Socialist Worker

Response to police shooting shows US society is a tinderbox

by Michael Reilly, Oakland, California
Issue No. 2134

News of the shooting of Oscar Grant by Bay Area Rapid Transit (Bart) police in Oakland on New Year’s Day has made its way around the world.

The police rounded up several young men allegedly involved in a fight and held them on the train platform. Grant was among them and although he offered no resistance was forced face down onto the floor and shot in the back.

Other passengers captured the killing on their mobile phones and footage of the shooting has circulated widely on the internet.

Grant, a 22 year old African-American, father of a four year old daughter, and Oakland grocery store worker, died hours later.

The shooter, officer Johannes Mehserle, resigned from the force and did not show up to an interview with internal affairs investigators. He has retained legal counsel and is facing a civil lawsuit filed by Grant’s family.

A protest organised at the station a week after the killing drew nearly 1,000 people. Numerous community organisations were present and the mood, while angry, was determined that justice would be served.

An organising body called the Coalition Against Police Execution has been formed.

After the station protest, a group of 200 marched on downtown Oakland.

The crowd surged into the city centre, leaving a trail of overturned trash cans, broken shop windows and damaged vehicles. It was met by lines of riot police and armored vehicles.

The protest grew, drawing in many downtown residents. Protesters chanted “no justice, no peace”, but many in the crowd also began yelling “Gaza!”.

When the police tried to drive protesters out of the city centre, vehicles and a window of McDonalds were smashed and the crowd scattered.

Small groups continued to confront the police. By the following morning there were over 100 arrests. I witnessed the police violence as they made some of the arrests.

Oakland is a tinderbox – joblessness, homelessness, crime, dilapidated infrastructure and underfunded schools and services characterise much of the city.

The police are widely perceived as an alien force which harasses its young – largely black – population.

For millions of Americans society appears to be unraveling. Families face financial catastrophe, two brutal wars of occupation rage on and the US state continues to support Israel’s assault on Gaza.

Anger is widespread and growing.

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