Revolution #207, July 18, 2010
Involuntary Manslaughter: NOT Acceptable!
The whole damn system is GUILTY!
We demand justice for Oscar Grant!
The police shooting of Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old Black man, was a cold-blooded murder. It was a towering crime. When the jury delivered a verdict of involuntary manslaughter in the trial of former BART cop Johannes Mehserle, after only about six hours of deliberation, it amounted to a message to cops everywhere that they can kill and get away with it. And this verdict told the people that when someone is gunned down by police, their life is worth nothing to the system, that a slap on the wrist is the most that the system will deliver to a murdering cop.
Cephus Johnson, Oscar’s uncle told the press, “We as a family have been slapped in the face by this system that has denied us the right to true justice. We truly do not blame the jury, but we blame this system.”
In reaching the verdict it did, the jury was required to first rule out second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, both of which legally mean that the killing of Oscar was an unjustified, intentional killing of a human being. Involuntary manslaughter is a much lesser offense, and carries a much lighter sentence. It means that there was no bad intent involved, just “negligence.”
According to some attorneys, when the judge sentences Mehserle, probably in September, there is a wide range of possible sentences—from many years, to the possibility Mehserle could simply be put on probation and serve almost no time in jail at all. The sentencing is shaping up as one further juncture in the battle for justice for Oscar.
As word of the outrageous verdict spread, over 1,500 people gathered in determined protest in the heart of downtown Oakland, in the face of police state-like repression. The protest lasted well into the night, with police arresting over 80 people.
It Was Police Murder
Ron Dellums, the mayor of Oakland, along with many other “authorities,” went to great lengths to try to prevent, and prepare to viciously suppress, any expressions of outrage (in connection with the now added insult of the verdict) revealing yet again and very clearly what their concerns and priorities are, and are not, and what and whom they really represent and act on behalf of.
Why is it that they are NOT after all really concerned about and preoccupied with the outrageous stealing of a precious life through a wanton act of...yes, MURDER, and with the further outrage and insult of a totally unjust verdict in regard to this, which denies this murder, slaps the family and many others—all people who are tired of oppression and care about justice—in the face and in effect says the life taken is not precious but worthless.
Why are Mr. Dellums and all such types—and those higher up for whom Mr. Dellums and the like are in fact flunkies—much more concerned about, and really preoccupied with, preventing people from righteously expressing their outrage, and with viciously repressing them if they dare to do so?!
What does this tell us about them and the system they act on behalf of and enforce?
And how much more do we need to see of this system before we decide we have had enough of it, and work with everything we have to build a movement for revolution to get rid of it, and put something in its place that would value the lives of the millions of people like the one wantonly murdered and would actually bring justice?
“The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world…when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness…those days must be GONE. And they CAN be.”
from the Message and Call from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA,
Millions saw the videos on TV and on the Internet. Millions saw that from the beginning, the cops were the ones who attacked Oscar and his friends. Millions saw that detained, lying face down, putting his hands behind his back while one cop kneeled on his neck, Oscar was shot in the back. Cold-blooded murder, a totally unjustified and brutal act.
Let’s tell the truth—this system lets cops get away with brutality and murder every single day. While at least 100 people are killed by cops in California alone each year, no cop in at least the last 15 years before Mehserle has even been brought to trial on murder charges stemming from an on-duty killing. Police harass, brutalize and murder youth in the streets of the inner cities—over and over again—and then they spit out their maddening insults, insisting that this is “justified,” as if these youth are not human beings, have no right to live, deserve no respect and no future.
Cops are the enforcers of a system that is hell for the people, and the system protects its cops—including when they murder people completely without legal justification.
Many people think that if the laws of this system were applied fairly, there could be justice. But everything about the Oscar Grant case points to how this is not true. The truth is that the special treatment of cops is embedded in the law itself; it is not in opposition to the law. One of Mehserle’s defense attorneys let a little of the truth out in court: “We as a society have decided police officers are different,” … “We give them guns and we tell them to use those guns.” If you read the judge’s instructions to the jury it is very clear that embedded in the law (at least as applied in this case by this judge) is a whole level of protection for cops. Just one example: the standard for criminal negligence. The jury needed to find that Mehserle violated this standard to convict him of involuntary manslaughter. The standard is that 1) he acts in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury and 2) a reasonable peace officer would have known that acting in that way would create such a risk. But “a reasonable peace officer” is part of a whole system which is inherently unjust and which is enforced by these “reasonable peace officers”—supporting and defending all of the oppression of this system is required of the cops—and backed by law.
This is the fundamental reason why it was not the law but the outcry and protest of the people, in many different ways, including the rebellion in downtown Oakland on January 7, 2009, that forced the system to arrest and bring murder charges against Mehserle. It was not that the system worked in this case—it was that people protested and fought for justice. This system of justice—and these laws—reflect and enforce the basic economic and social relations in this society. The law fundamentally enforces a system of inequality, domination, and exploitation, including the oppression and subjugation of Black people, and “legitimizes” the violence the police use to keep people down and maintain the whole set-up. This is why people are preyed on and killed by police every day in this country.
But that is only part of the picture. It is not just that the law by its very nature is deeply embedded with protection for police and the role they play. Even beyond that, police routinely violate the rules and laws that they are supposed to follow—and are backed up by every avenue of the system. How many people have been shot in the back by police, or nearly beaten to death like Rodney King, and it is upheld by the legal system, and the victims of police brutality and murder vilified and blamed by the courts and the media, which automatically jumps to the defense of the police?
All of this—the way police brutality is protected by law, the way it is defended by the system whether legal or not, the way the system mobilizes the media and all kinds of formal and informal social and political networks—points to the fact that what we are up against is a whole system that enforces and justifies police murder in all kinds of ways, that suppresses and demonizes not only the victims of police brutality but everyone who steps forward to fight for justice.
It isn’t just one bad cop, one bad judge, one bad jury. We are up against a whole system of injustice. It is this system that has got us in the situation we’re in today, and keeps us there. And it is through revolution to get rid of this system that we ourselves can bring a much better system into being.
There Is No Such Thing as “Outsiders” in the Struggle Against Oppression
As the trial neared its conclusion, there was a multi-pronged, and full-scale assault on the people. The police launched “Operation Verdict,” mobilizing over 1,000 police from all over northern California to come to Oakland. They announced that over 20,000 National Guard were on reserve. The police staged a highly publicized practice “riot” in the Port of Oakland. They set up a hotline for “tips, rumors and information” relating to protests or “potential problems” after the verdict. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums met with non-profit groups, urging them to inoculate their base against “outside agitators.” Ministers and non-profit organizations called for “peace” and denounced any who refused to toe the line. Police went around to merchants in key neighborhoods in Oakland, putting pressure on them to close down at the time of the verdict, threatening that police would not be able to protect them from “rioters.” The media highlighted day after day the fact that merchants in downtown Oakland and other neighborhoods were putting boards over their windows.
As the verdict drew near and it became clear to many that most likely the system was going to let Mehserle off with at most a slap on the wrist, the system pulled out all stops to foster an atmosphere and political polarization broadly in society that the problem was the struggle of the people against the police murder of Oscar Grant, and that the solution was police, snitch networks, and more police.
When the verdict was about to come down, city officials, the media and police blanketed the airwaves and went door-to-door downtown telling people working there to leave the area as soon as the verdict was announced. In the late afternoon, as word of the verdict spread, office buildings started to close, and a massive traffic jam resulted as an exodus of vehicles clogged all arteries radiating out from the city’s center. And an army of riot cops moved in, bristling with crowd control weaponry, a sea of blue uniforms, shiny plastic, and black metal. More surrounded the area in cars, vans, motorcycles, ATVs, armored trucks, and even trailers with horses inside.
In the face of this repression, over 1,500 people came with courage and defiance to protest a verdict they saw as clearly wrong. At a speakout at 14th and Broadway, they expressed their outrage. Many made the connection that the “involuntary manslaughter” verdict was a statement that the life of a Black man was worthless in the eyes of the system. One youth denounced the system and said, “cops murdered somebody today and we don’t even know his name!” He challenged the crowd, “What are you going to do to fight for justice tomorrow?” Another Black youth held up a picture of Oscar Grant and said, “He looks like me!”
Speaker after speaker from the crowd talked about the epidemic of police brutality. Homemade signs held by protesters showed the faces of many victims of police murder.
Among those in the crowd, and from the speaker’s platform, people were wrestling with how to understand and act on the fact that for once a cop who killed a young Black man was convicted of anything. Oakland attorney John Burris spoke to this on Democracy Now: “I and my long history being involved in police matters since 1979 and well over 30 homicides involving the police, have never had a case where an officer was convicted of any crime against an African-American male. So in that sense, it is a small victory. But it does not in and of itself fairly and accurately represent that the system works. But it cannot work in a situation where a person is killed with his hands behind his back, with an officer over him, claiming that he has seen something and that becomes an involuntary manslaughter.” (7/9/10).
The crowd downtown spread out over several blocks—and people clearly wanted to act, to speak out, to march, but they were hemmed in on all sides by large numbers of police, sometimes five rows deep. As night fell police announced the gathering an “unlawful assembly,” reading an official warning that people would be arrested and subject to possible great injury if they remained.
But people did not leave, and courageously stood their ground, refusing to only have a speak-out rally and go home, accepting this injustice. Police reacted viciously. A retired school principal was hit on the head with a baton and taken to jail. A prominent civil rights attorney was arrested. Tall Black youth were targeted and thrown to the ground and beaten. Many times the police would just charge into the crowd and grab someone. According to police, 83 people were arrested. Many of them were beaten, and several required hospitalization. And yet, people still refused to accept the verdict, and the protest lasted into the night.
In the aftermath, most mainstream media accounts of the protest fixated on minor property damage, and ignored or justified the massive police brutality. And Oakland’s Mayor Ron Dellums denounced the protesters as anarchists and “outsiders,” charges that were quickly echoed across the airwaves, including with glee by Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck at Fox “News.”
Here it must be pointed out that with his “outside agitator” attack, Mayor Dellums was plagiarizing Bull Connor, Lester Maddox, George Wallace, and the whole collection of segregationist, KKK politicians in the South, when they denounced young people from the North—whites and Blacks—who risked and sometimes gave their lives as Freedom Riders integrating bus stations and lunch counters in the South, as “outside agitators.”
There are no “outsiders” in the struggle against oppression. Then or now. It is right for everyone who hates this outrage to join in the struggle—no matter where they come from, their nationality, or background. It is right to demand and fight for justice—and against oppression.
Those who are attacking the courageous people who came out to protest this unjust verdict, who slander, beat and arrest them, and who direct and justify the whole operation—they are on the side of injustice.
It’s as simple and basic as that.
This Verdict is Unacceptable
The system delivered its verdict, a slap on the wrist to Johannes Mehserle. It mobilized its armies of cops, its liars in the media, its networks of politicians, ministers, non-profits and snitches to stifle and suppress the people. It is heartening that in the face of all that people took to the streets with courage and determination, and gave voice to the bitter anger of many, many more, in Oakland and beyond.
It is critical that the system not be allowed to carry out crimes like this and get away with them. And at the same time, people need to develop their capacity to wage determined struggle, and their organization—and build this resistance as part of building a movement for revolution.
And this struggle is not over.
The system cannot be allowed to just crush people, murder them, and get away with it. And especially not in this case, with so many watching and so much at stake. In the face of this verdict, people must find ways to continue and intensify the political struggle for justice for Oscar Grant. And against the whole damn system!
Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution!
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