Monday, 13 June 2011
Dr. Boyce: Apparently, Murdering a Black Man is Simply a Misdemeanor
http://t.co/GXYbdTA via @socializeWP
As the son of a police officer, I’ve learned to keep balance in my perspective of police brutality. I know that not every police officer devalues the lives of African Americans, and many officers seek to do the right thing. In fact, good police officers are incredibly important in the war on police brutality, for it was those who had the courage to violate the “blue line” of secrecy who opened the door for us to begin tackling the problem.
But being close to law enforcement also taught me about the sense of invincibility that some officers have. Some feel that they are above the law and are not required to show respect to any American citizen. Their actions can be reckless, and many officers have ruined another person’s life simply because they wanted to get home in time for dinner.
The case of Rodney K. Stanberry in Alabama is a case-in-point. Sloppy police work and going after the most readily-available suspect has led to a man spending over 13-years in prison for a crime that I do not believe he committed. There are hundreds of thousands of similar cases all across America that tell us just how racially-stratified our criminal justice system continues to be.
When I read about the killing of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man who was shot in Oakland last year on a train platform, I was concerned and angry. I couldn’t understand why a man without a weapon in his possession could be killed in cold blood. Witnesses and a jury agreed with me that the officer’s actions were out of control, and Johannes Mehrsele was sent to prison as a result.
Most interesting about the Mehserle shooting of Oscar Grant is that the officer was released this week after serving less than one year in prison. The officer claimed that he was trying to reach for his taser gun when he accidentally grabbed his actual gun, killing Grant on New Years Eve, 2009. So, piling onto the initial insult of only giving the officer two years in prison for his horrific deed, the court decided to rub salt into the wound by allowing him to get out of prison after serving a sentence that would be given for a misdemeanor.
When I heard about the officer’s release, I thought about how the court system tends to take care of its own. There is a consistent perception of some that the life of a police officer is more valuable than the life of any citizen. Anyone caught harming a police officer is not only going to get a longer prison sentence than they would otherwise, but they might likely be brutalized or even murdered by another officer. On the contrary, the life of a black man has the lowest degree of value in our society, as our politicians take almost not notice of all the black children dying in Chicago (and other cities) or the black men who are murdered every year at the hands of law enforcement. It’s no big deal to send a black man to prison for 150 years, and there is little concern for whether the sentence is fair or how this is going to affect the children he has left behind.
In light of the disparity between the value of a black man’s life and that of a police officer, one has to wonder: How much time would Oscar Grant have received in a California prison had he been the one who pulled that trigger? Would he have gotten out in eleven months too? What if he told the court that he “accidentally” reached for another weapon, but pulled out the gun instead? Would good behavior make this much of a difference, as it did with the officer? Given that there are tens of thousands of black men serving life in prison for modest drug possession, I think we know the answer to these questions.
Almost nothing stinks of racism more than the Oscar Grant case and others like it. By leaning on fundamental assumptions that white life is more valuable than black and that an officer’s life matters more than the rest of us, the California judicial system has once again embarrassed itself and created yet another reason for the nation to be outraged. There is no excuse for this egregious violation of the principles of equality, and nearly any display of public outrage is justified. Officer Mehserle issued the death penalty on the night he shot Oscar Grant, but court has only presented the officer with a one-year inconvenience.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.
Posted by Irishgreeneyes at 08:23