Revolution #153, January 18, 2009

Police Murder Sparks Rebellion in Oakland

People Demand Justice for Oscar Grant!

Oakland, CA. January 1, first day of 2009. 22-year-old Oscar Grant III was murdered in cold blood—shot in the back by a cop as he lay on a BART train platform.

Yet another Black youth killed by the police. But this time in front of dozens of people. And this time captured on cell phones and cameras and quickly blasted around on the Internet.

Police say they had responded to a report of a verbal altercation on the train. The AP news reported: “In grainy cell-phone videos played over and over on the Internet, police officers force an unarmed black man to the ground and hold him face-down on a crowded train platform. Suddenly one of the officers draws his gun and fatally shoots the man in the back—then looks up.” (AP, January 9, 2009)

John Burris, the attorney for Oscar Grant’s family who have filed a 25-million-dollar lawsuit, said witnesses told him that cops taunted the group of youth with racial epithets, including the “n” word. Very few mainstream news reports have mentioned this.

The funeral for Oscar was held six days later, on January 7. That night, decades of pent-up anger at police brutality and outright murder, like the killing of Oscar—exploded onto the streets in righteous rebellion. 250 police tried to contain the hundreds of protesters, attacking with tear gas, charging into the protesters, cordoning off blocks; but people refused to back down, regrouping again and again in angry resistance that went on for hours. Over 100 people were arrested .

Lies and Coverup

As videos of the murder spread on the internet and then to national TV, the system’s machinery of lies, justifications and protecting its armed enforcers immediately sprung into motion.

BART and the Alameda County District Attorney (who could file criminal charges against Johannes Mehserle, the cop who killed Oscar Grant) promised a full investigation. But as we go to press, 11 days after the murder, Mehserle—who was on paid leave until he submitted his resignation on January 7—has not been detained, let alone charged with the murder of Oscar Grant.

BART officials have suggested that Mehserle might have intended to “only” taser Oscar Grant, but pulled out the wrong weapon. What bullshit! That a cop, trained in firearms, would mistake a lightweight plastic taser for his heavy steel automatic weapon. And tasering Grant would have still been a case of police brutality.

Oscar Grant III was an apprentice butcher who worked at an Oakland grocery store and had a four-year-old daughter. His sister Adreena Grant told Revolution, “He took care of my niece. He did what he had to do. He worked. He never pushed nobody away. Maybe go out clubbing every now and then, but he was a good man. Always took care of Mom when she needed help. He would never say no to anybody and it’s messed up because he would not get to see his nephew be born. He died for nothing. He didn’t do no wrong. He was always doing right. If he ran into a homeless person he would give him money, food, whatever he needed. I just want some justice. I want the man [who did this] behind bars, doing 25 to life.”

Grief, Anger, Rebellion

January 7 began with sorrow threaded with anger as hundreds of people packed the funeral for Oscar Grant.

After the funeral, over 500 people protested at the Fruitvale BART station. People sat and stood on the turnstiles holding up homemade signs. After rallying at the station and closing it down, youth of all colors led a march of people of different nationalities, old and young, to downtown. They chanted, “We are all Oscar Grant.” “When the people of Oakland are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!” “When the people of the world are under attack, what do we do? Stand up and fight back!”

A CBS news report posted on described the situation that started about 6:30 pm and went on until around 11 pm: “A dumpster was set on fire, protesters rocked a police car…about ten minutes later we saw a bunch of officers running after someone on a bicycle. 8:09 pm a car was engulfed in flames...5 minutes later vandals attacked a McDonald’s, one hurling a trashcan at the windows.” Some youth are shown in media photos during the night, laying down on their stomachs with their hands behind their backs—in front of lines of cops—dramatizing Oscar Grant’s position when he was murdered. Others stood with signs taped to their backs, “Please don’t shoot.”

In a video posted at a CBS 5 reporter recounts how the pastor at Oscar Grant’s funeral says he understands people’s anger, but urges calm. The video then cuts to a Black man saying, “We tired of calm. That’s that ‘we shall overcome’ stuff over there. We doing something different over here. We taking action.”

The media reported that dozens of cars were burned and businesses had their windows broken. But more than one bystander interviewed that night was focused on the injustice of the murder and its implications, and not on the property damage.

Ken Epstein, a reporter for the Oakland Post told CBS Channel 5: “I was writing a story for the paper about how upset people are and how unjust the killing of Oscar Grant was and my car was being burned up. But at the same time I really understand how outraged people are and I’m outraged myself.”

Thyen Tran, a 24-year-old Vietnamese whose family’s nail salon window was broken, said he understood the anger of the protesters. Referring to the cops who murdered Oscar Grant, he said: “It doesn’t make sense, using brutal force. It doesn’t feel good, because No. 1, I’m a minority, and No. 2, I’m a young kid.” (New York Times, January 8)

In a personal letter to the family of Oscar Grant, Cornelius Hall, whose son Jerrold was killed with a shotgun blast to the back of his head by a BART cop in 1992, wrote: “I understand your pain although I will never know what you feel nor will anyone else. Stay focused in your quest for justice although you may get tired at times.” He then added from his own experience, and that of many other families who have lost loved ones, “BART will try to demonize your son in order to make his image look bad. Hold your head up high with the memory of his love.”

Brutal Enforcers

Emmett Till was killed in 1955 by white racists for the “crime” of whistling at a white woman—when lynching was as common and American as apple pie. Today it is mostly the police—who openly, as the police—carry out brutality and terror against Black youth and Black people in general.

Oscar Grant was a young Black man coming home from celebrating the new year. This was all the excuse the cop needed to end his life execution-style. Maybe Oscar was too loud, too proud, too Black. Maybe he was too calm during the taunts of the police. Or maybe it was for nothing at all.

Like Sean Bell, killed by the NYPD in 2006, while out celebrating before his wedding day.

On the eve of the Obama inauguration, there is all this talk about a so-called “post-racial America,” how this country, with its racist past, has now been “redeemed.” But in fact, these continuing police murders show just the opposite—that the systematic oppression of Black people is so deep and so integral to the U.S. system of capitalism that the only way it can be uprooted is through a revolution that gets rid of this system and brings into being an entirely different and far better socialist system as a part of emancipating all of humanity. This is a huge and extremely important subject that is gone into in depth in the special issue of Revolution newspaper #144: “The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System, and the Revolution We Need” (available at

And for those who try to argue that these murders are an “aberration”—they need to confront the fact that there is in fact a real epidemic of police murder of Black youth in cities all across this country.

Adolph Grimes is another Black youth who didn’t live past the first day of 2009—shot and killed by the New Orleans police in the early morning hours of January 1. 22-year-old Grimes had been living in Houston since Katrina and was back visiting family for the New Year’s holiday. He was sitting in a parked car outside his grandmother’s house when plain-clothes police shot him 14 times, 12 in the back (according to the New Orleans coroner).

Powerful resistance can change the equation in society where too many people accept the unacceptable. It can give heart to those put under a constant death sentence by this verdict. It can call forth many more people to join in taking this on. And it can be a powerful force in building a revolutionary movement aimed at getting rid of this murderous system.




Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond