It is a telling sign of moral deprivation that the popular press is able to hold court as philosopher king on issues of social justice — something that warrants immediate cause for concern. In a decent society, it should go without saying that choice is fundamental to any serious moral inquiry, yet it has become quite clear that on the issue of justice for Oscar Grant, options have quickly and deliberately been eliminated.
Justice as Legal Decree
When the Oakland Tribune asks “what constitutes a just response to the killing” of Oscar Grant, predictably, the range of permissible answers number but a few, delimited by juridical options. Framed squarely in terms of verdict outcomes, other, perhaps more convincing avenues to justice can be ignored. The powerful voice of a concerned community can be at once channeled from active engagement to passive recipients. Proactive citizens can be steered clear from the public pasture of the streets to a corralled and disintegrated mass, united only by the verdict they anxiously await.
More significantly, eliminated from the table of moral deliberation is the option to confront police violence as a systemic and monopolizing force. As a disintegrated mass, individual beliefs are apt to vary considerably, representing a fragmented and thus, more manageable threat to those whose interest lies in curbing resistance to authority and oppression.
But let’s be clear: there is no inconsistency in holding the belief that a particular verdict outcome is the right one and also holding the belief that justice for Oscar Grant need not, indeed cannot be defined by the state. By allowing the options for justice, as the Oakland Tribune assumes, and the state desires, to be limited to legal decree, “Murder or Nothing" becomes a meaningful, if not stifling, rallying cry: if the verdict is murder, justice is done. Case closed.
Taking the Stand
Chasing headlines in anticipation of a verdict only motivates the perception that justice is a scheduled event, not one arrived at through conscious struggle by people with shared commitments. If Dante is correct, and the darkest depths are reserved for those who claim neutrality in times of moral crisis, avoiding such a pitfall requires one to take a stand. And as many commentators have already pointed out, the lines have been clearly, if not predictably, drawn.
It’s a point of survival for privileged circles that the interests of authority must be upheld and protected. The recent, steady chorus from Bay Area government officials, nonprofit heads and church leaders constitutes a public stand at the side of law enforcement against the Oakland community and their supporters nearby and “outside.”
With such an elite consensus, one might surely question whether there will be peace after the verdict? Or perhaps others are more appropriate. As leaders of the Episcopalian church arrange a “counter to protests” planned post-verdict, in opposition to activists and “similar characters,” despite holding “no opinion” on the Oscar Grant trial, the question appears not, will there be peace, but who should be “bracing for violence?"
Perhaps more disturbing than the near unanimous stance taken by sectors of the Bay Area’s so-called progressive elite is their exploitation of Oakland’s youth - used as a wedge in a publicity packaging process aimed at deterring young community activists from engaging in public demonstrations and discouraging solidarity with sympathizers outside the Oakland city limits. If such blatant manipulation escapes the memory hole, it will no doubt stand as a remarkable achievement of Orwellian doublethink, a true monument of moral degradation. As the community is actively seeking justice for the killing of a 22-year-old young man by a police officer, they are urged to stand beside the leaders of youth organizations in defense of the police.
Of course, if one can escape the onslaught of indoctrination long enough to think for oneself, there are clearly choices other than those presented in the pages of the Chronicle or the Tribune. And such choices may require taking a different stand, which may quite literally, place one on the opposite side of the law — a daunting yet admirable task for those truly concerned with pursuing alternatives to a police state.
After the Moment
Sikander Iqbal, peacemaking program manager for Youth UpRising, expresses a truism by saying that if Mehserle is convicted, it could be a powerful moment. Indeed, it could be a powerful moment regardless of the verdict, and it would be a shame to simply let it pass.
The challenge now - as it has been from the beginning - is how to extend the moment beyond the verdict. How not to let justice for Oscar Grant be reduced to a moment, but continued and expanded as a popular movement is a critical task.
The first step of course, is to decide, when the verdict arrives, with whom will you stand?