Tired of Teachable Moments: On Oscar Grant

Last night, the police officer, Johannes Mehserle, charged in the Oscar Grant shooting was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. If you don’t know about the case, read this. To see why he was charged, watch this:

Involuntary manslaughter is pretty much as close to getting off as you can get. I believe that the max is 6 years, but there is parole and time off for good behavior which could drastically reduce his sentence.

Apparently, Officer Mehserle claimed that he believed he had his taser. I find this to be a blatant lie and unconscionable. The two devices are in completely different areas of the officer’s belt and they are held differently. A gun in your hand feels completely different than a taser.

Sadly, though, the verdict doesn’t surprise me. The trial was moved from Oakland, where the murder happened, to Los Angeles, where a police officer hadn’t been convicted since before I hit puberty. I find this odd, specifically when it comes to the complicity of the LA police in the “gang” and “crack” wars of the 1980s and 90s.

So now what?

I am not talking to my child about this yet, because she is 6 and these types of discussions will come soon enough. However, I work with high school students in the summer in an informal academic setting and today, we will be discussing the murder, trial and outcome using the framework of Byron Hurt’s Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.

But I am tired.

As an educator, I am deeply saddened that so many teachable moments have to come from the death, rape or maiming of my people. Oscar Grant, Aiyanna Jones, Sean Bell, Sakia Gunn, Hurricane Katrina, etc. Where is the balance?  Where is the news about triumph over adversity or lofty goals attained?

I have to explicitly let young people know; I have to illustrate to them, that our systems of government do not treat them as equals or even human; that there are folks out there who will take their lives if they receive a response they don’t agree with and that they have to take extra precautions because of the color of their skin.

Just yesterday, while on a tour of a community space with rising 9th graders (they just got out of 8th grade), one of my boys told me that a white woman kept looking at him and looking at her purse, then she got up and moved. Later, she told security that he was trying to steal her purse. It was handled (lucky I wasn’t carrying my shank), but I was pissed!

This is a good kid who I have known since he was in 3rd grade. In fact, he was really excited about what he was learning and asking questions. Our children are subject to the irrational fears of insecure and ill-informed people. The same irrational fears that had Black bodies swaying from trees and bridges.

Now, they get shot in the back while handcuffed.