Today is that day that Johannes Mehserle will be sentenced for killing Oscar Grant. I don’t think it’s going to bring anyone closer to closure.
As it stands right now, there are pro-Mehserle individuals who don’t even think he should have been brought to trial in the first place, who think he was just doing his job as a cop, who give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that he really did think his gun was a taser when he aimed and shot Grant in the back, and, though he he made a terrible, fatal mistake, should not have to spend even a few years in prison for it. Even more extreme opinions on that side insinuate that Grant himself was to blame for causing his own death, calling him a thug or a criminal who, if he didn’t want to get shot, shouldn’t have been (allegedly) creating a disruption on the train that night. (In other words, if there’s a chance that police will get a report that you’ve been in a fight, be prepared to get shot for it.)
The pro Oscar Grant side is already angry that Mehserle only received a conviction of involuntary manslaughter, and it’s unlikely that the sentencing will do much to relieve that. From what I understand, chances are slim that he’ll receive the maximum possible fourteen year sentence, and may even end up released on probation with time served. While I’m admittedly more sympathetic to the Grant side, I’m also seeing on a more systemic level how this is becoming a missed opportunity to ask some bigger questions about what justice looks like. I know so many people who strongly believe that the criminal “justice” system in the U.S. is beyond broken and that locking someone up for an arbitrary period of time does little to help the victims of a crime nor rehabilitate the person convicted. Yet how many of us fell into the trap of spouting cliches of how Mehserle should “rot in prison” or some other such nonsense? The restorative justice model is admittedly difficult to envision, but if we only give it lip service in order to prove our virtue or correct political ideology and then in the next breath rant about what heartless pigs all cops are, then are we any better than the pro-Mehserle camp? I’m not saying anger is uncalled for (and I want to be clear I’m speaking as a white ally, and not directing this at the communities of color that live daily with the threat of police violence), but I think we need to do more critical thinking about how we respond to injustice.