BY Muneera Shariff Gardezi
We’re never told secrets at a young age. No one tells us that our noses are in fact intact when an uncle pinches them off. No one tells us that tooth fairies are just our parents slipping loose change under our pillows. And, no one ever tells us that a police officer can take your life just as easily as a murderous criminal. We hear about these secrets as we get older though, and we wish they were still secrets because the truth is much harder to swallow. Ironically, the ones that are meant to protect us are the ones breaking apart our communities, destroying families and killing the innocent by the dozens. It’s not much different than hunting season, except the game are people of color.
On February 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant, was walking home when he was accosted by four police officers who thought he fit the description of a serial rapist, who had already been caught unbeknownst to the cops. Diallo put his hand in his jacket to pull out his wallet for identification when he was shot a total of 41 times. The officers were tried, but as they were acting out of self-defense, they were acquitted.
More recently, a 22 year old named Oscar Grant was shot in the back point blank as he was on the ground by an Oakland BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle. What Diallo didn’t benefit from are the multiple camera phones that caught this incident. Immediately after the execution, videos surfaced all over the internet and spread virally. The response was unanimous – this was racial profiling, police brutality, and a murder.
These two incidents are not isolated. In fact, they represent a larger spectrum of issues that shed light on the power dynamics of our authority figures. Domestically and internationally force has been used by people in power to maintain the status quo and prevent any sort of movement of marginalized groups. Over the last few days we have seen how this display of abusive power has manifested itself through the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) attack on foreign aide providers.
For people of color, this means that unfounded fear and systemic racism will perpetuate violence on our people. Systems that are in place will cover these crimes up and continue to tell us that we as a people do not have the right to live freely, that we do not have ownership of our bodies, and that ultimately anything can be done to us, in broad daylight, and nothing can be done about it.
Muslims are not immune to this pandemic. Usman Chaudhary, a 21 year old autistic Pakistani-American male was shot multiple times by the police for allegedly carrying a knife in his pocket. More commonly, Muslims continue to be targeted by the FBI and CIA by similar coercive tactics that are aimed to censor, detail and eventually deport Muslims. Recent CAIR reports have shown that the number of Muslims being contacted by the FBI in Southern California has dramatically risen. The Islamophobia in the west has created a space where fear and hostility towards Muslims is socially and systemically accepted.
Oscar Grant is representative of the many people of color who are victims of the power abuse from authority figures within and outside the United States. However, unlike the unheard cries of those that are no longer with us, Grant’s case may act as the first step in bringing hope to this lone lineage of injustice. This is the first time a police officer is being tried for murder, and that means that the alleged suspect will be treated as a civilian, not an official protected by a broader police federation. If the trial convicts Mehserle, then it will forever set a precedent that there are repercussions for a police officer’s actions, that they will no longer be able to hide behind their badge and potentially realize that they are here to protect the community, not private property.
In this particular case, the police officers trial was moved from Oakland to Los Angeles because the Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris determined that the jury in Oakland would be biased in that they already had knowledge about the incident. The system found a way to move it to Los Angeles where hardly anyone has talked about it let alone provided support for the trial, which is only in one week. Our systems reinforce these acts of oppression on us everyday and deny us our right to exist and resist. These same power dynamics exist internationally and can be paralleled to the recent Gaza float flotilla massacre. Right now we are begging the world to internationally say, “This is enough” to Israel and take a stand against what is happening. We are begging Obama to put Israel on a proverbial time out. We are frustrated at the fact that our money supports an apartheid on the Palestinian people. We, as a community, are showing this through our undying loyalty to protest against these forces of power. In the same way, there needs to be a unity against racial profiling, police violence, and the silencing of these injustices in our streets at home. Oscar Grant’s story has to spread and there must be ongoing support from us as a community for the trial against Mehserle to give justice to Oscar Grant and to show that any oppression we witness will not be tolerated. We have the power; we control the movement and the resistance: we hold the court of public opinion
Movements are strong, are not a waste of time, and eventually force a change in greater public consciousness and we need to push that movement forward in all ways possible for this upcoming trial, for the people in Gaza, for the people on the floatilla, for Oscar Grants family, and for our children who deserve a better truth.
-Muneera Shariff Gardezi
For more information about the upcoming trial visit the facebook group “Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant”.