No Justice: Oscar Grant Verdict Overshadowed By LeBron James
Thursday, July 8, 2010 will be a day that goes down in infamy for me. It’s not because “King” James abandoned his hometown of Cleveland to play super friends with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach. July 8 will forever be etched into my memory as the night Oscar Grant‘s name got added to the list of those who found no justice after being shot down by the law in cold blood.
If you’re unaware, I’m honestly not surprised. In the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009, Oscar Grant was detained by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officers after responding to reports of a fight at the Fruitvale BART Station. Grant was restrained by Officer Johannes Mehserle and another officer when Grant allegedly resisting arrest. Officer Mehserle drew his gun as he stood over Grant—who was lying face down—and fired a gunshot into the back of the 22-year-old. Grant would be pronounced dead the following morning at Highland Hospital in Oakland. The events were captured on video, similar to the Rodney King beating back in 1991, and clearly show Mehserle shooting Grant as he lay on his stomach.
Nineteen months later, a jury found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter and not guilty of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of four years and could likely see Mehserle serve two years and/or probation, depending on the judge’s ruling when sentencing commences on August 6.
What we learned: Even in 2010, it’s still legal for law enforcement to kill a black man and walk away with a slap on the wrist.
First time drug possession offenders do one to three years in jail. A repeat offender can do up to 12 years. NFL wide receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself at a New York nightclub and will do two years. Quarterback Michael Vick served 21 months in prison after pleading guilty to federal felony charges related to being involved in an illegal interstate dog fighting ring. The last time I checked, a human’s life is valued greater than that of a dog. Perhaps I was wrong.
Grant joins the likes of Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and more recently, 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who’ve died at the hands of the law and have yet to see justice served on their behalf. Rodney King was beaten for the world to see and the officers were acquitted. Grant was shot and killed in front of witnesses on video and the officer involved still managed to avoid a lengthy sentence. Now reverse the roles and let me know how many years a civilian will get for involuntary slaughter on a cop. Two to four years in jail? How about two to four lifetimes in prison?
There was another crime committed on July 8 that was simply appalling. That crime was the media’s coverage of the circus known as LeBron James’ announcement and how it completely overshadowed the Oscar Grant trial. As if we hadn’t heard enough about where LBJ would end up, a nationally televised ego-stroking special where James declared where he was heading for the 2011 NBA season aired two hours after the Oscar Grant verdict hit. Whereas CNN managed to squeeze in a two-minute blurb to publicize the verdict, the rest of the evening was dedicated to an athlete and his big announcement regarding where his next multimillion dollar check was coming from. A video package featuring President Barack Obama discussing LeBron James aired as thousands rallied in Oakland in support of Grant. Larry King had a banner that said “The World Waits For LeBron’s Decision.” Apparently, the world keeps turning when another black man dies at the hands of law enforcement and stops when a basketball player changes zip codes.
Every major news network was dedicated to LeBron’s big announcement. None paid attention to the travesty taking place in Oakland. Not even networks that are supposed to be “ours” (and I use the term “ours” very loosely) like BET. If it wasn’t for Twitter and socially conscious journalists who care about their community such as Davey D, I wouldn’t have known the jury had reached a verdict until well after the fact. There was literally no coverage on our major news outlets. To say that a rich athlete deserves this much attention is disgusting and a disgrace to journalism. ESPN is not at fault because sports is their hustle. But as for these other media outlets, I found the lack of coverage in lieu of LeBron-mania to be revolting.
Even more unnerving was the activity on Twitter. While many displayed their outrage, many more opted to be consumed with “King” James and a rumored Kanye West tracklisting that leaked. It was indicative of our society and our lack of interest in issues that are close to home. We’re more concerned with finding out where the rich man will go collect his next check rather than be concerned with people that are murdered in our tax bracket who look and act just like us. Chances are the average black man has a greater possibility of being harassed by police than becoming the next LeBron James.
What would have been an incredible display of character was something I certainly didn’t expect LeBron and his team to do—either mention the Grant verdict and his support of the protests in Oakland, or cancel his press conference because more important issues are at hand. A move like that would have been monumental. But he’s LeBron James, not Muhammad Ali. I don’t expect much more from him than what we have already seen. But I digress.
As the Grant family voiced their displeasure with the ruling, all I could think about is how another black man gets taken down by the long arm of the law and it gets swept under the rug with the swiftness of a 1997 Allen Iverson crossover. The media paid a little more attention later in the night when a few knuckleheads looted an Oakland Foot Locker in “protest.” The peaceful demonstrators were given little attention, but the ignorant ones become a reflection of the entire community. It’s irresponsible journalism that has catapulted Lindsay Lohan‘s lame 90 day stint in jail and LeBron’s egotistical “It’s All About Me” announcement over issues that really matter. It’s an uneducated community that has the information highway at their fingertips but opt to fawn over Kat Stacks’ groupie adventures and who Kim Kardashian is dating rather than use the net to find out what is going on in Haiti seven months after the earthquake. Watching meaningless conversations take place on Twitter when real situations occur is a reminder of how much we have detached ourselves from reality.
We have become a numb society that is enthralled with the celebrity lifestyle. Our aspirations are strung together with half-baked dreams anchored by the motto “Fame or Bust.” We live vicariously through the rich and famous while we disconnect the line when a parallel is drawn between ourselves and the common man.
LeBron-mania is over. Oscar Grant is still dead and Oakland is wrought with anger and distress. As LBJ joins Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for an all white party in South Beach that us common folk can’t afford to attend, Oscar Grant will join Diallo and Bell in the afterlife as they comfort the sobbing Jones who thought the police were supposed to be the good guys. As Cleveland fans light their #23 jerseys on fire and try to figure out who will lift “The Curse” from Cleveland, Oscar Grant’s family and friends dab away the tears while picking up the pieces of an emotionally devastated community that has once again been let down by “The Curse” of an unbalanced judicial system.
Which one will most likely be forgotten by tomorrow?
It will only remain this way if you let it.