Execution style

San Francisco BART Police watching one of their own shoot Oscar Grant

On New Year’s morning, the San Francisco BART police–yes, transit cops–dragged a bunch of young men off a train, including Oscar Grant. An officer then proceeded to execute Grant of them with a gunshot through the back, while he was restrained and lying face-down on the ground.

I think you should watch the videos, if you think you can handle it. They made me want to throw up, made me feel dizzy and aching, but they’re important. If bystanders hadn’t been leaning out of their trains with cellphone cameras, this incident might have passed largely unnoticed. According to witnesses, the BART police reacted immediately by confiscating cameras and phones in the name of “evidence.” The two videos that have surfaced were apparently taken by people who managed to keep their phones because the train started moving before the cops could get them. You have wonder why some city governments have been pushing in recent years to criminalize recording video in public without a license.

Oscar Grant left behind a 4-year-old daughter, along with the rest of his family. It’s not entirely clear yet what happened during the incident, and it may never be. He was apparently not one of the initial group dragged off the train–one of the videos shows him unrestrained and standing up, trying to intercede with the police. According to witnesses, he was trying to de-escalate the situation between the cops and his friends. This is not an isolated incident, not by a long shot. This kind of thing happens all the time: out-of-control police violence in response to non-violent communication. It happens to people of color, and to queer folks too. It happened to me and Jack a little more than a year ago, along with a group of colleagues and friends, for asking the police why they were making an arrest. An officer decided to pepper spray our group, without any real provocation. We’re lucky, and privileged, that it wasn’t a gun.

Who knows what’s going through these cops’ heads? Are they freaking out, paranoid, fearful, are they untrained, do they have no idea what to do? What really matters to me is that they’ve been given weapons to use, and they’re wiling to use them at the slightest provocation, up to and including lethal force. What matters is that any questioning of their authority, whether you’re holding a camera or trying to de-escalate a situation, is seen as a challenge that has to be put down, by taking your stuff away, or “crowd-controlling” you, or killing you. We should all be scared. Especially if you’re part of a frequently-profiled community.

I’m not even going to try and draw any connections to feminism this time around, like I did with Sean Bell. I don’t want to have that meaningless argument about what’s feminism and what’s not. Fuck that shit, really. It’s not even necessary–everyone should care about this kind of thing going down, regardless of who you are, as a matter of human rights and people being crushed by state power. People with deadly weapons, who are supposed to be protecting our communities, and who far too often end up as panicked bullies exacting deadly retribution on anyone who gets in their way. It doesn’t even have to be a feminist issue if that bothers you so much; decent human beings still ought to listen up and speak out, and we’ll still talk about it on this blog.

There is a protest planned for today (Wednesday) from 3-8 PM PST at the Fruitvale BART station. For those of us elsewhere, Racewire has a list of things you can do.

I’m adding videos of the event to this post, since the news site above is unreliable.


from left side, subway door – shooting at 0:37


from directly across the platform, shooting at 1:27


from right next to the incident, shooting at 2:57

I want to stress one more thing. The news is reporting that the police “felt outnumbered.” This is exactly the same reason they gave for pepper-spraying the crowd that Jack and I were in. But let’s be clear — it doesn’t have anything to do with numbers. If it had been a quiet crowd ignoring the police and just sitting on the train, the numbers wouldn’t matter. They “felt outnumbered” because a lot of people watching were demanding to know what was going on, yelling, and refusing to just “mind their own business.” People who were demanding to know what was happening, because they know that abuses happen far too often and take far too many lives, and that someone has to watch the watchers.

Unfortunately, to police this makes you “the enemy,” especially if you’re making your voice heard, yelling, demanding to know what’s going on. The police, whether because of training or inculcated philosophy or temperament, see this as a potential riot, and they escalate the situation. The solution to this problem is not to just mind our own business and go about our lives even when we see unwarranted arrests and unnecessary brutality and violence happening. It’s to hold the police accountable, organizationally as well as individually. It’s to let the government know that this kind of thing will not stand. It’s to make it clear that in a society where the “guardians” too often become murderous bullies who overstep their bounds and take innocent lives, we all have a right AND a duty to speak out and let them know they’re being watched. It’s to make it clear that the police need to be able to deal with this like professionals if they’re going to be allowed to carry weapons that injure, incapacitate, and kill.

Two days after Grant was murdered, I went to the Gaza protests in New York City to do the exact same thing — hold the police accountable and let them know that someone was watching them. I feel privileged and fortunate that the police didn’t react to me in the same way that they did the crowd at the Fruitvale station. I was protected by one simple and silly thing: a hideously ugly, bright green cap marking me as a legal observer representing the National Lawyer’s Guild. I was able to walk right through police lines and barricades by looking like I was doing my job and belonged there, and right up to the site of potential altercations between police and angry youth, and I would like to believe that my presence on at least one occasion helped defuse what was happening. But it doesn’t always work, not even if you have a green hat on. Sometimes the cops decide that everyone who’s not looking the other way is simply their enemy, or “interfering with the administration of police duties.” Sometimes they decide you’re a bunch of unruly kids (who just HAPPEN to be brown-skinned) and try to put you down.

Keep your eyes open. Let them know you’re watching. But be careful.


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85 Responses to Execution style

  1. Lisa says:

    Thanks for this post, Holly. I had read about it a few hours ago and was so stunned.

    The fact that you have to write this:
    I’m not even going to try and draw any connections to feminism this time around, like I did with Sean Bell. I don’t want to have that meaningless argument about what’s feminism and what’s not.

    IS bullshit.

    When the day comes when no explanation and justification is needed to care about violence toward women and men, that will be a true day of applied feminism.

  2. Ellen says:

    I’m with Lisa. “The personal is political and the political is personal.”

  3. Cara says:

    This is terrifying and infuriating beyond words. I haven’t been able to watch the video yet because I’m having trouble getting it to work (anyone else?), but I plan on it, much as I don’t want to, once I am able.

    I really want to be able to do something, and I feel totally helpless. Are people marching in the streets over this? I hope they are, and if there I’d be joining them.

    Thank you for posting, Holly.

  4. gogojojo says:

    Thanks for posting on this. I was very upset when I heard about this late last evening. And surprised that I didn’t see more on it.

    Co-sign to what others have said about the ridiculousness of needing to explain why this is a feminist issue.

    Also there is a protest planned today in Oakland, CA. Click here for details.

  5. Cara says:

    Thanks, gogojojo, for answering my question about 10 seconds after I answered it. I hope that they get high turn out.

  6. Holly says:

    Thanks for posting the protest link, gogojojo — I knew I forgot to do something in the original post. Gonna add it ASAP.

  7. polerin says:

    This is beyond words.

  8. William says:

    I was wondering when this story would surface here, as the videos have been floating around a lot of the other blogs I visit for a few days now. Thank you for bringing more attention to this story.

    Incidentally, a lot of people are speculating that the cop either thought he had pulled his Taser or that his weapon misfired. I’m glad Holly used the word “executed” to describe what happened, because there is no way in hell this was an accident. Modern pistols in reasonable condition simply do not fire unless you put a significant amount of pressure on the trigger and Tasers have a different weight, balance, shape, and coloration than pretty much any pistol police are allowed to carry. This was either intentional murder or such extreme negligence that it might as wel have been murder.

  9. Tom Foolery says:

    It’s very informative (and disturbing) to read the reader comments on the Chron articles about this story. About half of them are of the “We can’t stand for this kind of behavior from the police,” but there are a huge number of “That thug got what he deserved” posts. This one is my favorite:

    “If there’s NO UNRULY PEOPLE like those guys…incident like this will never happen!!! i feel sorry for the loss of the Grant family…just the same i feel sorry for the cop because of those UNRULY PEOPLE!!! Blame the UNRULY GUYS and let them pay the $25M lawsuit!!!”

    Here’s a great slogan for the new America: “Death to the Unruly!”

  10. Kai says:

    Always holdin it down, Holly. Good for you. And for us.

    Robbie Tolan got shot by cops on new year’s day too. He’s the 23-year-old son of a former Major League Baseball player. He was in his own driveway in a wealthy Houston suburb. Thankfully, only one of three bullets hit him and he appears to be in stable condition.

  11. Radfem says:

    I had trouble getting the video to load well. What I’ve seen looks like very poorly trained group of cowboy officers mostly because why they violated Grant’s civil rights, they endangered each other through their actions. But it’s difficult to believe that this is accidental for a variety of reasons. I think it’s a combination of different factors.

    BART’s a separate police department than Oakland? And who they hiring? Rejects from other agencies including those deemed emotionally too volatile which endanger the safety of officers (and most officers disqualified for these reasons are because they are believed to be unsafe for other officers to be around). Some agencies including transit agencies also have been known to hire registered sex offenders and officers fired from other agencies. And this officer had less than two years, either as a new hire or as a lateral hire. And if he or she lateraled, it was probably downward.

    But from what I could see, there’s a lack of training too.

    For one thing, I doubt seriously they had any taser training. I think they just handed them tasers and sent them out, because they don’t work at close range unless they remove the cartridges and do a direct contact. Plus, this argument that he reached for his gun and not his taser doesn’t make sense b/c officers don’t even use the same hand to do so b/c the taser and the gun are holstered on opposite sides. And tasers are marked in fluroscent anyway. In between the mandated taser recertification (which is every two years), they are supposed to practice use of it including drawing it from the holster to help ensure they don’t get their weapons confused even in split decision making times.

    They argued that it was a mistaken taser on one article b/c the officers flinched and moved back allegedly from second-hand taser shock avoidance but they do this action when someone fires a gun that’s not anticipated by the other officers as happened in some local shootings in my city. So I’m scratching my head a bit at that rationale.

    Without the videos (which fortunately were not seized as part of damage control), it would be easier for them to justify a bad and potentially criminal shooting. The department will do that until it’s forced to confront what it did and take responsibility. But then again, the LAPD got caught trying to manipulate a coroner’s report which showed a young toddler, Susie Pena, was killed by a SWAT bullet and not her father during a hostage situation. Why? Perhaps because they were more concerned that they maintain their pristine record of never losing a hostage to “friendly fire” than in the truth.

    I’m not going to argue the feminist issue thing either. For one thing I’m not a self-identified feminist and the failure of so-called “mainstream” feminism to even acknowlege these issues as feminist is a huge reason why.

  12. Holly says:

    Here’s one of the videos, in which you can see the officer (reportedly Johannes Mehserle) draw his gun, and a full second later fire it into Grant’s back:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OJTa9F2O14

    “If there’s NO UNRULY PEOPLE like those guys…incident like this will never happen!!! i feel sorry for the loss of the Grant family…just the same i feel sorry for the cop because of those UNRULY PEOPLE!!! Blame the UNRULY GUYS and let them pay the $25M lawsuit!!!”

    This kind of equivocating is typical — it’s One-Way Benefit of the Doubt. Well, of course the people pulled off the train were “unruly” and deserved it! Of course the police are basically doing their job well and not responsible for escalation, of course this is just one bad cop or one mistake… until it happens again, and again, and again.

  13. Cara says:

    Thanks for the additional video, Holly I was able to watch that one.

    Dear fucking god.

  14. Kristin says:

    “I’m not even going to try and draw any connections to feminism this time around, like I did with Sean Bell. I don’t want to have that meaningless argument about what’s feminism and what’s not. Fuck that shit, really. It’s not even necessary–everyone should care about this kind of thing going down, regardless of who you are, as a matter of human rights and people being crushed by state power.”

    Thanks for this.

  15. Holly says:

    Here are two more videos, from different angles:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFNDK8PQGNw

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idJAr6NUy3E

    The first one is very long, it’s all the footage up until the woman shooting got away on a moving train, avoiding confiscation of her camera. The actual shooting happens at 2:56.

    I think I will add these to the original post since people are having trouble watching them on news sites, and Youtube has vast capacity.

    Then I am going to go throw up.

  16. Amanda in the South Bay says:

    So, next time I ride BART, (which will probably be in a few weeks on MLK weekend) I now have to worry about being executed by a piece of shit BART cop.

    I would say it makes me even more paranoid about public transportation-as a transsexual in transition, I tend to give off a rather effeminate gay male vibe, and it can be hard sometimes to not want to wear uber baggy clothes and a thick hoody every time I step on public trans.

    I hope that the family of the victim sues BART, Oakland-whomever-for every last fucking dime.

  17. marilove says:

    One theory is that the officer was reaching for his stun gun and grabbed his gun instead. I can’t really say for sure because I can’t view the videos at work, but I wouldn’t doubt if that was the case. Then they went “OH SHIT” and started collecting cameras.

    Lack of training and experience is my best guess. I don’t think an officer would INTENTIONALLY shoot someone with no reason in front of that many people. Accidently? Sure.

    I am not saying the officer is not at fault. Indeed, he is 100% at fault for the accident (I do believe it was an accident, with the information I have available). But I don’t think he did it intentionally.

  18. marilove says:

    Ah, more info from Holly, thanks. I still can’t view the video, but “a full second” might change my mind.

    Still, I am leaning towards poor training and freaking out and just shooting, rather than, “I AM GONNA KILL THIS FUCKER *BANG*!” Unless the officer was really that dumb and thought he could get away with it … which is possible.

    Stuff like this is hard.

  19. Holly says:

    Like I said in the original post, marilove — and I just expanded it to include more thoughts on this — who knows what was going through this officer’s head. He either had no idea what he was doing, or he had a psychotic break, or he’s callous and aggressive to the point of psychosis anyway. No matter what, there is a huge problem here, and we have to ask “how did things escalate to this level” and “why do the police react this way in these situations?” There was a lot going on in the many seconds leading up to the fatal mistake / wanton disregard for life / whatever it was that are all part of the picture as well. And I’ve given more thoughts on that at the end of the original post.

  20. Cara says:

    Still, I am leaning towards poor training and freaking out and just shooting, rather than, “I AM GONNA KILL THIS FUCKER *BANG*!” Unless the officer was really that dumb and thought he could get away with it … which is possible.

    Stuff like this is hard.

    I don’t get what’s hard about it. “Freaking out” and just shooting someone who is currently posing absolutely no threat to you whatsoever, who is in fact face down on the ground and unable to harm you in any way, is still murder.

  21. Radfem says:

    Thanks for the YouTubes. My browser didn’t much like the others. The officer reaches earlier on his belt for something and I wasn’t sure if it was handcuffs. Then he’s tugging at his belt which is his gun holster. If there was a struggle, it didn’t seem to attract any urgency because the longer video shows officers milling around before during and after. The officer who shot him was the one who stood up and put his hands on his head, I think.

    It does look like there were lots of witnesses on and off the trains.

    I got lots of emails so far. Berkeley and Bay Area Cop Watches and some other organizations releasing statements so I think this is attracting a lot of attention. I think there’s a BART board meeting that people are planning to attend?

  22. A while back, I was writing about the death of Melissa Batten, who was gunned down by her estranged husband. She’d gotten a restraining order against the guy, she did everything she was supposed to do, and she was still murdered.

    The discussion centered around how even low-levels of sexism must be prosecuted because they can be a veneer that hides a monster. At this point, someone commented how important it is that people understand that feminists aren’t all Radical Feminists, just like Civil Rights proponents aren’t all Black Panthers.

    And this is something I see repeated so often in online feminist spaces–just a basic lack of understanding that when the people who are supposed to protect you, who you are supposed to go to for the heavy lifting don’t do their job — in Melissa Batten’s case it was apathy, in this case it’s obvious malice — then you need to explore other options outside of that authority to keep your community safe.

    If you ask me, it’s about damn time that the Black Panthers made a comeback. Black Panthers aren’t about killing whitey, they were about protecting the black community from precisely this sort of out of control aggression by police. If it takes a bunch of scary black dudes with guns for the police to behave themselves and actually uphold the law, then so be it.

    And I write this as someone with friends in law enforcement that I care about deeply, but all people deserve safety and protection at the hands of the police. We are failing as a society. We’re failing women and we’re failing minorities. Feminism and Civil Rights may be two different branches, but they’re on the same tree. If you’ve got a blight on one branch, it’s going to spread.

  23. annaham says:

    Thank you for posting about this, Holly.

    I don’t have the words to express how horrified I am that these sorts of incidents happen so frequently.

  24. William says:

    In my opinion the possibility of an accidental discharge is HEAVILY outweighed by the actions of the officers long before the weapon is even drawn. I see cops bullying a crowd of young people. I see a female office “shove” a citizen 3 times. I see another office just arriving on scene verbally explode in the face another young citizen, bending in a yelling at him only about an inch from his face. I see Oscar Grant with his hands raised into the air, pleading to the officers as they forcefully shove him to the ground. I then see an officer place his knee against Oscar’s neck and exert as much pressure as he can muster, undoubtedly causing intense pain and most likely cutting of his breathing. It’s no wonder the poor kid struggles.

    No matter what you may think of Oscar Grant — hostile … thug … [bleep] … This is an American citizen and is innocent of ANY crime until he’s convicted in a court of law. He’s not being treated like an innocent citizen, his rights are being trampled on video before your very eyes. Yet some of you don’t like him or his kind, so you turn a blind eye and justify what you see on the grounds that it was some sort of accident.

    These officers are grown men, armed with weapons and trained with our tax dollars to protect us as citizens. Yet when faced with a small group of unruly kids, lives are lost and the entire community is in upheaval.

    Drawing his weapon on a subdued citizen was a deadly choice this officer made, but justifying and defending his actions is a deadlier choice by far!

  25. Tom Foolery says:

    If you ask me, it’s about damn time that the Black Panthers made a comeback. Black Panthers aren’t about killing whitey, they were about protecting the black community from precisely this sort of out of control aggression by police. If it takes a bunch of scary black dudes with guns for the police to behave themselves and actually uphold the law, then so be it.

    I’m not so sure about this — not because this isn’t a black issue (it is), but because it’s not only black issue. The fact that our law enforcement officers are totally out-of-control in this country, subject to no review but their own, and routinely engage in brutality and murder shouldn’t be ignored by anybody.

    In other words, why can’t we have a whole multiethnic coalition of scary men and women with guns to put the police in line?

  26. Tom Foolery — I’d rather have that then everyone waving their hands declaring that something simply must be done while this sort of behavior continues.

    A multiethnic coalition of scary men and women with guns to put the police in line is all well and good but as we don’t currently have anything like that, I’ll agitate for a group that actually got their shit together and did something about it. That group is known as the Black Panthers.

  27. Radfem says:

    When Whites get shot, you never see other Whites do anything. Except complain why Black and Latino people won’t do the protesting for them. And that’s actually sad because I know of some shootings of White men and women that are pretty heinous. And sometimes Whites get misidentified by officers as being Latino, before getting shot.

  28. And sometimes Whites get misidentified by officers as being Latino, before getting shot.

    …which I’m sure leads to all sorts of wrong-headed “but you shouldn’t have shot me, because I’m white” outrage instead of “but you shouldn’t have shot me because YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE SHOT ME” outrage.

  29. swearjar says:

    the killer’s name is printed in the CNN article below:

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/01/07/BART.shooting/index.html

    note that the headline comments on the death threats he received, rather than the murder he committed. wonderful.

  30. Bitter Scribe says:

    And cops wonder why people hate their guts.

  31. Pingback: Police in San Francisco Commit Murder « Fitness for the Occasion

  32. Pingback: The Killing of Oscar Grant. « PostBourgie

  33. Bitter Scribe says:

    The article swearjar linked to suggests that the murderous cop mistook his gun for his Taser. Nice. Sort of a Barney Fife from hell.

  34. Ginjoint says:

    This made my blood run cold. That was a brutal execution. That poor kid. He wasn’t even doing anything. I want to puke.

  35. b says:

    If this made you sick to your stomach you should see what we’re doing in Iraq and Afghanistan and the sort of throat stomping with boots we are doing pretty much everywhere. This is tyranny of the highest order, indeed suffocating, spreading, and if people don’t wake up – its going to go the way of Stalin or Hitler – ushered in by the One you all least expect.

    And the taser theory makes sense – and if that’s the case, another in a long list of reasons to get rid of it for good from law enforcement.

    Peace and good luck.

  36. William says:

    This is William from #8 not #24 here.

    Lack of training and experience is my best guess. I don’t think an officer would INTENTIONALLY shoot someone with no reason in front of that many people. Accidently? Sure.

    The number of assumptions you have to make for that line of events to even be possible beggars belief. I think BART is relying on the public’s ignorance about guns and standard procedure to spin a yarn here. A taser has a different weight, balance, and hand feel from a pistol. It also has neon markings on it and the feel of the trigger is very different. On top of that, as others have noted, police generally carry their taser on a different hip (and thus draw it with a different hand) than their pistol specifically to prevent such a mistake. For this to be a taser mistake you have to assume that the cop in question, as well as the other cops around him, somehow managed to make a long series of extremely unlikely fuck-ups.

    What seems more likely to me is that he got pissed off, decided to teach Grant a lesson, pulled his gun so he could jam it into Grant’s ribs and menace him a bit, and lost control of himself. Its easy to get tunnel vision in a stressful situation and not think through the consequences of your actions, but I don’t believe for a second that the animal in question never looked at or felt the gun in his hand.

    He either had no idea what he was doing, or he had a psychotic break, or he’s callous and aggressive to the point of psychosis anyway.

    Holly, with respect, I think you’re trying to make sense out of the senseless. This officer’s behavior wasn’t the behavior of a madman or someone having some kind of episode. I work with people every day who are floridly psychotic. Maybe the officer had some kind of disorder, I don’t know, but that in no way mitigates what he did. He was functional enough that no one thought to pull him off duty and clear headed enough to make an arrest. Likening his behavior to the behavior of the mentally ill is an insult to people who struggle with psychotic disorders. It reinforces the stereotype that psychotic means dangerous. Its comforting to think that people who behave in the way this officer did must be mad, that they must have some kind of illness, that there must be some reasonable explanation for what happened, but sometimes there isn’t.

    note that the headline comments on the death threats he received,

    You know what, I’ll come out and say it: good. It would be right for this officer to live every day of his hopefully short life in fear that the citizens of his community might do to him what he did to one of theirs. Moreover, I hope the do. I really fucking do.

  37. Ginjoint says:

    IF this cop mistook his gun for a taser (not that I believe that), then why no expression of shock from him after firing, if he was expecting a taser and instead shot a gun? Granted, it’s blurry video, but a natural human reaction would be to at least stagger backwards in surprise, to yell out, to put your hands to your mouth or chest, something. But…nothing. The cop at Oscar’s head kind of staggers back, but that’s it. There was no mistake made. This cop knew he was drawing his gun.

  38. Holly says:

    A couple of the news channels covering this have analyzed the first video, in slow motion, as showing that the officer immediately puts his hands up to his head in shock, then doubles over with his hands on his knees and eventually kneels down to the body. (The video I posted cuts off the last part, I think.) It’s so blurry that you can’t really tell what’s happening, though.

    I could believe that this was not intentional, but that still doesn’t remove the huge problems that I outlined above. A lot of incidents of brutality, internationally as B points out, are not “intentional.” But they’re part of a system that promotes and facilitates and allows violence and grotesque perversions of “justice” and “security” like this to happen. That’s a far more serious issue than the faults of an individual. I hope something happens to this cop. At the very least he should be fired and charged with manslaughter — if that doesn’t happen it will be disgustingly tolerant of cops-gone-wild, but I won’t be incredibly surprised either. Cops who slay black guys go free all the time. At the same time, even though focusing on the individual at fault might be the best emotional outlet in a lot of ways, it does little to solve the larger systemic problem.

  39. akeeyu says:

    Re “He thought it was his tazer”:

    Did he have a legitimate reason to taze a guy who was already cooperating?

    Do we really need a cop who can’t tell his ass from a hole in the ground, or his tazer from a gun?

    Killing somebody through stupidity is still a Very Bad Thing and punishable by law (as evidenced by DWI).

    Oscar Grant is still dead, whatever the cop’s intent.

    So, we’re left with either straight up homicide or fatal incompetance. Either way, this guy’s badge needs to be yanked, and he needs to be prosecuted.

  40. Jojo says:

    Here’s why I have trouble believing that the officer thought it was just his tazer. Officers carry tazers on the opposite side that they carry their firearms. So, if the officer really was going to try to taze the victim, they would’ve reached over to their left side like their training would have taught them to do. This is why I have trouble believing that this was anything less than murder.

  41. Holly says:

    You’re right, William — my choice of words was poor, and I shouldn’t have said “psychotic.” It’s hard to comprehend why someone would murder a helpless man lying face-down on the ground, in front of an audience of dozens of people, so I mistakenly resorted to some kind of alternate explanation.

    Even a callous, cold-blooded murderer couldn’t have been thinking that rationally to do something like this, though. That’s my take.

    I have serious doubts about the “taser” issue for the reasons everyone’s pointed out, but I have seen police officers do inexplicably violent things in the heat of the moment before. My take from watching their faces in person is that it’s a mixture of institutional arrogance (the right and authority to discretionary violence), a knee-jerk reaction to anyone challenging their authority linked combined with a paranoid fear and panic of someone trying to kill them, which is in turn abetted by lack of training, a brazen cowboy-cop culture, and possibly psychological issues as well.

    As for why cops taser people — cops have gotten quicker and quicker to pull out “non-lethal” weapons as they’ve become more and more available. Because they only cause intense pain and possibly health problems (or death for a few) and are categorized as “non-lethal force,” the cops just don’t care about having itchy trigger fingers for that stuff. It’s better than shooting, I suppose is the theory — except when OOPS, out of malice or panic or confusion or sheer god-awful muddle-headedness, some idiot gets the two confused.

  42. SarahMC says:

    Most of what I wanted to say has already been addressed by other commenters but holy fuck. We are living in a police state. Some of us more than others.

    He mistook his gun for a taser? Come on. Oh well, in an instant a man is dead. Done. Over. And the headlines declare that he was “fatally shot,” not MURDERED or even KILLED. I would love for a return of the Black Panthers.

  43. Pingback: R.I.P. Oscar Grant — The Baglady

  44. Maggie says:

    Holly, do you have any info on the Saturday protest? Or know where I could find out about it? Thanks.

  45. Bianca says:

    I have many friends and acquaintances who can’t stand the cops. I truly don’t believe that every single cop is an abomination to the profession. I think it is an alarming amount, but it’s too bad that the force nor the government like to take much responsibility for many of these “accidents”.

  46. Holly says:

    Sorry — I misread that part of the indybay story. The Saturday protest at the Civic Center in SF is to protest the bloodshed in Gaza.

  47. Pingback: Three Great Posts on Oscar Grant « Problem Chylde

  48. Molly says:

    I live in Oakland, about 3 miles from Fruitvale BART. The sky is crawling with black police helicopters right now. I don’t have a TV, but the most recent post on http://www.KTVU.com says the protest “turned violent” and has been broken up by the police. Apparently what actually happened is that some of the protesters splintered off and set a fire in a dumpster, then tried to tip over an empty cop car. That was all the cops needed to move in with tear gas and batons. I can’t find any info on what is happening now, and BART closed the Fruitvale station so I can’t get down there to witness it. Anyone have real-time updates?

  49. Felicity says:

    The taser thing doesn’t fly. Not only for all the reasons William said in #37, but as of the last SFGate story I read, the department hadn’t issued an answer as to whether this guy even HAD a taser. They can’t afford to give them to everyone. I think if he did have one, given the context, they’d have made sure the press knew he did, don’t you?

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  51. Maria P. says:

    Wow. This is the first I’m hearing of this.

    When I was in high school, the first protest I ever went to was against police brutality. We ended up right in front of SF City Hall. I remember thinking it very odd that there were police escorting our march.

    I still flinch a little bit when I see a police officer (here, there or anywhere in between) with a gun, even if s/he’s just directing traffic. Actually, I didn’t even know BART police carried guns. (Never got a good enough look, I guess, or was always too distracted…)

  52. This is the first I’ve heard of this atrocity, as it doesn’t seem to have hit the U.K. papers yet. It’s truly appalling! Please keep us posted.

  53. Tlönista says:

    Serious shades of the De Menezes affair here. I hope this case is handled better.

  54. Jesurgislac says:

    The situation in the UK with regard to armed police is so different from the situation in the US that I’m not sure fair comparisons can be made.

    Jean Charles de Menezes was shot by two policemen who were, supposedly, specially trained in the use of firearms in emergency situations. Most police in the UK do not carry guns, ever, and firearm training is given only to specific cops who are issued guns only in response to specific situations. Police on the beat do not carry guns. Or tasers.

    That makes what they did to de Menezes worse, because the justification for giving them guns was that they were supposed to react better than average in evaluating the risk to civilians. I hope that the damning inquest verdict will result in better training – and, I hope, far fewer police allowed to carry guns.

    The overall situation in the US is definitely worse, though. Armed police are scary police.

  55. Skullhunter says:

    Something else regarding the implausibility of the “he thought it was his taser” and the “he accidentally bumped the trigger” narratives going around.

    I’m one of those odd lefty gun enthusiasts, so I remembered a couple of things about the difference between a taser and a semiautomatic handgun. Depending on what type of semiauto the cop was carrying, is trigger pull. If he was using a single-action pistol (think old-school .45 Colt 1911), the hammer would have to be manually pulled back before it could be fired. This means he would have either had to thumb the hammer back (which doesn’t exist on a taser), rack the slide (again, tasers don’t have ’em) or it means he was carrying it “cocked and locked” (hammer all ready back, safety on). Also known as “Condition Stupid” since an accidental discharge on disengaging the safety is very possible. But even if that was the case, the push-button safety on most autos is also not like the safety on tasers.

    Now if he had a double-action auto, he could fire whether the hammer is back or not. If the hammer’s not back, pulling the trigger moves the hammer back into firing position and then drops it. So, hammer doesn’t need to be pulled back manually, slide doesn’t need to be racked, safety doesn’t need to be disengaged. But, the trigger pull on an auto with the hammer uncocked is WAY heavier since now that little lever is doing a lot more work. You can’t just “bump it” and have it fire. And again, this doesn’t at all match up with the mechanical operation of a taser.

    Knowing a bit about this stuff, I’m really having a hard time buying that this was any kind of accident.

  56. Pingback: Oscar, Louisa, and More: When the Guns Go Off… « Natalia Antonova

  57. William says:

    Skullhunter: The “accidentally bumped” the trigger explanation sounded off to me as well. The trigger pull weight for a .45 Auto Glock is something like 5.5 pounds, which would have to be one hell of a bump.

  58. Pingback: Police Murder Bay Area Man « The Creature Politic

  59. jz says:

    Your writing style is hyperbolic , relying on superlatives. You misuse the word “privileged”.

  60. Holly says:

    Oh no, does that mean I only get a B+ ?

    I’m going back to my dorm room to cry now. That’s the worst thing you could have possibly ever said to me, my life is over!

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  62. jz says:

    It means you’ll think twice the next time you use the word “privileged”.
    It means you’ll rely on data to assert your opinions.

  63. Holly says:

    It means nothing of the sort! I have completely failed to comprehend or appreciate anything you have said, so I don’t see how I could do either of those things, now or in the future. Your time here is wasted, sir! Good day!

  64. Cara says:

    It means you’ll think twice the next time you use the word “privileged”.
    It means you’ll rely on data to assert your opinions.

    Uh, we don’t usually think even once around here, let alone twice. And feminists don’t believe in data. We just wait until we’re PMSing and hating men really bad, then we let all of that irrational hysteria of ours out at once. Duh.

    Don’t worry, Holly. You’ll get an A next time.

  65. Tom Foolery says:

    Your writing style is hyperbolic , relying on superlatives. You misuse the word “privileged”.

    Who let the PBA rep in?

  66. Featherstone says:

    “Now if he had a double-action auto, he could fire whether the hammer is back or not. If the hammer’s not back, pulling the trigger moves the hammer back into firing position and then drops it. So, hammer doesn’t need to be pulled back manually, slide doesn’t need to be racked, safety doesn’t need to be disengaged. But, the trigger pull on an auto with the hammer uncocked is WAY heavier since now that little lever is doing a lot more work. You can’t just “bump it” and have it fire.”

    Actually, this is not how Glocks work. (the report is that the duty weapon was a 9mm Glock, I’m assuming G19 or G17) They are “Double Action Only” with a small trigger safety that must be depressed as the trigger is pulled, functioning as the DA part. Every trigger pull is therefore technically Double Action, but at the standard 5.5 lb pull weight – which will decrease as the sidearm is fired or dry fired and the connector arm polishes itself. (DA pull in Sigs or Berettas is around 8lbs and a much longer pull) I suppose incorrect lubing or over-lubing could also reduce trigger pull.

  67. Featherstone says:

    “Knowing a bit about this stuff, I’m really having a hard time buying that this was any kind of accident.”

    I can’t see the video (at work), but there are several ways for this (the shot) to have been unintentional. For example, the sympathetic nervous system can cause an unintended trigger pull, and for this reason good training and practice dictates that the trigger finger remain outside the trigger guard until ready to fire.

    As you may or may not know, your average police officer doesn’t get very much range time (ammo and overtime is expensive) and even less situational live fire training. Many aren’t all that familiar with firearms and their operation, other than click-bang and their own duty weapon.

    Departments need better/adequate training budgets.

  68. Laura Seabrook says:

    I followed a link to this from a friend’s post on LJ. I’ve only been in the USA once (I Live in Australia) and on a trip back from NY State visiting friends I had a forced layover in San Francisco. Someone I met there suggested I travel on the BART for $US 5 as a cheap way of seeing some things, which we did.

    Found these videos absolutely shocking. The fact that it appears to have been done in such an open manner is incredible. The last time I had a reaction to something like this was seeing a protester being tasered after he gave no resistance and specifically asked not to be! But this is much worse. At the very least, the officer that shot that person should be on a charge of manslaughter.

  69. William says:

    Featherstone: I’ve put more than my fair share of rounds through Glock pistols and other DAOs and I have to say, they still have relatively heavy trigger pulls. The bottom line is that a 5.5 pound pull and a guard should be more than enough to prevent an unintentional (not accidental) discharge unless the idiot holding the gun both had his finger on the trigger and was supporting the gun with the same finger. Thats the kind of crap they teach you not to do in a 15 minute gun safety orientation. You don’t put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to fire, you don’t hold the gun by the trigger, you don’t unholster a weapon unless there is a clear danger, you don’t point a weapon in someone’s direction unless you’re planning on shooting them.

    As for the trigger pull being reduced by over-lubrication or standard use, thats pretty unlikely. Even if there was some reduction in pull you’re probably talking about a matter of ounces unless the officer in question spent far more time on the range than is usual. I have an old double action pistol thats seen 70 years and enough rounds that the rifling is practically gone from the barrel and I can’t imagine it firing from a bump unless I was already putting weight on the trigger.

    You sound like you’ve been around guns so you know that in the absolute best case scenario this guy violated so many basic firearm safety procedures that you’d never want to go shooting with him. Seen under the best possible light this officer was so incredibly negligent he caused a death that ought to have been easily foreseen and would have been easily avoided. Stop making excuses, you know better.

  70. Tom Foolery says:

    Departments need better/adequate training budgets.

    Maybe they can stop buying stuff like this and move some cash around before we give them any more money, eh? And lest anyone think that these are much-needed vehicles for use in inner-city warzones, the last picture is from Cobb County, Georgia, and the second to last from Aspen, Colorado.

  71. Featherstone says:

    “Stop making excuses, you know better.”

    Perhaps you’ve misunderstood. I was merely stating that this could have been an unintentional shot. Of course (as you’ve seen above) I did mention the finger outside the trigger guard as standard practice that was obviously not followed.

    “they still have relatively heavy trigger pulls.”

    Glock connceting arms are a common mod – you can go to 3.5 lbs or even lighter for competitive applications. Additionally, polishing the arm will result in a felt reduction in pull. (google “.25 trigger job”) I hope for his own sake that the officer in question did not mod his duty weapon.

    The length of the pull is also part of what makes DA “more safe” and the Glock trigger pull is consistent, really making it SAO.

  72. Featherstone says:

    “Maybe they can stop buying stuff like this and move some cash around before we give them any more money, eh?”

    I would propose a both/and solution. I can’t assess the need for those vehicles for those departments, other than to note that they would be mighty useful in a Columbine/V Tech scenario to evacuate the injured.

    Before we get persnickety, I propose funding for training in order to reduce the number of situations like the one above.

  73. Skullhunter says:

    Featherstone, William,

    I actually hadn’t considered Glocks, for some reason I was thinking exposed-hammer autos like the SigSauer pistols. Unfortunately it still puts us at either intentional action or criminal stupidity.

    TomFoolery,

    I’ve gotten to see the excesses of local police departments up close. I used to live in Gresham, OR; had its share of crime but nothing amazingly serious. Long story short, there was a SWAT callout where I lived for an armed man holed up in his apartment. The ordinance these guys turned up with was ludicrous, including a pair of HK G36 rifles. This while local government kept telling us they might not be able to afford to keep schools open.

  74. Radfem says:

    Were they glock 40s or S&W 40s? They’re the more common firearms used by LE agencies in California. He engaged in deadly force the second he decided to pull his weapon out so even if it was “accidental” discharge (and at least with S&W, the first shot fired in a volley takes the most pressure), the intent to use lethal force in a situation which doesn’t look at least on video to have warranted it is the issue. Why did the officer intend to use lethal force on a man who was being restrained by him and other officers? In most policies, pointing a gun and discharging it are at the same point on the use of force continuium.

  75. William says:

    Why did the officer intend to use lethal force on a man who was being restrained by him and other officers?

    Because he thought he could get away with it, because he thought that being a cop meant the rules didn’t apply to him, because he was part of a system which told him every day that he was better than others and had the right to push them around with escalating force for mere disobedience. The local DA is apparently calling this a homicide, but at the same time says their investigation is focusing on the killer’s “state of mind.” Even in a case where an officer murders a man in public, on tape, in front of dozens of witnesses the wagons are already circled. If the roles had been reversed Grant would have either been killed on the spot or be looking at death row. Something tells me thats not going to happen to this animal, though.

  76. Radfem says:

    Officer Johannes Mehserle has resigned before being compelled or in the process of being compelled to be interviewed by BART’s internal affairs division. He refused to appear so if he hadn’t resigned, he probably would have been fired for insubordination.

    Resignations are fairly rare because most officers in California and other places force their agencies to fire them, then wait to see if the criminal case doesn’t lead to charges or they get acquitted of charges (which happens even in video-taped cases all the time) and then appeal and usually have little to no problems getting reinstated with back pay 2-3 years down the road. Unless they’re considered probational which usually the first 12-18 months on the job.

  77. Pingback: On Oscar Grant’s Murder « Avowed Virago

  78. Leah says:

    NEVER pull out a gun unless you are planning to kill someone.

    That is the #1 rule that my husband taught me when I learned to use a handgun. He mentioned that the double action might have been a factor, but the gun NEVER should have been pulled.

    It looked like the female BART also had her firearm drawn and at her side for some time.

    I don’t think it is fair to paint all police / law enforcement as being bad. But, these BART people looked very unsure as to how to handle themselves and the crowd, and the shooter looked like he was executing someone. The shooter needs to be prosecuted for murder, but these other BART people need some training on crowd control and situational awareness. Prior to the shooting, the BART behavior was inciting the crowd and endangering everyone. Good law enforcement is about DE-escalation and prevention. Dressing a force up like commandos and giving them firearms without training is a recipe for tragedy.

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  80. Kas says:

    Lets be honest here, there was no reason for that cop to even think about pulling his weapon at Grant. This is the EXACT reason why I HATE cops. Thank you for posting this. I don’t even know the guy, but I, unlike cops, know the difference between right and wrong.
    I will tell the world of this and tell all to keep aware.

    May you Rest In Peace Oscar…

  81. Radfem says:

    The ex-BART officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant turned himself in on an arrest warrant. Information about charges hasn’t been released yet.

  82. Radfem says:

    More information here.

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