Oscar Grant and The Indirect Gifts of Technology

Saturday, January 17, 2009

To be honest, I wanted an explanation to present itself. I wanted ex-transit officer Johannes Mehserle to have had some reason for shooting Oscar Grant. Something. ANYTHING to justify pulling his gun out and firing the shot that ended that young man's life.

But as we all know, my eyes were seeing quite clearly.

There was nothing wrong with any of the cell phone videos.

The same thoughts flood through my mind every time I watch the video.

A young black man was shot and killed.

A young black man was shot in the back and killed.

A young black man was restrained and lain on his back by police officers and killed.

A young black man was restrained, lain on his back by police officers, and one of the police officers shot him in the back and killed him.

And now, a mother is left without her son and a tired community picks up its burdens once again and heads out to battle. But, as I try to digest this whole thing one thought keeps floating back through my mind.

What if there hadn't been any cell phones around?

Consider these facts

  • The California Supreme Court has held that displinary and misconduct records of police officers are sealed from media and public scrutiny - See Copley Press, Inc vs. Superior Court
  • Statements to internal affairs investigators can't be used against a cop in criminal or civil proceedings.
  • We are all aware that cops stick together and will rarely go across the line to blow the whistle on another officer.
So, there is really very, very little information that the public can discover about police activity on its own.  Accordingly, numerous incidents involving the police and public can be easily swept under the rug.  

Unless, someone just happens to be recording with their cell phone, digital camera, mini-camcorder, etc.

If it hadn't been for those devices, would we even know about this?  Probably not.  Sure, there would have still been witnesses, but there were witnesses to the Sean Bell execution....oh sorry..."shooting incident."  We all saw how that one ended.

If there was no video, then there would be no shot at justice here.  Fortunately, cameras were rolling that horrible night and the cops actions were filmed for all the world to see.  The cop's arrest and murder charges were a direct result of that video.  The image of him firing that shot into Grant's back is powerful evidence that simply can't be ignored.  

I'm normally very skeptical of these kinds of cases.  It is very hard to successfully prosecute a police officer.  But the videos give me a lot of hope that justice will be done and the officer will be held accountable for murdering Grant.