Monday, July 19, 2010

Oakland continues its downward spiral

In January, 2009, Johannes Mehserle, a 28 year old Bay Area Rail Transit (BART) officer, shot and killed a man in a confrontation. The fatally wounded man, 22 year old Oscar Grant, was unarmed and had been previously involved in a fight. Witness’ accounts have described Grant’s demeanor as anything from relatively compliant to violently resisting. Nonetheless, Oscar Grant was tragically killed when Mehserle drew his pistol and fired, though he claims to have done so in error, having attempted to draw his taser.

But more important to the public than any of the facts in the case is that the man shot was black and the officer who shot him was white, so the assumption that Mehserle killed Grant simply because he was a black man ran wild before any other facts were considered.

The first response to this incident by citizens that want to prove it was a racially motivated killing is probably similar to Barbara Plantiko’s, a protesting immigration lawyer. She just doesn’t “buy that he got confused” when he drew his firearm rather than his taser. A cop should be able to tell the difference between a taser and a gun. Anyone could tell the difference, right?

When calmly presented the choice between the two, I'd wager most citizens could. But what escapes these firearm “experts” like Plantiko is that the situation provides the variable, not necessarily the discrepancy between the weapons. Most citizens have never been in a scenario where a perceived assailant threatens them, and they have never been made to manage the fear that such that such circumstances create. And in this situation, Mehserle, in haste and fear, made a dreadful mistake that cost Grant his life. At least that’s what a jury of his peers found to be the truth.

Still, being ignorant of such scenarios doesn’t stop racially sensitive citizens with a healthy disdain for authority from playing armchair judge and jury to condemn Johannes Mehserle. Apparently, the citizens of the City of Oakland are far more convinced of his murderous intentions than the jury that deliberated and came to their verdict based upon all of the facts presented in the case.

Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, a sentence that carries a certain weight beyond the guilt that will likely plague him throughout his life. But that is not enough for the Oakland citizens thirsting for justice and retribution, so they decided to deliver their own brand of "justice." Riots littered the City of Oakland after the verdict, as its citizens destroyed their own neighbors’ property to express outrage.

I can't say with a straight face that our justice system is infallible, and I cannot say that the verdict was absolutely justified with a ruling of involuntary manslaughter. But what I can say with certainty is that Oakland’s citizens destroying their own community is not a justifiable means of expressing the anger that results from their paranoia of racism, and they should be held accountable.

So perhaps we should finally take the rioters of Oakland to task for their crimes. After all, we can certainly establish their extremely questionable character when it comes to knee-jerk allegations of racially motivated violence and the vilification of the authorities that risk their lives to protect its citizens.

The nation watched in disgust just two years ago, as Lovelle Mixon, a black man with a highly felonious past, killed four police officers after a traffic stop gave way to a shoot-out. He killed the officers, of white and mixed race, while holed-up in his sister’s apartment before the police finally brought him down. The officers slain were family men, and heroes.

But how did some of the scummy elements in Oakland react? They called Mixon’s actions a response to police brutality, and his death a murder. They held ceremonies to mourn the death of a lecherous villain, guilty of breaking our laws and robbing innocent families of their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. And some even heralded the villain as a martyr whose death spotlighted a racial rift between the city’s police officers and its minority citizens.

Around the nation, we retched in disgust at their shameful display of misjudgment and misplaced ire by the citizens of Oakland. And now, we are to believe that these same citizens have a right to riot because they think Grant’s death was a racially motivated crime?

Not a chance. They’ve lost their credibility in gauging such issues. Therefore, many Americans recognize that the riotous citizens of Oakland are guilty on the counts of provocation, destruction of property, and an inability to act as human beings.

Eric Holder and the Department of Justice, however, don’t find Oakland guilty of those crimes. He finds them victims, and the carnage they have self-inflicted must mean that some kind of wrong was done to those people who are creating the havoc. Therefore, they will take further measures to investigate Grant’s death to see if it was racially motivated, biased against a black man. And if they deem Mehserle guilty of the crime, you can bet they’ll prosecute the case as an example of racism.

And the Department of Justice’s desire to zealously investigate this alleged crime of racism is ironic when you juxtapose it with the fact that they just threw out a case of proven voter intimidation, committed by a man that is unequivocally biased against white people in Philadelphia. But I guess since the citizens of Philadelphia haven’t destroyed their own communities out of anger about that injustice, it’s just not worth the Department of Justice’s time.

William Sullivan

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