SAFIRE Newsletter: The aftermath of chaos - Oscar Grant's tragic end

Monday, August 16, 2010

By Catherine Saephan

It was at four o’clock on July 8th when the verdict in the trial of Johannes Mehserle was announced for the killing of Oscar Grant and it was at 6 o’clock when the streets in front of our office building were filled with hundreds of people.

Since that tragic night of January 1st, 2009, when Oscar Grant was shot to death by the former BART police officer, citizens of Oakland have rallied with mixed feelings of anger, confusion, and disunity over his death. The most common questions raised by community members are: Was it murder? Did Johannes Mehserle mean to use his taser or did he really intend to kill? Will he be prosecuted like any other citizen or will he get away with it like most cops do? Was it an act of racism?

As a member of this community, I feel a large amount of confusion regarding this case. At the same time, it’s hard to not begin having an opinion when accusations are being thrown from left to right. Issues of Oscar’s now fatherless child, money for the family, and most of all, justice to Oscar’s family and community are some of the major factors in this complex case.

Oscar’s death was not a common occurrence, and what happened that New Year’s night was something the people of Oakland need to pay attention to. The possibility that the shooting was motivated by racism is an issue we must all consider before letting our own bias judge this death. I see that among the majority of the Asian community, we look at this incident only as bystanders with no questions asked. However, this case is not just about civil rights for African Americans but also for all people of color who struggle with racism and discrimination every day. We cannot always wait for a Gandhi or Martin Luther King to rise and rescue us from this persecution when we can become our own heroes and fight against injustice.

After the verdict was announced, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Oakland with the intention of holding a peaceful protest. However, the protest got violent later on in the night with arson, looting, destruction of property, and over 50 arrests. Most shocking was the intense tension between protesters and the hundreds of police that came from not only Oakland but also from surrounding cities and counties.

The chance for the people of Oakland to demonstrate a peaceful protest for Oscar Grant’s death was once again filled with the same stereotypical belief of a murderous and “ghetto” Oakland. I hope that all people who followed this case do not attribute these acts of violence to all Oakland residents. The people who were gathered peacefully in support of Oscar Grant, his family, and for justice is the REAL Oakland.

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