Demanding justice for Oscar Grant

October 27, 2010

OAKLAND, Calif.--About 500 people braved the rain to rally for justice for Oscar Grant III at the City Hall here on October 23 in advance of the November 5 sentencing date for Oscar's murderer, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop Johannes Mehserle.

Mehserle shot Grant on January 1, 2009 while Oscar was lying face down on a BART train platform with his hand behind his back. Mehserle was convicted by a jury in July, but only of the least serious manslaughter charge.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 stopped work on the day of the rally to show their support for the campaign to win justice for Oscar, and other unions and community allies came out to show that they are on the same side. Shows of support like this are important in forcing the U.S. justice system to jail racist police officers.

The mood at the rally was militant. Several ILWU members made the connection between the struggle for Oscar and the historical struggle of the ILWU. Oscar's 5-year-old daughter Tatiana made an appearance on the stage. Tatiana's aunt Lita Mesa read a heart-wrenching letter she has written to Judge Robert Perry, who will pass sentence on Mehserle.

The Teamsters, Oakland Educators Association, Service Employees International Union, International Workers of the World and many other unions were in attendance. Picket signs reading "No justice, no peace," "Justice for Oscar Grant" and "An injury to one is an injury to all" were everywhere.

Mehserle could be sentenced to anything from time served to 14 years in prison. Unfortunately, Judge Perry has a reputation for leniency when it comes to cops--he gave out light sentences for the crooked, murdering and cocaine-dealing LA cops in the infamous Ramparts case from the late 1990s.

It's unlikely that Perry will impose the maximum sentence on Mehserle, but activists are hoping that protest will push him to at least send the officer to prison.

Despite the organizing, the rally could have been bigger. Not all of the Local 10 leadership was behind the rally, and if ILWU locals up and down the West Coast had mobilized, the demonstration could have been huge.

Another factor dampening turnout was the elections. Even though the Democratic Party's candidate for governor, Jerry Brown, refuses to rule out tough cuts and furloughs for workers in public-sector unions, those same unions are campaigning for him as the lesser evil to eBay CEO Meg Whitman.

Still, Local 10's decision to hold a work meeting on October 23 and to rally others is a great example of social justice unionism. The fact that hundreds turned out in spite of the rain and other factors shows that people in the Bay Area remember Oscar Grant--and will come out to demand justice for him and all people harassed and brutalized by police.

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