A Rally for Mehserle, Too
So, if you don’t live anywhere near Oakland, CA the long and the short of it is this past New Years Eve there was a bunch of youthful rowdiness at a train station, and the transit police came in to try to deal with the situation, and at one point a cop named Johannes Mehserle had a kid named Oscar Grant pinned to the ground, then he reaches for his gun and fatally shoots Oscar Grant in the back. (He said he thought he was reaching for his taser, which doesn’t make a lot of sense, but who knows what was actually in his mind?) The shooting was caught on grainy cell phone video from multiple angles.
Also, Oscar Grant is black and Johannes Mehserle is white, so . . .
Last Friday the verdict was read out for Mehserle, and Oakland braced for race riots, which aside from some vandalism downtown didn’t really happen. Thank goodness. Mehserle was found not-guilty of murder, which requires “malice aforethought” but he was found guilty of “involuntary manslaughter” which on the one hand sounds about right: it would be difficult to prove that he intended to kill Oscar Grant but a lot of people get upset at “involuntary” because the man voluntarily pulled his gun out of his holster and pulled the trigger. Due to the firearm, Mehserle faces 5-14 years in prison when he is sentenced.
Now, it seems there are only two ways to see what happened:
If you are a liberal person of color living in the flat part of Oakland then you never know when your kid will go out at night and be harassed, even killed by racist cops, who will then be slapped on the wrist because the system doesn’t care about the life of a black kid.
If you are a white Republican racist living in the posh Oakland Hills or beyond, then you see a poorly-trained officer of the peace working overtime on New Years to maintain public order in the face of black kids acting all “gangsta” on the train system. Dude made a horrible horrible mistake, and has to live with Oscar Grant on his conscience the rest of his life. He has to be sent to jail otherwise those kids down below will riot and burn their town again and blame it all yet again on white people.
I feel both ways about this. I’m dubious of Mehserle and I’m dubious of kids who want to run around fighting and acting like fools at night. I feel for Grant’s family and I also feel for Mehserle and I’m glad that when I screw up in my job nobody dies by my hand. I feel a vague sense of outrage at the entrenchment of black poverty and continued racism, especially when it involves cops, who do have really rough jobs and hell yeah I think rioting is about the most stupidly self-destructive reaction we could expect. And I’m really effing glad riots didn’t happen and I think that is something for which Oakland should hold its head high.
There have been demonstrations and what not in support of Oscar Grant. Today, apparently, there will be a rally for Mehserle in Walnut Creek, which if you don’t know is in the dry, hot inland just beyond the Ocean-cooled hills of Oakland. I have lived in different parts of the Bay Area, including Walnut Creek: it is the fault line between the outer fringes of Bay Area liberal orthodoxy and what I can only describe as “frat boys and wealthier rednecks.” So when word gets out that the inland rednecks are rallying for the trigger-happy cop, the reaction from the likes of sfcitizen.com reads:
“Anyone who supports Johannes and our Law Enforcement Officers may attend. This is a peaceful rally to show our support for Johannes and the injustices he is experiencing.”
I donâ€™t know, Iâ€™m not sure which “injustices” weâ€™re talking about here. Killing somebody by mistake, that can put you in prison, right? Is anybody saying that the jury verdict of manslaughter is an injustice? (Obviously, the absurd murder charges* just werenâ€™t going to happen, right? So, what else was there for the jury to choose from?)
Anyway . . . I don’t think I’d call the verdict an “injustice” and I doubt I’d want to attend this rally but dammit, if a few folks out beyond the ocean-cooled hills want to get together and have their own rally for the other party to this awful tragedy, we can snicker at their obviously racist delusions, or we can accept that this is a complicated mess and not merely the simple black-and-white 1960s oppressor-victim narrative that is so precious to Bay Area social-political orthodoxy.
This is 2010. In this day our hearts should be large enough that we can afford compassion not merely for Oscar Grant and his family and friends, for the life cut so suddenly and brutally short, but also for Johannes Mehserle and his family, the other lives that are forever derailed in this stupid tragedy.