Revolution #154, February 1, 2009

The Struggle Sharpens…

“We Are All Oscar Grant!”

“The police are getting away with murder. On the streets they talk about they serve and protect us. They don’t serve and protect us, they kill us!”

— a young protester, January 7

OAKLAND—It’s been more than three weeks since the police murder of Oscar Grant III, and the struggle is still raging: people’s anger is still intense—and there have been further eruptions of protest and much speaking out.

On January 13, Johannes Mehserle, the cop who murdered Oscar, was arrested in Nevada, brought back to Oakland and charged with murder. Although cops are responsible for 100 homicides per year in California, this is the first time anyone can remember a cop being charged with murder for a killing committed while on duty.

FLASH: As we go to press new evidence has surfaced of brutality and cover-up in the police murder of Oscar Grant. Television station KTVU has aired a new cell phone video which shows a police officer (identified as Officer Tony Pirone) delivering a powerful punch to the side of Oscar Grant’s head, knocking him to the ground while Oscar stood motionless against a wall with several other youth. Moments later the cop who punched Oscar kneels on Oscar’s head while Officer Johannes Mehserle fires the fatal shot. Peter Keane, a professor at Golden Gate University Law School, said after viewing the video that it showed “a vicious, unprovoked and inexcusable assault.”  Keane asked, “Why is the other officer not being prosecuted? It was clearly a deliberate, abusive use of force.” 

Despite eyewitness testimony of brutality by the cops on the scene, that they used racial slurs including the “N word” against the youth, and that they confiscated cell phones in an attempt to cover up the incident, no cops other than Mehserle were under investigation by either BART Police or the Alameda County DA prior to the airing of the new video!

The new video can be viewed at  

What was different this time? For one thing, the police execution of Oscar Grant was caught live on video by courageous witnesses who in at least one case refused demands by police to turn over their cameras. The videos which clearly show the cop pulling out his gun and shooting Oscar Grant point blank as Grant lay face down on the ground, with no sign of resistance, were viewed over a million times on YouTube.

But even then, for two weeks the authorities didn’t bring murder charges. The BART police chief got on the TV and said the “evidence was inconclusive.” The media and the police put out all sorts of lies, each one more ridiculous than the last: that the gun went off by itself, that the cop had mistaken his gun for a taser, that the videos, which showed the shooting from several different angles didn’t tell the whole story. It was like the old Richard Pryor routine: “Who are you going to believe: me or your lying eyes?”

It wasn’t until people took to the streets in sustained protest and rebellion that Mehserle was arrested and charged with murder. On January 7, after Oscar’s funeral, anger exploded in righteous rebellion in downtown Oakland that sent shockwaves through the area - shockwaves that have continued as the anger and outrage have erupted in almost daily protests organized by different forces. (see on-line article “The Anger and the Struggle Continues…” at for more on events of past two weeks).

The day after the arrest of Mehserle, nearly 2,000 people marched in front of Oakland City Hall demanding “Justice for Oscar Grant.” People of all nationalities, young and old, took to the streets and marched to the office of Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff who had taken 13 days to charge Mehserle for a murder that was captured on video. After the official rally ended hundreds of protesters blocked traffic at the busiest intersection in downtown for an hour, defying scores of riot police in formation who threatened arrests. Later, windows were smashed at some downtown businesses including Wells Fargo Bank and Jamba Juice, while squads of police in riot gear chased down groups of youth and police helicopters flew overhead. At least 18 people were arrested.

High school students walked out of their classes two weeks in a row, linking events in Gaza to police murder in Oakland. They had to defy threats of school administrators. Several were beaten and arrested. (see on-line article “The Rebels of Oakland High”)

The struggle for Justice for Oscar Grant has accomplished a great deal. Not only have charges been brought against a murdering cop—an all too rare occurrence—but a light has been shined on the intolerable situation faced by Black and Latino youth today. It has challenged the passivity in society where too many people have learned to live with the unacceptable. It has given heart to those who live under the constant threat of police terror. 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.

At the same time, the struggle now is at a point where people need to confront some decisive questions:

Will they accept the epidemic of police murder, where thousands have been killed across the country? Will they accept the bullshit that says this is not built into the very fabric of American society—when within hours of the time when Oscar Grant was shot, Adolph Grimes was killed by the New Orleans police, shot 14 times, 12 in the back, while sitting in a car outside his grandmother’s house, and Robbie Tolan, son of a famed baseball player, was shot and severely wounded by police while he was in his own driveway in a suburb of Houston?

Will they buy the myth that we are now living in a “post-racial” society or one that will smoothly develop in that direction when one in nine young Black men is in jail or prison and that number is growing?

Will they join with the authorities in attacking the youth, preaching that old song and dance about “personal responsibility” when this society offers the youth no future?

Will they confine their activity to the allowed channels of protest—activity that has time and again led nowhere? Will they wait for the system to go through its “due process”? Did that work after the beating of Rodney King, caught on tape and broadcast on the evening news? The cops were arrested, tried and acquitted. Did that work after Sean Bell was killed in a hail of 50 bullets on the day before his wedding? Again the police were arrested, tried, and acquitted? Somehow, whenever the defendant is a cop accused of murdering someone, the prosecutors forget how to try a case.

Will people and the media, including those who consider themselves “liberal,” join in attacking the youth and others who stood up and broke through politics and protest as usual, letting these courageous youth be put in jail for fighting for justice for Oscar Grant? Will people nod their heads when the media uses words like “thugs” and “a mob” to criminalize the youth who took part in the rebellion or when Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums says that those who took part were “no different than somebody today picking up a gun in anger and blowing someone’s brains out.”

Will they join in attacking and threatening Revolution Books which has been targeted for being part of the protests and upholding the rebellion?

We can’t allow ourselves to be played! The murder of Oscar Grant struck a nerve because it concentrates the way youth of color have endured a lifetime of insults and threats from police. Almost everyone has a story, often too painful to tell, of some sudden, often random abuse. An Oakland college student out in the streets fighting for justice for Oscar Grant remembers being six years old and seeing her brother beaten by police. Mothers tell of being afraid when their children go outside that they will be killed by a thug in a blue uniform.

Those who want to stand against oppression need to join with and support the justified outrage of the people who face this systematic brutality and murder. We must stand with the people even when, in courageously standing up against a thousand outrages, their anger and frustration sometimes falls on some wrong targets.

At the same time people need to struggle to understand the nature of the system responsible for all the outrages. The oppression of Black people is deeply woven into the whole economics, history, and society that is capitalist/imperialist America. Throughout history, every time that the people have stood up and shaken the foundations of this system, it has found ways to continue to oppress Black people, often in an even more horrific and grotesque manner. And, just as slavery required the slave patroller, and Jim Crow required the lynch mob to terrorize people and hold them down, this role is now taken up by the police and their systematic and brutal terror.

Oscar Grant was a father, a son, a brother, and a friend. He had hopes and dreams. His life was brutally stolen by a murdering cop. In this country there have been thousands of stolen lives—people killed by the police—over the last ten years. Enough is Enough!

The Whole Damn System Is Guilty.
The People’s Anger is Justified!
Drop the Charges on All the Defendants!

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