January 1st, 2009. New years day. A Thursday. We hear that a Black man has been shot and killed by a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer. People who took video of the incident had their phones and cameras quickly confiscated by the police. He was executed during the first few hours after midnight, while partygoers were on their way home from trying to burn a fond memory into their heads and kick off another time around the sun. They shot Oscar Grant III in the back.
He worked as a butcher at the grocery store where my friend and I shop at every week. When I saw his picture, I recognized his smile.
We were overwhelmed with depression, helplessness. Another Black man killed by cops in the Bay, and nothing being done about it. The general public digests the news with a frown and goes about their business. What cynical cruelty passes as normality.
The efforts by the BART cops to completely cover up the execution started early. After spending time confiscating cell phones while Grant lay wounded, the cops tell paramedics nothing of how he was shot or by whom, withholding information that is routinely given in the interest of saving a life. The BART police have their own interests. They wait for the bullet to be extracted and take it for “evidence.” Hospital personnel have no reason to second guess their motivations. Weeks later, one health care worker who had treated Oscar Grant after he was admitted to the hospital is still shocked:
I had no idea he was killed by police until the next day when I saw the news.
The hospital is only the beginning of a blatant display of corruption and arrogance by the police. Despite efforts to bury the evidence, a video surfaces after a few days, and then another, until footage of the incident is running on local news channels. New camera angles make the execution undeniable. No action has been taken by BART or city officials. What a surprise. The thought of charging the police and exposing them as the thugs they are is avoided in the so-called halls of justice. Johannes Mehserle, this particular killer cop, refuses to go in for questioning. He sends in a letter of resignation instead. Days pass. By January 7, people –all of us– are pissed.
The stage is set.