I don’t usually post twice in the same day, but these thoughts have been percolating since Sunday, and now I can’t seem to think about much else. The boys and I walked the perimeter of Lake Merritt on Sunday. We saw the Mehserle must die messages in red spray paint on the concrete pathways. Every couple of meters, the graffiti, on the sidewalks, utility boxes, backs of signs, spelled out rather clearly, someone’s version of justice. I thought about taking pictures, to document this moment, but then, I chose not to. Who were those messages directed at? Who were they trying to reach? I want justice for Oscar Grant. I don’t want Mehserle’s own child killed, as one of the messages stated. I waited for the boys to take notice, to ask me something about it. But they didn’t. We walked the entire lake, then up through our neighborhood, where the messages continued on the bus shelters and concrete barriers, and to my sons, the scrawled demands didn’t exist.
Which is ironic to me, because their existence is a huge reason why the murder of Oscar Grant is so terrifying. If I wasn’t a mom… I would be bothered, sure, but I know the fear wouldn’t sting. I grew up in neighborhoods where cops shooting people wasn’t that uncommon. I had police draw their guns on me and my friends on more than one occasion in my teens. And I promise you, we were doing nothing that justified that kind of response, other than the officers were outnumbered and we lived in shitty run down apartments. Maybe an immunity develops, maybe it’s just familiarity. Folks on the block get shot. It’s sad, it’s tragic, but it happens. I’m not saying that attitude is ok, it is horrible. Systemic apathy is a tragedy unto itself.
What shakes me away from that shoulder shrug of indifference, why I am able to feel the sadness, and anger, and over a person I do not know, honestly is being a mom. What Oscar Grant’s family has been through, what they are going through, I can now imagine. Oscar Grant’s parents, Oscar Grant’s child, my parents, my children.
I’ve taken the BART on New Years many, many times. The year before last, the BART ride was crazy. I was on one of the last trains out of the City, heading to the East Bay. I looked around me, my friends and I stuffed into a car, and said to myself, “This isn’t safe.” I could feel how dangerous it was. The trains were at capacity with tired, overstimulated, intoxicated people. Me being me, my first thought was, everyone is so amped because they’re not getting laid. If you’re on this train at this time of night, you just spent a lot of money to get drunk and go home.
I could have spent the night in the city with the man who kept buying us shots at the club, then I wouldn’t be on this damn overcrowded train smelling stranger’s nasty beer breath, listening to some drunk loud mouths talking shit to each other. But, my girls and I made the decision to go into the city as a group and go home as a group. And I was glad that we were together. There was such open hostility in the air. I was also glad we didn’t have any guys with us. Too many fucked up people on too few trains. So, I decided that would be my last year taking BART home.
The New Year’s that Oscar Grant was shot, I was in Calistoga, staying at a spa that specializes in mud baths and mineral whirlpool treatments. My friend and I drank with the bartender as the serving staff closed the restaurant promptly at Midnight. He gave up trying to do inventory when all the other servers from up and down the tiny tourist strip came to his bar to drink. We walked the two blocks to our motel room at 4am. The next day I got the first of many messages… “Check this video! Cop shot a guy on BART last night!” My first thought: Do I know him? Second: I knew something like this was going to happen. It was easy to envision the scene. Again, that apathy creeping in. I didn’t know Oscar Grant, but I do know one of his relatives very well. The East Bay can be small like that.
I am nervous about the verdict. I worry about the city. I won’t be out protesting. I will keep my kids away from downtown. I remember the riots in LA after the Rodney King verdict was announced. I had friends down there who’s relatives got caught up. Is Oakland as angry as that part of LA was in the 90’s? Are there enough people feeling like outsiders in their own neighborhoods? That’s what happened then. Was that the purpose of the Lake Merritt graffiti? To express the collective dissatisfaction? To make BART employees walking on their lunch breaks scared? To foster the us vs them mentality? I don’t know. People keep bringing up the fact that Oscar Grant wasn’t from Oakland. That this isn’t our city’s fight; we’re just the arena. BART headquarters are here, he was killed here, so the rioting must happen here? I guess that makes sense.