Real Justice

By Adrienne Maree Brown Jan 07, 2009

If you are in the Bay Area tomorrow, come out to the Fruitvale BART Station between 3-7pm to grieve, and protest. These have been days of bloody images. By now we have all seen the footage of young Oscar Grant being shot in the back while face down on the Fruitvale BART platform. Oscar was a young father with his hands raised, pleading for his life. Oscar was submitting to the police. Another man, the officer who killed Oscar, has yet to step forward and claim responsibility, make any statement, apologize. On KTVU they say he was a "two-year veteran". One explanation I have heard was that he believed he was holding a taser gun, which could somewhat account for the fact that he looks as shocked as everyone else in the long seconds after the shot was fired. Now rumor has it he became a first time father the day before he became the killer caught on cell phones. Whoever he is, his life has now been redefined by this killing, and guilt will be his constant companion. Thinking of these two men has led me to three questions that I hope expose a path towards real justice, for both of them: 1. What could we, the people of Oakland, have done to prevent this? This celebratory evening didn’t have to become an altercation, a police event, a murder. We haven’t been keeping up our preventative measures. Some of my first actions were after the death of Amadou Diallo, when I was in college. We started a Coalition for Police Reform, we spoke about community accountability processes, and then watched as energy and attention moved on. Over the years I’ve seen most of the organizations and programs focused on justice issues, juvenile justice, and police brutality lose their funding. After Oscar’s death, many of us reached out Bay Area Police Watch, only to learn that the program had ended last year. The reality is, to truly have an accountable justice system, the community has to consistently stay involved and supportive, not just rise up in an uproar when there’s a tragedy. As we rail against the system that pit these two men against each other, we must acknowledge that it is a system that we have been complict in, our actions and inactions normalized taser and gun use against civilians. Our struggle is not only with the police, but with our allowance of lethal punitive justice. 2. What could heal this moment for the families, the survivors, the communities? I have a friend whose oldest son was killed a month before I met him. When he found about his son’s death, he immediately reached out to the family of his son’s killer to talk about the society that had created such violence, and began a healing process. This seems impossible, and yet I think it is one of the few actions that can begin to restore us after moments of such brutal violence. In the days since Oscar was killed, as we have all watched it over and over, I have seen and heard organizers that I respect revert to a message of anger and hatred – "Fuck the Police". It is easy to feel anger at the individual police officer and call for his punishment. The harder emotion, and the more necessary one, is radical love. He, too, is a member of our community. He, too, has a family. Our police force isn’t made up of robots, it’s made up of our neighbors, uncles, high school friends. As hard as it is right now, we must take the time to consider the humanity of that officer, to think about the traumatic experience that he has gone through, to bemoan this tragedy of violence for both of the victims. As we feel the impulse to demand retribution, we must rise to a higher level. What would allow this man to step forward and take ownership for what he’s done? What could he do to join the struggle to disarm police officers, to speak to folks about what happened to him in an effort to change police policy? What can he offer to Oscar’s family, how can he support the life of Oscar’s 4-year-old? That is what it means to begin to restore. 3. What could stop this from happening again? I have seen demands for the kind of punishment that should be meted out in this situation. The demand that stands out the most to me is to disarm police officers. The only thing that will really stop this particular type of murder from happening again is if people who are placed into positions of authority in high-tension circumstances are not given a lethal weapon to rely on. Oscar’s death is getting attention because it was captured on film, not because it is more or less horrific than other "justice"-based brutality happening all across this country, in and out of prisons. It’s simply that we can all watch this happen, there was a glitch in the matrix and insanity is momentarily common knowledge. Before everyone forgets, again, what the likely outcome is of giving an officer of the peace a weapon of death as a mode of holding power over a community, let us demand a transformative justice. We don’t just want acknowledgment, though we absolutely need the truth. We don’t just want apologies and promises, though we absolutely need reconciliation. We need to think of community processes that are non-punitive and nonviolent, and we need to institutionalize and normalize a new justice that is founded on the fundamental value of each community, and each human, to live, learn, grow and contribute. We need an evolution of how justice is held. That, after all, is what it means to transform. Do not let this 22 father’s legacy be a slap on the hand to a deathly naughty system…we must stop killing ourselves and learn how to love each other, and live with each other. The next phase of our evolution must be to grow beyond our fear. If you are in the Bay Area tomorrow, come out to the Fruitvale BART Station between 3-7pm to grieve, and protest.