What can I do?
By Chela Simone
As I watched and re-watched the footage of Oscar Grant being shot in the back on the BART platform By Officer Johannes Mehserle on Jan 1 2009. It shook me to my core, knowing that my 14-year-old cousin exits that same station everyday. Knowing that In my beautiful city of Oakland, another cop murdered yet another unarmed man. Knowing that they still “hunt” us.
Oakland California my birthplace, I spent most of my life in and out of the corridors of the Bay Area. Here in Oakland being young and black is like a golden ticket for the police harassment “rite of passage”, and depending on how you respond to this initiation will determine when you catch your first case. I felt betrayed by a system that allows this to happen and continue to happen. I felt sad for both families realizing that Mehserles’ first son was born within days of executing Oscar, I felt sorry for Oscars’ child that will never have the luxury of a fathers guidance; for the families that were, are, and will continue to be affected by Americas’ constant disregard for life. All color aside we are a species of being on a planet that is bleeding into our oceans. With that said.
What can I do?
The horrors of police terrorism are no “over active paranoia’ for the young and black in Oakland. It is real life. The Oakland Riders, were a local police gang, this is not some myth on the Internet or a story I overheard drinking expensive cocktails at some fancy bar… no, I met one of the Riders personally. A day that would change my ideas of the “Officers of these Laws’ forever.
My 16th summer, my best friends and I sat on the stoop talking about “teenage stuff”. Officer Vasquez
Officer Vasquez’s mugshot.
pulled up in front of the building in his patrol car and demanded we ” go the fuck inside”. We were both shocked and confused, the area was infamous for drug activity, but it was the middle of the afternoon and we lived in the house we sat in front of. We ignored his warning, laughing at him defiantly. He scowled at us and before he drove away he said, “I’ll get you bitches”.
At 16 I had no idea the lengths this officer would go to make us pay for not following his command. One week later my best friend walked into the corner store. Officer Vasquez followed her in and with out provocation he grabbed her arm, slammed her into the display case, cleared a counter with her face, slammed her on to the ground and arrested her for possession of crack cocaine. She to this day has never touched a crack rock, let alone sold one. The young man accompanying her to the store tried to intervene and was also arrested for possession of crack cocaine and resisting arrest. Since they were 18 they where sent to adult processing. Both of them were college students and relatively mild mannered kids with no priors or otherwise. Lucky for them, they were released and all charges were dropped. But not after spending the weekend in jail. Welcome to Oakland.
I was the one with the big mouth, I thought I knew it all, I could quote laws and championed myself savvy when it came to knowing my rights. That would be until the day Vasquez pulled up next to me while I walked home from school alone. I panicked when he told me to “get in the fucking car”. Should I run? from a cop that had just beat and arrested two of my friends for sitting on the porch?
After Vasquez explained to me that he could, “fuck me, kill me and leave me in a dumpster, and no one would ever know”. His message became very clear to me. He was the boss. I never called the police, I never told my mother, I told a few friends in passing but it was only swallowed by the hum of all the other stories. Besides who would believe us anyway? We were just young black kids from Oakland.
Fast forward to 2004. Watching the evening news and I see his face, on my TV. My hands began to sweat I feel the same panic that I had felt years before. I rush to the phone to call my best friend. She cannot remember his face but she can remember his name. The once tyrannical Rider, Officer Vasquez was now a fugitive. “Breaking News” to those that do not frequent the inner city boundaries. But to me and at least 119 of the individual victims of The Riders, who were falsely arrested, had drugs planted on them, were subjected to excessive force, or went to jail/prison for as many as 5 years, knew this was real, Oscar knew this too. No surprise that The Rider Trial ended with jurors acquitting the officers of eight charges and deadlocked on the remaining 27. Even less surprising the officers wanted their jobs back, “the same shift and everything,”
I watched the execution again, you can hear the 22-year-old father, Oscar Grant scream, “you shot me and I didn’t do anything”. I watch it again. Oscar reaches up from the platform for an officer to help him and they cuff him. He is shot and they cuff him. I want Mehserle to be some evil monster that hated black people, but I can’t be sure of that… I am sure he is a 28-year-old man who made a horrible mistake; being caught on film behaving abusively and recklessly. I can only guess that in his mind, he was doing his job. The organization he works for, has no problem executing the weak, the poor and the under represented, whatever color you happen to be at the time. To Mehserle cuffing a man that had been shot in the back was nothing more than procedure, however inhumane it may seem to a civilian.
What can I do?
I watched again, I felt helpless. Felt like I needed to do something, or break something, instead I called fellow musician Azeem and asked him to record a song with me. We made “Shut em Down” a spin off of Lupe Fiasco’s “Dumb it Down’. I hosted a few benefits, one for political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal’s birthday and book release party were Angela Davis and Lynne Stewart spoke on the injustice system.
(left to right) Kulwa, Adimu, Jack Bryson, Angela Davis, Minister of Information JR, Chela Simone, Ambassador Franco, Nakiya and Mistah F.A.B
That is where I met Jack Bryson the father of Jackie Bryson, the young man on the platform with Oscar the night he was killed. He wanted Oakland’s support to get Mehserle charged. His sincere concern with bringing the shooter to trial reminded me that I could easily be Jack and I wanted to help.
Later that night a group of us lamented over memories of more cop stories. The time when they beat up Chris so bad they had to call his mom, “cause he might not make it”. When they shot unarmed Jody Mack Woodfox, a 27-year-old African American man, after a traffic stop in 2008. Not only was Woodfox unarmed, but a preliminary autopsy revealed that he was shot “numerous times” in his back from approximately 25 feet away, The “shooter” Officer Hector Jimenez, killed Jody Woodfox in July after having killed Andrew Moppin by shooting him in the back eight times on New Year’s Eve. Casper Banjo shot by OPD with a high-powered rifle through the heart in the parking lot of the police station in 2008. In 2006 a twenty-six year old African American man standing on a street corner in his neighborhood talking with friends. Two Oakland police officers approached the group of men and began to harass them and search them without probable cause. He was knocked over a fence by one of the officers and is now permanently paralyzed.
Gary King Jr. by shot in the back by OPD in 2007
Twenty year-old Gary King Jr. by shot in the back in 2007. Seventeen year-old Ameir Rollins paralyzed in 2006. Nineteen year-old Joshua Russell, murdered in 2002 all by Sergeant Pat Gonzalez who happens to be, the fifth officer shot and wounded in the events of March 21st, 2009 which left
Lovelle Mixon and four Oakland police officers dead. I found no peace in these discoveries, I only found myself angry, sad and uncomfortable with the situation I was witnessing.
I need to do something, what can I do?
I followed the Grant/Mehserle case in the news, in blogs, on youtube, by word of mouth. It took 12 days to call for charges on Officer Mehserle, who fled the state and was found in Nevada. Ron Dellums waited 7 days to make a statement to the City of Oakland. I was disappointed that someone that takes the stance that he is “for the people”, did nothing for the people, until he was faced with angry citizens. We needed someone to at the very least say that there would not be another young person murdered by the same organization created to “protect and serve”. Instead we were faced with BART saying that there was no “official” tape, Dellums silence and all this anger. The Oakland riots were a valid reaction. I hate to see my city destroyed, but I understand the sentiment, a legitimate response to an extreme situation. The people are not “just crazy’, Police “hunt’ us. That is a reason to demonstrate, to defy these oppressions. Everyone deals with anger and grief differently, opportunists take advantage of the moment to do what they do best.. I called my sister in New York, she had never heard of Oscar Grant. I was disappointed again.
After hearing they where moving the trial to Los Angles just like everyone else, I thought “that is where the cops that beat up Rodney King got off”. I hoped that it wouldn’t happen again. I let Oscar, fade from my memory, I found other “ills of men” to occupy my disgust like the Eleven Oakland Police Department officers, including two sergeants that were terminated for their involvement in the falsification of search warrant affidavits, drug tests and numerous criminal cases that were called into question due to the improper search warrants and untruthful statements. All of which happen to be going on at the exact time we watched the outcry in the streets of Oakland in honor of Oscar Grant, in honor of every one that knows the subtle trickle of oppression in our everyday lives. The illness of racism that hasn’t been erased from the human consciousness, call it “Muscle Memory”, if you will, all too apparent in the mixed reaction of the community to Lovell Mixion. Then BP drilled a hole in the earth. (To be continued)
What Can I Do?
Three weeks ago I got a call from a journalist from Oakland that alerted me to available seats in the court, and with no prompting and no money I found my self driving down the 5 with very mixed emotions about what I would find when I got there. I had just written my first piece for sfbayview and I was looking for a story with teeth. This story would prove to be a huge bite, one that would take a chunk out of my heart.
I needed to see it first hand. I wanted to know that they really tried this case. It wasn’t about Oscar alone. It was the one of the biggest cases in the last decade. A cop was on trial for murder. After all of the men wronged they were finally going to try one for murder. I wasn’t sure I was even angry about Oscar any more. I wasn’t sure Meserle shot him on purpose despite my need to find a place to lay blame. What a heavy load for the “lone gunman”. At that point I was not thinking about facts or video, it was about justice for all of them. I was no longer “objective”.
I made it into the courtroom after a day of being denied access during 4 separate breaks, the day Dominice lied so poorly on the stand that one of the jurors shook his head in disbelief, I watched Perone arrogantly throw Mehserle “under a bus.” I saw Jackie testify to being handcuffed for over 5 hours, in a holding cell where Pirone came to kick up his feet and smirk at him. I heard the court read transcripts with an antagonistically ignorant ebonic overtone, in an attempt to eclipse the relevancy of Bryson’s testimony. I watched Mehserle cry, I watched Oscars’ mother cry, I heard Mehserle say he didn’t mean to shoot him. I watched Mehserle get caught in a few lies. I watch the court remove 5 young black males from the public seats for various “reasons” some substantiated some not. I watch the seats refill with defense attorneys externs.
They played the tape in the court room so many times, I didn’t hear the “pop”.
I began to notice so many things I never saw before.
Like Oscar was on the phone and he took a picture.
Pirone knee Oscar in the face, 250 pounds on his neck.
Mehserle never called for an ambulance. Why not? There is a human dying.
Mehserles’ reaction after he shot him. He looks shocked.
I look to the jury, no black faces.
Can they even fathom how important this is to so many people that are so misinformed about the details of this case, but these same people know it happens all the time…
How common the abuse? How uncommon it is for it to be an officer as a defendant in a murder trial?
My observation is Mehserle’s act alone was not motivated by racism, Pirone is a bully, Domenici isn’t very good at lying and the orchestration of the “powers that be” is fine tuned and vicious.
I believe that some police are desensitized to the strategic warfare going on in specific communities. And those that aren’t desensitized and can see what it is, just go along with it because that’s the job a paycheck and that is what they are “supposed” to do.
I believe that, officers are subconsciously trained to be aggressive toward a “suspected criminal”. Just so happens, the suspects are mostly brown/black people. The All Point Bulletins (APB) that go out to all officers, everyday describe just about every Black or Hispanic Male that lives here between the ages of 16 -35, 5-7feet, 100-250 lbs walking or driving. I don’t think it is some grand conspiracy amongst the police force alone, it’s an age old doctrine that has never changed. It is just subtler and better protected by its founders. I don’t even think some of these cops recognize the scale of this experiment. They just follow orders, which protects them when they don’t follow laws.
Mehserle contended in the preliminary trial that Mehserle pulled his gun and shot Oscar because Oscar was resisting and “thought he was going for a gun”.
From what witnesses observed, Oscar was not resisting. Pirone was being an over zealous cop, and was using excessive force. Mehserle wasn’t thinking, just reacting, pulled a gun and shot him.
I do believe it was “muscle memory”, the four steps he went thru to remove his gun from his holster were all involuntary. He was drilled to remove that gun over and over. If he hesitates for one moment he could be dead. He may have even meant to reach for his taser but his training was to pull his gun and fire. And he did.
Lets say for a moment Mehserle actually did pull out that taser and tase him, after he was subdued. It was still excessive force, and during this entire act the idea never crossed his mind. He knew that he could tase Oscar and even if it was wrong and on tape and he wasn’t in fear of going to jail for it, or even being harshly punished for that matter. In his mind, at that moment, it was not wrong to watch Pirone unjustly beat him, he could then tase him, and take him to jail, all based on a description of a suspect in a fight. Which is still of course not confirmed to be Oscar Grant.
It is demonstrated over and over again, once you are a suspect, police can intimidate you, terrorize you, be aggressive and violent if they want to, they can beat you, tase you and then arrest you for resisting this terror. The only problem with this arrest is, he didn’t kill him with his hands, a nightstick or his taser, he shot him with his gun and you have to explain that.
Now before the, “I was just going to tase him. I didn’t know it was a gun”, defense. Mehserle said in preliminary trials that Grant was resisting. Now after reviewing tapes, even Mehserle said Oscar “appears to be complying”. Mehserle also said he” thought Grant was going for a gun”, so Mehserle was going to “tase” Grant?
Why would you tase a man with his finger on a “trigger”? Couldn’t his hands constrict and discharge a bullet?
If a cop sees a suspect going for a gun…. Wouldn’t the officer pull his weapon? Aren’t officers trained to match a weapon with deadly force?
Terry Foreman, the officer Mehserle asked for the morning of the shooting when he was taken to BART police headquarters at Lake Merritt testified, Mehserle “would say, out of nowhere, ‘I thought he had a gun,’ and start crying.”
So which is it?
I am confused.
He was resisting and you were going to tase him and accidently shot him
- or -
He was reaching for a gun and you pulled your weapon and shot him.
These two scenarios are vastly different.
Can’t be both.
And I am mad about that. I am angry about all the smoke and mirrors, the deception, the maze of words, and expert opinions that amount to nothing more than another lie.
Mehserle shot him on tape and it took days, a riot and three investigations to bring him up on changes.
He switched his story up and got a whole team of cops and experts to lie for him. And they aren’t even good lies.
Is that racist? NO, the acts themselves are not. Race played an obvious part when he was detained by Pirone.
It is not a “black persons” myth. Police harass black and brown people. Just take a look at the jails.
But no his actions where not motivated by race, instead by conditioning, which is even more deadly, from every angle. Until people of all color acknowledge that even with a Black President the race relations in this country are deplorable, then we are far from abandoning this ignorance . Just watch that cop punch that young woman in the face in Seattle to see how civil these servants are.
Is this justice? NOT even close. We know he shot him. It’s on TAPE, a lot of tapes. a lot of angles. Why?? Because people saw something unjust going on BEFORE he got shot. Excessive Force.
These young men were celebrating one more year of life, and found themselves being initiated into black manhood in Oakland. Sitting against the wall with their hands up watching a ritual that has been carried out for so many generations. It was the same old same, ruff up a couple a cats cite em” out and send em’ home. Write a few up and send em’ off to jail. All in a good nights work, but that night some thing went wrong.
The Expert witness Greg Meyers said Johannes Mehserle did not show excessive use of force, it could be considered coincidental that he said the same thing when he testified for the officers that beat Rodney King, or it could be the estimated 30k he commands for his performance.
On June 30th The Judge took Murder 1 off the table. The jury in People, Vs. Mehserle will chose from 2nd Degree Murder, Voluntary Manslaughter or Involuntary Manslaughter.
It’s not the worst thing that could happen. We all dread the worst.
Closing statements on Friday July 2, 2010, and then we wait.
What can we do?
In the dawn of a verdict every one is operating on the presumption that Oakland is going to “burn down”. That people will lose there lives and go to jail. Well, as illustrated above that is already happening. Some will, some will choose different methods, others like Oscar will have no choice.
The Oakland police have demonstrated their intimidation tactics in court on the street and now LIVE on the evening news. A plan is in place to call for “Mutual Aid”, which will bring hundreds of officers from Northern California to Oakland. Twenty-one thousand National Guard will be on standby, all backed by Mr. “for the people” Ron Dellums, himself. Dellums said “we will not tolerate destruction or violence”, if he would have added “unless it is towards civilians” to that statement, it would be a more honest assessment of what they are foreshadowing. Just more of the same.
Yes we need to stand together, and be objective in our approach. Burn it down –or- meet them on their playground, cry, hide, all are honest reactions. We are all wired differently, a painter can paint it, a writer can write it, a singer can sing it, Just DO something.
Not every one is readied for the battleground. Just Do something
To assume we just want to act a fool is another form of “profiling” , but we can talk about that later.
I say, do whatever you feel is right.
This story changed me in ways I cannot put into words, I have gone from a voyeur to a woman who speaks and acts. I wrote, I drove, I sang, I showed up, I came back to tell the story. Not just for Oscar, but for something I never thought would move me so deeply, Us. Its bigger than one man in one city. I just caution you to think before you move and walk into a war zone thinking it’s a good time to break a window and grab some free sneakers. You are aware they have shot many unarmed men, some handcuffed, some innocent, some face down, some in the back. They will not hesitate to shoot some one they can “prove” a potential threat, and they are giving “fair” warning.
There have been many different organizations asking for peace. I will be the first to clap when we reach that place.
In between 2004-2008 there were 45 officer involved shootings in Oakland, as of May 2009, 62 in review, of which, 80% of the victims were African American 40% had no weapons. Over 2,000 people were murdered by police in the U.S. since 1990 and this is the FIRST one brought up on charges. When exactly is a good time to be angry about that?
written by Chela Simone
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