'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, January 05, 2009

This Investigation Could Take Weeks 

Well, you know, it takes a long time to develop a reason why a BART police officer kills a man by shooting him in the back while restrained in a prostrate position on an Oakland train platform, especially when, as related in this KTVU report by reporter Claudine Wong, there is so much video of the incident floating around. A passenger who did not want to be identified provided cell phone video of the shooting to KTVU, which is now prominently displayed on the KTVU website, but not to the investigators. Wonder why?

BART police seized one from a person on the platform shortly afterwards, but, gosh darn it, why did all those passengers have to have cellphones? Note how the BART police chief talks about the need to interview all the officers, with no mention of the numerous passengers who witnessed the incident, raising the obvious suspicions that the officers need to get their stories straight and that the observations of the cops alone should determine the outcome of the investigation. Turns out that the victim, Oscar Grant, was not handcuffed when he was shot, as first reported, but he was clearly restrained. Note also that KTVU, a television station in Oakland, California, is providing coverage that is much more empathetic to the victim, and more questioning of the police, than one commonly encounters in most places.

An aggravating aspect of this gruesome incident has been the purported concern of the BART spokesperson in regard to the contamination of public perception. Complaining about disclosures through the media (no doubt thinking, why didn't the incident commander order the seizure of ALL digital cameras, cell phones and other video devices from the passengers as evidence? memo to file: urgent that this subject be incorporated in all future officer trainings), he urges that everyone wait until the investigation is concluded. Naturally, as you might have guessed, BART is simultaneously already floating excuses for the officer: the cops were stressed because a couple of guns had already been recovered from passengers on other trains that New Year's Eve night, that the cops on the platform perceived themselves to be outnumbered in responding to a report of rowdy passengers involved in a fight because Oakland Police Department officers had been called as backup, that the officer in question might have mistakenly thought that he was using his taser instead of his gun (not bothering to show, of course, that the officer even had a taser).

Whether any of this is true and the extent of the evidence in support of these thinly veiled rationalizations doesn't really matter, because the purpose is to encourage the public to fill in the blanks by reference to their own biases, the victim and the other disembarking passengers detained by the police were obviously bad apples, the cops had every reason to fear for their safety and, hence, how can anyone of us question the split second decision of the officer to pull his gun and shoot the victim? You know, the more I think about it, I am reminded of some similarly horrific killings by US troops in a country far across the ocean, a place where the people aren't as dark skinned as Grant, but equally subjected to crude, violent stereotypes by many Americans. I fear that Grant's death will likewise be dismissed as unfortunate and tragic.

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