. He has been active at high profile protests — and has supported many high profile families — around the country, including those of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Emmett Till, Freddy Gary, and many more. “He considers ending police brutality and supporting families who have suffered at the hands of police his life’s work, and deeply believes that when families work together, families heals together creating lasting sustainable change.”
Speaker 1/Second Facilitator First Name: 
Beatrice
Speaker 1/Second Facilitator Last Name: 
Johnson X
Speaker 1/Second Facilitator Affiliation: 
Love Not Blood Campaign
Speaker 1/Second Facilitator Biography: 
Beatrice X, aka Auntie B, is the wife of Uncle Bobby Johnson and the aunt of Oscar Grant. She has been involved with activism since the early age of ten years old. Beatrice X first police terrorism activism case was at the age 22 years old. She was part of the activism and protesting behind, Saigon Penn, twice acquitted in the shooting of two San Diego police officers in a racially charged case that sharply exposed the divide between the police and the Black community. Beatrice X is a community organizer, activist, and an extremely caring mother that bring love and emotional support to mothers and family members. Beatrice X embodies completely and dynamically each and everyday, a beautiful spirit and a clear understanding, to her vision of the revolutionary path of Love by the spirit of African culture. If we all walk in her spirit we are sure to reach our objective as a organization that was founded to work with families that has suffered the traumatic experience of gun violence, whether by police officers, security officers, or community violence. Sister Beatrice works to bring about an atmosphere of social justice and family relationship throughout the United States.
Speaker 2/Third Facilitator First Name: 
Elizabeth
Speaker 2/Third Facilitator Last Name: 
Hinton
Speaker 2/Third Facilitator Affiliation: 
Author of "From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America"
Speaker 2/Third Facilitator Biography: 
Bio Elizabeth Hinton is Assistant Professor in the Department History and the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Hinton’s research focuses on the persistence of poverty and racial inequality in the 20th century United States. Her current scholarship considers the transformation of domestic social programs and urban policing after the Civil Rights Movement. In her recent book, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (Harvard University Press, 2016), Hinton examines the implementation of federal law enforcement programs beginning in the mid-1960s that laid the groundwork for the mass incarceration of American citizens. In revealing the links between the rise of the American carceral state and earlier anti-poverty programs, Hinton presents Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs not as a sharp policy departure but rather as the full realization of a shift towards surveillance and confinement that began during the Johnson administration. Before joining the Harvard faculty, Hinton spent two years as a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Michigan Society of Fellows and Assistant Professor in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. A Ford Foundation Fellow, Hinton completed her Ph.D. in United States History from Columbia University in 2012. Hinton's articles and op-eds can be found in the pages of the Journal of American History, the Journal of Urban History, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Review, The Nation, and Time. She also co-edited The New Black History: Revisiting the Second Reconstruction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) with the late historian Manning Marable.
Speaker 3/Fourth Facilitator First Name: 
Krystal
Speaker 3/Fourth Facilitator Last Name: 
Brown
Speaker 3/Fourth Facilitator Affiliation: 
Team Marlon Foundation
Speaker 3/Fourth Facilitator Biography: 
KRYSTAL K. BROWN is a native of Deland, Florida. She received her A.S. degree in Occupational Therapy in 1998 and a Certificate in Practical Nursing in 2003. She is the mother of three, DeAndre, Armani and Marlon and the Wife of Marlon Brown Sr. She has always been a leader and an advocate for her community, Springhill, and the people that reside there. On May 8, 2013 the life of her family was forever changed when Marlon Sr. was killed by a Deland rookie police officer, James Paul Harris. Like many, she believed in the Judicial System and was confident that justice would prevail especially since there was a dashcam video that caught the entire incident as well as multiple eye witnesses. However, similar to many cases from around the country the case was presented to a grand jury and the result was “NO INDICTMENT!” Krystal immediately formed a team that began collecting and dissecting the evidence and after acquiring much knowledge about Marlon’s case it was clear that the Justice System was unjust. She has been traveling from state to state meeting other families that are fighting police brutality, researching and learning about policies and procedures that are in place and cause corruption of the system, speaking out on behalf of Marlon Brown Sr. and pursuing an opportunity for him to receive justice. She is the founder of, United 4 Justice, an organization that serves to bring awareness to individuals and families throughout the globe information on police brutality and personal rights. She is not afraid to stand up and call out those that misuse their power to control others and for their own personal gain. She has put the quote from Frederick Douglas, “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men,” into action by working very closely to children from the community. Titling them “Hollywood’s Stars” and instilling in them that the sky is the limit and the possibilities are endless if they are willing to work for them. She is committed to helping her community obtain equal and fair treatment by city administration and local law enforcement. She ran for City Commissioner in Deland, Fl in 2014. Despite not being voted into office she used her voice and her platform to convey the concerns of the community and its citizens. Her voice has definitely been amplified by her ability and willingness to stand firm on the facts. In January 2016, Krystal was offered the opportunity to speak before the Expert Working Group from the United Nations. She spoke on the disrespectful dehumanization and criminalization of the victims of police brutality and their families by the United States and the lack of transparency and conviction of the crimes being committed against people of African descent. She was heard and Marlon’s name appears in the preliminary report that is being written to the United States Government. She is a 2016 award recipient of “Divas on Fire, All Women’s Award Show” for being a Community Activist.
Speaker 4/Fifth Facilitator First Name: 
Vanissa
Speaker 4/Fifth Facilitator Last Name: 
Chan
Speaker 4/Fifth Facilitator Affiliation: 
Force Trajectory Project
Speaker 4/Fifth Facilitator Biography: 
The Forced Trajectory Project is a long-term multimedia project documenting the rippling effects police violence has on communities beginning with the families who have lost their loved ones to police murder. Utilizing moving pictures, stills, and sound, the project’s goal is to paint an intimate and accurate portrait of the “forced trajectory” these family members find themselves on after their loved one is killed.
Panel/Workshop Organizer First Name: 
Uncle
Panel/Workshop Organizer Last Name: 
Bobby X
Panel/Workshop Organizer Affiliation: 
Love Not Blood Camapaign
 

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