Photo by Curis Jermany, GZPhoto
by Donny Lumpkins, New America Media
It was no surprise to me that an unarmed black man was shot in the back by
a transit cop New Years Day 2009. Now no one should be surprised that
ex-BART officer Johannes Mehserle will be home with his family in a
matter of a few months.
Stories like that are all too familiar and constant reminder of how
little this country values and prioritizes the lives of the young black
men —like myself and Oscar Grant—who live in it..
When Judge Robert Perry sentenced Johannes Mehserle to two years in prison for killing Oscar Grant, he was quoted saying: "I understand my decision will not be received well by many people, but remember I did my best."
Eighteen-year-old Jovante Kelly of Oakland had wanted to hear something different from the judge. Like Oscar Grant's mother, he wanted to hear the maximum sentence: 14 years.
"A man has been murdered. You see what I'm saying? Murder is murder,” said Kelly. “Regardless who [did] it. Black, white, Asian whatever. And they let this dude go just because he's a police agent. That badge don't give him the authority to take nobody's life. So this is bulls--t."
In downtown Oakland on Friday night, there was a mixture of shock and outrage that led hundreds, including Kelly, to gather at a peaceful rally in front of City Hall to protest, sing, call for revolution, vent and talk about justice.
People were angry, just as they had been since the day Mehserle shot Grant on the platform at the Fruitvale BART station. You could see the sadness on the faces of the diverse crowd.
Sixty-one-year-old Oakland resident Cheryl Fabio is disappointed; she's also a law student. She says we all have to look back to the verdict and decide whether justice was served.
"People need a sense of being protected, and this verdict doesn't give people a sense of being protected,” said Fabio. “Do we feel like this young man has been vindicated? Most people here would say no."
She understands how the system works but thought that the sentence was wrong.
Mandel Lum, 24, had also hoped for different outcome but admits he could see this coming.
"Everyone already kinds of expects it. Everyone already (saw) it coming. Everyone knows how the court system works. Everyone knows how this system is."
He watched the sentencing via live Internet stream and connected with folks via Twiiter to express his frustration.
"For a good three and half minutes, I just sat there looking out the window thinking 'Oakland, what has this come to? What are you doing to people? I don't expect justice to happen here today or even with Oscar Grant because that's not the age we live in,” said Lim. “Howeve,r I am incredibly hopeful. I know that this city is capable of so much more and that we are able to elect the right people as leadership, to then provide leadership ourselves,” Lim continued. “I believe that this is a starting point, an ignition of greater change, greater justice. We're just going through aches and pains right now. We'll get there."
With time already served, Johannes Mehserle could be a free man in about half a year. Twenty-one-year-old Daniel Fields believes Oscar's life was worth more than that.
"Naturally I wanted a heavy sentence for the officer, but past history shows that it wasn't gonna happen,” said Fields. “I kinda was expecting something as ludicrous as this, but I didn't think it was going to be this bad. He's basically getting a free ride pass. He’s riding an escalator instead of walking up these steps. It’s upsetting."
Later in the night, people took their frustrations to the streets of Oakland. About 150 people were arrested. Peace can't be found anywhere where there's no justice, and right now, Oakland is not a very peaceful place. The verdict ihas only fueled anger and dismay at a sometimes corrupt and untrustworthy system.
Underlined in all this is the ominous feeling that a black man lost his life for no reason, and the system responsible for his death and his killer’s salvation doesn’t work, leaving all of us to its clumsy and negligent mercy.
Without the camera phone video that showed what really happened, Grant's exit from this world would have been both unfair and unobserved by the masses—like so many other young black men's souls ripped from their bodies in blink.