We Know This Place. . . (Lessons from the Oscar Grant Movement)

“So this is how it ends after 2 years?” said an inmate I had the pleasure of sharing a holding cell with last Friday.

Friday night saw the struggle for justice in the Oscar Grant case reach climax as BART officer, Johannes Mehserle was sentenced to two years in prison. The time he has served up until now will also be subtracted from this two year sentence. This comes as no surprise to people who are used to the racist judicial system of Amerikkka. After all, Sean Bell’s murders went free and Ayana Jones’s family has yet to even see court attention brought to her case. For the oppressed, especially people of color, police brutality and incarceration are treated as common place, given. Bourgeois Amerikkkan society and thought even goes as far as to add righteousness behind the State’s bullets. We know that violence against womyn, people of color, and queers, by the State is apart is a necessary part of Capitalism’s ongoing death march through human existence.

As I sat in a holding cell, following my arrest with the other protestors who took to the streets to march in response to the sentence, I pondered very deeply the words of my comrade. We know that movements around cases of police brutality have end dates. Action and outrage kick up and as the ruling drops down so does the movement. It is in these cases, that we can clearly see the limitations of mobilizing against police brutality with the sentencing of one officer as the objective. We miss the point that, by their very nature, the entire police force is the enforcer of the Capitalist State and thus occupies the role of its violent repressive arm. Are there cops who do good deeds? Of course. Aren’t cops needed in a society where violent crime constantly happens? Maybe. However, it is essential to understanding the nature of the society, and the nature of the oppressed to the police, to understand that the job of the “boys in blue” is protect private property and the interest of the ruling class at the end of the day. This makes them diametrically opposed to the working class and the lumpen proletariat, who own little to no private property, but due to their alienated position in the means of production are in a constant state of antagonism with the parasitic ruling class, of whom’s dictatorship they seek to liberated themselves from. This brings me back to my original point, a movement for justice in the Oscar Grant case cannot stop at the incarceration of Mershele. We have seen many times, past and present, that basing the struggle around a specific officer not only creates a false understanding of the police force in relation to the Black and Brown working class by setting up the “bad cop, good cop” model but it also has an ending point. We have already covered the fact that the police represent a special boy of armed men who will protect the interest and property of the bourgeoisie. Now, let’s examine what can truly be meant by the words justice.

Is justice for Oscar Grant something that can really be achieved through the incarceration of Mersherle? Even if he were to receive 100 years would this mean justice for Oscar and those like him. Will it mean justice for Black and Brown folk who find themselves persecuted, killed, and incarcerated by the State? I don’t believe so. It is nice, and fulfills the need within us for vengeance against the state and the acknowledgement of our suffering, but Mersherle’s incarceration does not bring Oscar back nor does it spell out justice  for the scores of Black and Brown bodies behind bars. A comrade of mine suggested that a demand in the struggle be that a number of Black men/ or womyn be set free from every year Mersherle must face. While this is something that would be met with laughter, it is also a demand that interconnects Oscar’s struggle to the broader one and highlights the true nature of state violence.


The state fuels itself on the bodies of Black and Brown men from whom no profit could be exploited other than in the prison industrial complex. It fuels itself through removing third world peoples from their land through genocidal campaigns. It fuels itself through subordinating womyn to the violence of sexism. And unless we bring all of these to the forefront, then we are ultimately doomed to repeat the same cycle of shootings and protest.

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