On January 1, 2009 Oscar Grant was murdered by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop Johannes Mehserle. The killing of Grant was captured on cell phone videos by other passengers on the train. It is important to note that the police attempted to collect all the cell phones that had recorded the incident, as “evidence.” In fact, it was a part of a failed attempt to cover-up the murder. We are lucky that not everyone was slavishly obedient to police demands of their personal property. The videos were posted on the Internet and broadcast on TV news making it crystal clear what had happened. The people were justifiably angry. This was not a time for the pacifist gibberish about loving your enemy.
Almost 1,000 folks came to the funeral for Grant in Hayward on January 7 and over 700 rallied at the Fruitvale BART station to demand “Justice for Oscar Grant”. Following the rally many of the demonstrators marched to downtown Oakland.
This was not the first time a BART cop has killed an unarmed citizen: Back in 1992 Jerrold Hall, an African American youth, was killed at the Hayward station by BART cop Fred Crabtree [who was white]. Hall was shot in the back in broad daylight. Crabtree got away scot-free. At 4 a.m. May 28, 2001 Bruce Seward, a car salesman, was shot and killed at the Hayward BART. This African American citizen was clearly going through a severe psychological crisis, as he was found naked when confronted and killed by BART cop David Bentancourt. One would think in a decent society “public servants” would be prohibited from killing mentally ill people for being mentally ill. Bentancourt walked.
Here is something you will never read in the “mainstream press”: the activities of those who were protesting the murder of Oscar Grant forced the authorities to arrest BART cop Johannes Mehserle on a fugitive warrant and charge him with murder. All the other BART police have walked.
The Role of the Corporate Media and the Police
After the January 7, 2009 rally, the corporate media went into full effect. They reported that over 300 businesses were destroyed and that hundreds went crazy in the streets. These reports were grossly exaggerated. The actual damage: about 40 store windows were smashed, a couple of dozen garbage cans thrown in the streets, and significant damage to a few vehicles. Hardly the end of human civilization. Nevertheless, the indiscriminate nature of some of the property destruction did not help our cause and made it easier for media to depict the demonstrators as psychos and sociopaths. Thus the people who oppose this wanton murder are turned into their opposite in the minds of people who know little of the struggle except what they see on the TV. When the “mainstream” media reports inaccurate information or outright lies they are not making a mistake. The role of the corporate media is to create and regenerate false-consciousness.
In regards to the police, media loyally promotes the necessary illusions that the police maintain law and order in the interests of all. “Serve and Protect” is the motto of police departments throughout the country. But who did the police “Serve and Protect” by murdering Oscar Grant? Certainly not the public.
To place this senseless murder in its proper social context it is useful to explain what kind of society we live in and how it operates. We live in a capitalist society. The big bosses, bankers and landlords constitute the ruling class in this society. As such they are a tiny minority of the population. Working people, the overwhelming majority of the population, own very little of consequence while the capitalists own the lions’ share of the national wealth. This is why the capitalists must maintain a repressive state apparatus, i.e. the army, police and prisons, to impose their will on society.
The role of the police, as a part of the state, is to “serve and protect” the capitalist class and their interests.
On December 6, 2008 in the district of Exarchia in Athens, Greece a 15 year old student, Alexandros Grigoropoulos, was murdered in cold blood — shot by a police officer. Spontaneous resistance, including a General Strike, exploded in Athens and Salonika, spreading to the rest of Greece. Compare this to demonstrations and unrest that have occurred here after the killing of Oscar Grant. Why the difference? The level of social awareness and solidarity, class consciousness, and regard for human life are obviously higher among the Greek working people. At this moment in history our Greek brothers and sisters are better organized that we are, which is reflected in their massive resistance. This, of course, is subject to change.
Everything the BART officials did revealed a desire to cover-up the killing of Oscar Grant. First they refused to release the cop’s name. they neglected to interrogate the officer. Then district attorney Tom Orloff refused to meet with Black clergy and politicians about the case. By every utterance and action made by these officials it appeared that business as usual was the order of the day, until the protesters made it clear that they would raise the social and economic cost of injustice.
The capitalists will never give up anything unless they fear losing everything.