Stevie Ray Vaughan (born in Texas, 1954-1990), here playing Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” in 1983.
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.
“Sweet Sixteen” by B.B. King (born in Mississippi, 1925-). Here performing in Kinchasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), 1974.
President Obama made his first official speech today relating to immigration reform. His full remarks can be accessed here.
Pundits are already wondering why he would make immigration his next political battle when the Democrats look like they’re in for a major fight in this fall’s midterm elections. The President has his hands already full with a major environmental catastrophe in the gulf, an economy that is the worst in 70 years, and two wars with no end in sight. Most Americans seem rather apathetic when it comes to immigration reform; those that don’t are often the most vocally opposed to any kind of real reform.
One of the wedge issues Republicans use to mobilize their disgruntled base is immigration. Accordingly, solving the issue carries no political benefit for them. They stand to gain more politically by keeping it an unresolved thorn in the side of American politics. Furthermore, they stand to lose a lot if there is fair reform, since many in their most extreme base would see this as a form of amnesty or another example of government run amuck.
Let me suggest this…
The President is urging movement on immigration not because it will actually pan out but because it will remind a growing Latino base of Democratic voters (as well as other progressives) which party is on their side. Recent events in Arizona already do a lot of that. Now conservative pundits and politicians alike will do more of it in response to the President. All that rhetoric sounds racist to Latinos, as well as others who are composing the “next base” of the Democrats.
The President knows that even in places like Arizona, the political tide will turn if Democrats think and act in deliberate and calculated ways rather than in just reactionary ones. The electorate of the Southwest is becoming decidedly brown, not only due to immigration and fertility, but due to history, and a younger demographic of Latinos compared to an aging white one. As political science professor Stephen Nuño succinctly states in this recent report from the Grand Canyon State, “as the demographics change, this [anti-immigrant] strategy will become less viable.”
Obama is looking to November and beyond with his speech today, setting the groundwork for meaningful reform as much as setting the groundwork for a change in Washington. Let’s see if anything comes from it.