Note: On New Year's Day 2009, Oscar Grant was executed in cold blood by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California (USA). The incident sparked several days of riots and violent protests in Oakland, as well as a night of looting and vandalism after Mehserle was convicted only of involuntary manslaughter (as opposed to murder) on July 8th, 2010. The killing of Oscar Grant and ensuing protests became a well-known issue among anarchists, many of whom were accused of acting as "outside agitators" during the riots. This statement by members of RAAN originally appeared on August 9th, 2010.
Let's face it, the idea of "justice" for Oscar Grant isn't what we need. It sounds good as a slogan for an easily co-opted movement, but it ignores several important factors when looking at the murder of Oscar Grant at the hands of Mehserle and when looking at the entire system of police.
The movement so far, and the responses at several points in the history of the movement, show exactly what "justice" means for the movement. That is, a "proper" trial within the judicial system. Obviously, this does not do anything for Oscar Grant or his family in any real way. It does create a sense of fulfillment, I'm sure, for his family and friends, but it stops there. A longer sentencing for Mehserle will put one murderous cop behind bars, but it will not bring back Oscar Grant, nor will it raise Oscar Grant's son, or fill the void that is left within that family. Just as importantly, this only serves to recreate the system of police and prisons and judges and jails that murdered Oscar Grant and so many others. It only serves to recreate the same system that continually destroys families and lives and keeps the ruling class in control.
In a broader sense, the slogan "Justice for Oscar Grant" ignores the fact that this is so much bigger than just one dead person and a murderous cop. It is so much bigger than just police brutality. The entire system is the problem. And you can't bring the system to trial. A society that is based around the accumulation of capital and private property requires police. And a society that is based around these things is going to create the antagonisms within itself that lead crime and murderous cops. It is impossible to talk about ending police brutality without also talking about ending the existence of a police force and the existence of class society. The police exist to ensure that we stay poor and keep going to work. That is why they deport those without papers, evict those that default on their house payments, and arrest us for taking food without paying for it.
The call for justice in any situation in which poor and working people are under attack only removes any semblance of struggle from the realm of everyday life. It creates a spectacle where we remain the passive machines of production, while the proper agents go through certain motions to create a false sense of accomplishment, and the system remains unchallenged. The call for "justice" is exactly what the ruling class and the managers of struggle (the Left) want and need. If we see the problem of police brutality to just be a problem of a couple of bad apples instead of a whole rotten tree, we will continue to see bodies pile up in our communities. As long as we allow the logic of capital to dictate our struggles we will never break free from this society, and more people will fall at the hands of those that claim to serve and protect us.
Vengeance for Oscar Grant!