By Ethel Long-Scott
The murder of unarmed Oscar Grant by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer was not just another killing of a young black man by a white cop. Many saw it that way after a jury convicted the cop of involuntary manslaughter, the lightest sentence short of acquittal. But this time it’s different because more than race is involved.
Oscar Grant’s Uncle, Cephus Johnson, spoke for victims of police murder everywhere immediately after the verdict.
“We knew from the beginning that we was at war with the system,” he said “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 the system. The jury was denied evidence that will not allow them to see the true person that committed the murder.”
This time it’s different because the system is different. Oscar Grant’s murder is not just another racial killing. It’s a killing committed in the name of a state that is determined to protect the property and profits of the privileged corporate classes at all costs.
What makes the system different? In the United States today, corporations are pulling out all the stops to make sure that government puts corporate needs first, way ahead of the needs of working people. We see this all around us, from the Supreme Court’s trashing of political campaign contribution limits to the refusal by state legislatures to raise corporate taxes to avoid chilling cuts to public services. Local governments give tax breaks to developers at the same time they cry about having to cut funds for schools, parks, and infrastructure.
Governments are so eager to turn their backs on workers and suck up to corporations that corporations and the state are virtually merged. The World War II dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini, an ally of Nazi Germany, declared that this merger is what fascism is all about. The police “serve and protect” the new corporate elite, the 1% of the population who own 70% of everything. As jobs disappear, employers cut salaries and benefits, public school budgets are slashed, and safety net programs are killed, maintaining public order at all costs becomes a key corporate concern.
The police recognize that the youth who can no longer count on a future are the enemy of this wealthy corporate class. Young people in California face a system that spends more on prisons than it does on higher education. They see the gentrification of cities insuring that they have no jobs and few prospects. They understand that when Oscar Grant was shot in the back as he lay unarmed and helpless on a rapid transit station platform on New Year’s Eve, 2009, it could have been me, it could have been anyone.
Their understanding showed in how they organized for demonstrations in the wake of the verdict. The crowds in Oakland were multi-racial and multi-cultural. The youth reached out to their elders, encouraging them to come, in part to protect the youth from the police, who had made a big advance show of force with training exercises for possible trouble.
The understanding of the youth also showed in HipHop Culture, the most popular form of protest music in world history. Rappers like Boots Riley of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club, F.A.B., Zion I, J. Stalin, Beeda Weeda, BRWN BFLO, Rebel Diaz, and far more, all recorded songs or spoke publicly denouncing the shooting.
And the rulers are not yet through with the Oscar Grant case. Sentencing of Johannes Mehserle, the officer who testified that he mistakenly pulled his gun when he meant to pull his taser, has been postponed until November at his defense team’s request. That gives them time to convince the judge to give him the benefit of the doubt, furthering the injustice.
Going forward our job is to fight for class rights, in our protests and in our study, to secure justice and help people understand why this time it’s different.