(February 27, 1986 -- January 1, 2009)
I'm following Average Bro's lead here in opening up the comments to your thoughts and feelings on yesterday's Oscar Grant verdict. Given the racially disproportionate rates at which police brutality continues to occur in the U.S., there's a great chance that if you're white, your feelings are different today from those of a lot of non-white people. Especially a lot of black people, who still suffer the most from police harassment and brutality, as well as the more general American fear of black people.
At "The American Prospect," Adam Serwer made an especially good point yesterday, in a piece on common white fears of black men -- how they likely played a part in Oscar Grant's death, and how the justice system ended up ignoring, yet again, the ongoing history of America's murderous fear of black men:
Today Johannes Mehserle, the former BART police officer who killed Oscar Grant while he was lying face down and handcuffed in an Oakland train station, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter -- his crime, according to the jury, was negligence in not knowing the difference between his heavy black gun and his light yellow tazer. Of the possible outcomes Mehserle was facing, involuntary manslaughter was the best he could have hoped for short of acquittal. He faces a maximum sentence of four years for the original crime, possibly more for the use of a firearm.
I want to focus for a moment on the distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. To convict on the higher charge of voluntary manslaughter, the prosecution would have had to prove that Mehserle's fear of Grant and his friends was "unreasonable." It decided the crime was involuntary. In other words, Mehserle's fear? That was reasonable.
Fear is at the core of questions of justice involving the deaths of black people at the hands of the authorities in the United States of America, dating back to when Toussaint L'Overture put the fear of G-d in slaveowners by revealing that their "property" might someday rise up against them. L'Overture still has that effect on some people. Following emancipation were the days when "justice" was meted out in the South by terrorists posing as vigilantes. Even then, when such atrocities were an accepted part of black life, people inside and outside the South found ways to sympathize with the anger and fear white Southerners felt towards their black neighbors -- The New York Times editorialized in the 1890s that no "reputable or respectable negro" had ever been lynched.
Even decades after the Civil Rights era, a cop shooting an unarmed black man is barely a crime -- a 2007 ColorLines investigation of police shootings in New York City found that in 12 instances when the victim was unarmed, only one officer was found criminally liable. There hasn't been a murder conviction on a police shooting in Oakland since 1983. As Kai Wright wrote in the aftermath of the Sean Bell verdict, "American law has been sanctioning the killing of black people to mollify white fear for centuries. . . We scare the shit out of America. And that fear excuses just about any reaction it spawns." Mehserle is profoundly unlucky to be punished at all.
Times change, but the radioactive fear of black people, black men in particular, has proven to have a longer half-life than any science could have discerned. This is not a fear white people possess of black people--it is a fear all Americans possess. It makes white cops kill black cops, it makes black cops kill black men, and it whispers in the ears of white and nonwhite jurors alike that fear of an unarmed black man lying face down in the ground is not "unreasonable." All of which is to say, while it infects all of us, a few of us bear the brunt of the suffering it causes. . . . (more)
Serwer also makes this point: "What's worse is that we we don't just fear, we fear talking about it."
Will the corporate media use yesterday's verdict to talk about it?
The answer is easy -- no. But hey, look over there! Violence in the streets of Oakland! Some violence, anyway. Violence in the wake of racial injustice is what gets the attention of the white-framed media, not the injustice itself. As I write this, CNN finds the news of a basketball player's team-switch bigger news; readers have to search more carefully for a link that says, "Hundreds protest after BART verdict."
Would "thousands" have bumped the story up the page? "Hundreds of thousands"? Whatever the number, it's the protests that the white-framed corporate media focus on today as the "story" here. Not the searing injustice of yet another light sentence for the state-sponsored killer of yet another unarmed black man.
What are you thinking and feeling today? And, since this is swpd, are you seeing other common white tendencies in response to yesterday's verdict?