I can’t stop seeing his face.
I can’t stop thinking about him, or the child that he left behind, or the friends and strangers that watched him die. I hear his mother’s words – “My son was murdered” – over and over like a hymn, and I hear Tony Pirone screaming “Bitch ass nigger!” at him again and again before the bullet entered Oscar’s back, came out the front of his body, ricocheted against the platform that he had been restrained on, and re-entered his body only to lodge in his lung.
I hear the shocked split-second of silence in the train station, before the people watching and recording the execution on their cell phones start to scream.
Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter by a jury that did not include even a single black face, for shooting a prone unarmed 22-year-old man in the back. He may serve as little as two years.
The news itself was distressing enough, but I am sick with the discourse that has occurred in its aftermath. The hurt, the rage, and the fear that we feel over the killing of another one of our sons has been dismissed, minimized, ignored. I’m sick with the derailing and the strawmanning and the arrogance. I am sick of white people telling me that they understand why I’m frustrated when they can’t possibly fucking know what this feels like.
A black woman called Mehserle a murderer and a white man said, “I don’t think you can call it murder.” So she responded, “Fine, then. It’s not a murder, it’s a fucking genocide.”
And that is exactly what it feels like. Black men are dying in the streets and in execution chambers, black women are dying of AIDS, black children are dying in their homes, black babies are dying less than a year after their birth. We die and there is no justice served, no peace given to our families. We die and are told that we brought it upon ourselves. We die because too many people consider us subhuman, undeserving of compassion, unworthy of consideration, primitive, beastly. We die because too many whites still see our bodies as their property, to be used for their gain and profit without regard for our lives or the health of our communities. We die as Oscar Grant died, with hatred and contempt ringing in our ears.
Oscar Grant lives here with me.
Oscar Grant is my husband. I look at him and I see a nerd, a lover, an artist, a father. Others look at him and they see a threat, a hulking black mass just waiting to wreak havoc.
Oscar Grant is my brother. He may be a member of the police force but that is not enough to keep him safe. He carries his weapon on his person more often than not, even in plainclothes. When police see a white man with a gun, they think that he may be a perp, a cop, or a man exercising his rights and they act accordingly. When they see a black man with a gun, all they see a criminal. Black cops are killed by white cops because it doesn’t occur to white cops that a strange black man can be a just black man.
Oscar Grant is my father. Oscar Grant is my baby nephew. Oscar Grant is my childhood friend. Oscar Grant is my classmate. Oscar Grant is every black man and boy and baby, so vulnerable to persecution, prosecution, execution. Oscar Grant is food for the machine: the prison-industrial complex that profits off of his incarceration; the tv news anchor who gleefully reports on his deviance; the white father who warns his daughter that he is by nature a horny raping beast; the politician who cements his disenfranchisement into law by taking away his right to vote for the rest of his life.
Johannes Mehserle gave Oscar Grant a public execution. It was Tony Pirone who made it a lynching.