By Julianne Malveaux
Patrick Lynch, do you remember Oscar Grant? And if you do, Mr. “leader” of the New York Police Department Union, why do you pretend not to understand the reaction that many African American people have to the police killing of Black men? The official reaction to those killings and the arrogance with which many police officers (read Darren Wilson in Ferguson) respond to the fact that they have snuffed out a life.
If you don’t remember Oscar Grant, Mr. Lynch, I do. He was executed on the first day of the same month that President Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, ordered from a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train in Oakland, Calif., and compliantly sitting on the platform when he and a group of friends were roughed up, and he was shot. Why? Because his murderer, Johannes Mehserle, said he mistook his Glock gun (with a weight of at least 28 ounces and perhaps as many as 38) for a Taser (which weighs seven ounces).
Just days after the killing, on Jan. 6, 2009, the San Francisco Chronicle described this fiction as “nonsense,” not only because firing a Taser has an entirely different protocol than firing a Glock, but also as noted by The Chronicle a Taser has to be turned on and off, and a Glock does not. Furthermore, Mesherle had used his Taser earlier in the same evening he killed Oscar Grant. He should have known the difference.
I think of Oscar Grant because I spent part of my end-year holiday in San Francisco and Oakland visiting my mom and family. I think of him because I have two nephews, 31 and 28, who regularly rode BART and had life threatening encounters with the BART police. I don’t think of Oscar Grant because of Michael Brown or Eric Garner, because I think of him every January 1. When we wish each other “Happy New Year,” I am bitterly reminded that he won’t have one. Oscar Grant was executed six years ago, and not much has changed in six years, 60 years or two centuries.
Where did the murderer Johannes Mehserle get his police training? In a crackerjack box or an amusement park? Oscar Grant paid the ultimate price, and his family, his baby daughter, paid the price for Johannes Mehserle’s ignorance and murderous actions. Meanwhile, Johannes Mehserle has been able to move through his life, often with the help and support of “law enforcement” agencies.
Johannes Mehserle was so arrogant that he refused to appear at an investigative meeting ordered by his superiors in early January 2009. He sent his lawyer instead and then immediately resigned from BART. It took nearly a month for the Oakland Police Department to arrest Mehserle. His crime was so egregious, his conflicting descriptions of it so glaring, that a judge set his bail at $3 million. He spent 11 months in jail before he was tried in Los Angeles, and convicted of involuntary manslaughter, not murder. He was sentenced to a scant two years and served a meager 11 months in jail before he was released.
Years later, Oscar Grant’s family and the several friends who were also brutally beaten received about $2.8 million in a settlement from a lawsuit. Then, Johannes Mehserle had the temerity to appeal his conviction, with his attorney’s arguing, “All he did was make a mistake.” Fortunately, the State Supreme Court rejected his appeal.
The Mehserle attorneys showed as much a disregard for Black life as the Mehserle execution did. Johannes Mehserle wanted to clear his record. What about Oscar Grant’s life? Patrick Lynch asked that New York protests stop to “respect” the lives of New York police officers so callously terminated. With all due respect and with sorrow and horror, one might ask who ever stopped, paused, considered the life of Oscar Grant.
Mehserle and his team would argue that he is “remorseful” for killing Oscar Grant. He sobbed his way through his testimony in the trial that resulted in his conviction, but one might wonder whether his tears were genuine or designed to lower his sentence. The fact that he appealed his conviction suggests that his remorse, if he had any, was limited.
Johannes Mehserle had the temerity to appeal his conviction, just as some in the New York Police Department had the temerity to turn their backs on their boss, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Temerity can be described as audacity, boldness, nerve, gall, and impudence. Or it can be described as a simple indifference to Black life. That’s why it must be asserted that #Blacklivesmatter.
The audacity of explanations, not the murders of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and so many others explains some of the tension between African Americans and “law enforcement.” You see, while many police perceive most African Americans as potential criminals, many African Americans recognize police officers as potential Johannes Mesherle or Darren Wilson. If Patrick Lynch and his ilk want to stop the tension, perhaps they ought to eliminate their audacious disregard for Black life.
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington, D.C.