- This Week
What the Mehserle verdict says about how far we've come -- and how far we have to go
A protestor squares off with Oakland Police officers just before being arrestedPHOTO BY RAMSEY AL-QARE
As night fell, looting and rioting began to break out as the media covered scenes of rage set against small trash fires, causing anger and frustration for many Oakland residents who were dismayed and frightened by the chaos and disorder. More than 80 arrests were made, and dozens of stores including Sears, Whole Foods, Subway, Foot Locker, and numerous banks were damaged or looted. Police efforts to respond to the situation gave downtown city blocks the feeling of a war zone for several hours.
Reactions to the verdict, and the chaotic aftermath that followed, varied in the following days.
"The truth is that in American history, this is both a high point and a low point," Olis Simmons, executive director of Youth UpRising — an Oakland nonprofit that works with youth of color — told the Guardian the following day. Speaking to the fact that an officer had been convicted in a case involving a wrongful death, she said: "I think it really is a signal that America is changing. This is the farthest we've ever gone."
She said she hoped that people who were infuriated enough to react violently on the evening of July 8 would channel that energy toward constructive goals of pushing for a more satisfactory outcome. Before rallies and later rioting began that night, Youth UpRising sent people into the crowd to hand out glossy flyers proclaiming "violence isn't justice."
Davey D Cook, an independent radio journalist who extensively covered activity surrounding Grant's death on a news site called Davey D's Hip Hop Corner, said he thought the mainstream media was ready to have "a field day" with the riots, pointing out that they ran special coverage in the days leading up to verdict, building up anticipation of violent outbreaks. He also said that the scope of the rioting should be kept in perspective.
On his July 9 KPFA radio show, Hard Knock Radio, Cook added a salient point: "Broken windows can be replaced, and in two weeks, they will be. Stolen merchandise can be replaced, and it will be. But who's going to replace this justice system that got looted? What insurance policy takes care of that?"
Just before the July 10 press conference, a town hall meeting was held inside True Vine Ministries. It was crammed full of supporters from Oakland, San Francisco, and beyond who listened as Minister Keith Muhammad — a representative of the Nation of Islam who has worked closely with the Grant family and traveled to Los Angeles to watch the trial — spoke at length. Muhammad was dressed immaculately in a suit and tie, and spoke with an air of fiery conviction.
"In the outcome of this case, there is surely more to be resolved that has yet to be addressed," Muhammad said. He emphasized that "we're not satisfied," but added: "You should know that dissatisfaction is the foundation of all change."
He raised a number of questions about the proceedings, asking why there was an absence of African Americans on the jury, and why the judge called an early recess when Grant's teenage friend, Jamil Dewar, sobbed uncontrollably on the witness stand — but not when Mehserle sobbed on the stand. He noted that Grant's friends were kept in handcuffs for six hours after witnessing Grant's death.
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