[this piece is still under construction]
On New Years Day 2009, in the early morning hours, BART police arrived at Fruitvale BART in response to claims of a fight on a BART train. Although there was no apparent altercation when the train pulled up, they detained a young black man named Oscar Grant III along with several other people, and proceeded to intimidate, brutalize, and abuse the rights of these young men on the platform. In front of hundreds of witnesses (and captured on numerous videos) Oscar Grant was beaten in the face by BART Officer Tony Pirone and sat with his back against a wall with his hands up, in fear for his life to the point where he was actually pleading with officers not to tase or shoot him. Moments later BART Officer Johanned Mehserle threw Oscar to the floor face down, while Pirone kneeled on his neck and back. While Oscar lay there restrained and cooperative, fellow BART Officer Johannes Mehserle stood, full of anger and with full intention to do harm to Oscar, drew his weapon, and shot Oscar in the back at point blank range. BART Officers at the scene carried on like it was business as usual (and we know it was), and handcuffed the dying man as his life drained from him. BART Officers continued harrassing and intimidating bystanders and witnesses, falsely arrested those on the platform, and proceeded to intimidate other witnesses, and confiscate all cell phone and video evidence of the incident they could obtain from anyone they could find.
For the next few days, BART gave the incident their standard cover-up treatment. Police gave no explanation to the public. They asked for "patience" and tried to concoct possible excuses for what was a blatant police execution of this unarmed and peaceful young man. In other words, they were sticking to the familiar plot, familiar because it plays out the same way every time the police murder another person of color. Truly, it was a sad few days, because to most of us who have seen this script played out, it looked like Oscar Grant was going to be denied justice. Folks had witnessed the killing, but we knew our history, and that the people had become depressingly resigned, police killings are a regular occurrence, and we had become numb, and so used to the routine cover ups of these executions of people of color (particularly young black men), so used to the disappointment every time we rallied in outrage, that we had become jaded and cynical, and many of us anticipated the usual denial of justice and felt utterly hopeless. So we didn't mobilized right away in large numbers, at least not until video footage of the shooting itself came out....
See, Oscar Grant was different because the video of his murder flipped the script on 'em. While BART was busy lying to the public, claiming that they had no video footage of the shooting from their cameras, refusing to interview witnesses or even the murderer (Mehserle) himself, it turned out that they had made one important oversight in their cover-up effort. They had let a train full of witnesses leave the station, and on this train were people whose cellphones the BART police had not managed to confiscate. The video from these cell phones made its way to the web and the newsmedia, and it turned out that some of these passengers had caught the actual shooting on camera.
All of a sudden, the complicated spell the police usually cast on the public to escape justice for these murders was suddenly broken. Suddenly, in the face of the video evidence, BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger and BART Police Chief Gary Gee were revealed to be shameful two-faced accomplices to the murder of Oscar Grant. They had access to all the same evidence the public had, plus more evidence - that they had stolen from witnesses in direct violation of the law, and BART camera footage they were denying even existed. And they were still busy trying to cover up and bury the story, trotting out all the standard lines to see how they played with the public: "the video is too grainy" or "video doesn't tell the whole story" or "oscar was reaching for (had) a gun" or "the officer thought his gun was a taser". They tried to dig up dirt on Oscar, as if he deserved to be shot for drinking on new years eve, or having a police record. Having done no investigation, not having even spoke with the officer, these BART officials were deliberately tainting the investigation, trying to give Officer Mehserle the best time to come up with the best excuse possible. And the release of the video shamed them like nothing else could.
Millions watched the video that BART called "grainy" and "inconclusive". They saw an innocent, peaceful human being being brutally murdered. The outrage grew, not just against the officer, but against the BART board and the BART police for covering this up, against the DA for not doing anything, against Oakland city officials for not taking a stand or making a statement on the issue. The system had finally been revealed as never before, we had a fresh new look at the same old beast, one that noone could deny, and this time we were not going to let justice pass us over.
.. to be continued ...