From Rodney King to Sean Bell, recent American history has seen far too many examples of police brutality directed against people (usually men) of color. Rarely though, has there been a more chilling, outrageous, seemingly unnecessary instance of abuse than that of Oscar Grant’s killing at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, California on New Year’s Day.
This video is kind of long and the quality is pretty shoddy but by the end you see an unarmed man lying on the ground being shot at point blank range for absolutely no apparent reason.
Given this evidence, the trigger man, Johannes Mehserle, the BART police officer accused of shooting and killing Grant, was arrested at 6:20 p.m. yesterday on a murder charge in Nevada, where he had fled after quitting his BART job rather than answer investigators’ questions. Alameda Country District Attorney Tom Orloff told the Associated Press that he was going for a murder conviction.
“At this point, what I feel the evidence indicates, is an unlawful killing done by an intentional act and from the evidence we have there’s nothing that would mitigate that to something lower than a murder,” Orloff said at a news conference announcing the charge.
Grant found himself at the Fruitvale BART station after he was pulled off the train along with three other young men who were being detained as BART officers searched for suspects in a fight that started at West Oakland BART. In front of hundreds of BART passengers who were halted from reaching their destinations, the unarmed Grant was told to lay on the BART platform with his hands behind his back. Officer Meherle then pulled out his gun, stood over Grant and shot him in the back where the bullet ricocheted and lodged in his lung.
Following the shooting, according to an excellent report in Alternet, BART police tried to confiscate all the videos taken by witnesses. They failed and three clips videos made it to YouTube, where they were viewed hundreds of thousands of times and eventually picked up and played by the news media, bringing the story national attention.
Within days of the killing a grassroots organization was formed, initially on Facebook, The Coalition Against Police Executions (CAPE), and it organized a peaceful rally and memorial at the Fruitvale station. After the memorial, a splinter group broke away and marched several miles to downtown Oakland, where, in an exhibition of the Join CAPE on Facebook for breaking news and for a bevy of ideas on how you can help the campaign combat police brutality coast to coast.
The Gathering For Justice, an intergeneration civil rights organization founded by Harry Belafonte, is also organizing creative actions of solidarity to ask the country to recognize and address a pandemic of police brutality against young people in America today. For info, visit: www.thegatheringforjustice.org
Finally, Racewire has published some ideas on things you can do right now, to help Grant and his family get justice:
1. Digg the story so the national media is more likely to pick it up.
2. Contact BART Director Carole Ward Allen and demand that the officers involved be taken off duty without pay and charged and fully prosecuted; there be an independent investigation of the shooting that includes a review of training and hiring practices; and BART establish an independent residents’ review board for the police. Call her at (510) 464-6095 or email the BART board of directors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Call the BART police to complain about the officers’ conduct and demand immediate action — Internal Affairs: Sgt. 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.