I don’t want to summarize the news or to engage in a debate about what the jury did or didn’t do. Ultimately, it is all irrelevant to the situation at hand.
Oscar Grant–like scores of others before him–quickly became a symbol of a larger problem in U.S. society. He became a symbol of the kinds of historic violence which exist far too often between “law enforcement” and communities of color. He stood as the embodiment of the untold number of times others have faced this violence, also falling victim to the unequal distribution of power which marks those interactions.
Oscar Grant also became a symbol of those rarest of times when we all can bear witness to this violence. More often than not, this is a history that is hidden from us. Indeed, part of the problem is the way “the system” can recognize or ignore evidence. It can even destroy it. It has had capricious and sometimes unethical human power to frame these interactions of violence in ways that negate their very existence.
Oscar Grant’s death became a moment of libratory possibility. While it never fully transpired, neither did it fail to free.
Oscar Grant was a real person. His death his real. The pain his family feels is real. His human failings and strengths are, also, real. But so are the pains and sufferings his death symbolized. The anger people feel, the fear people feel, are all intertwined with this more than anything. When the jury reached its decision yesterday, almost anything they did would not have wiped away the fear and pain. It would not have stopped the prospect of more violence in the daily interactions of the “law” and the people.
A jury could have done more; a jury could have done less. Either way, there is always more to be done still. Much of this–the most important parts of it, really–are things a jury could never do. They rely on you and me, all of us.
The lesson to take away from Oscar Grant is that his case–while extreme–is not unusual or uncommon. The ability his death has had to remind us of that is powerful and, I hope, lasting. If we fail to let him remain a symbol, then we have ignored the very power of what has occurred. We won’t understand what Oakland is experiencing right now. We won’t be able to comprehend the rage and sadness felt by people who never met the young man. We will, in effect, all fall victim to the inertia of the past.
Never forget. The struggle for peace is dependent on it.