Justice for Oscar Grant?

Justice for Oscar Grant?

Steven Greenhut: When I’ve written about controversial police shootings in my time as a columnist and editorial writer for the Orange County Register, I would always get the predictable response from police officers, their unions and their supporters. I wasn’t there. I shouldn’t judge the split-second decisions of officers in a dangerous situation. I should wait until the evidence comes in. This was a Catch-22. Police and their unions were constantly telling their side of it. The California Public Records Act keeps most information about police shootings confidential. These police and their defenders essentially argued that only their side of the story should be aired and that only those details of the report that police agencies chose to release should be released. I was told that we have to give the officers the benefit of the doubt in these tough situations.

Yet what happens when the situation isn’t so tough, when it’s not even a close call about whether the officer should have killed a person?

Apparently, we as free American citizens are supposed to stand back and still give the government official the benefit of the doubt. Pay attention to BART officer Johannes Mehserle’s killing (or murder, if he is found guilty of it) of Oscar Grant. Fortunately, this was caught on videotape. (Otherwise, I’m guessing that Grant would have been shot “resisting arrest.”)

This wasn’t even close. Grant wasn’t armed. There was nothing even approaching a threat to the officer’s life. Yet we keep hearing the same excuses. We apparently are not supposed to second-guess the decision of the cop, even though the cop snuffed out a young life. The union group paying the legal expenses of Mehserle sent an email celebrating when the trial venue was moved from Oakland. Police groups are raising money for Mehserle and treating him like a hero. If the jury sides with the officer, then it is perfectly clear that police officers can kill any of us and our loved ones for any reason whatsoever and it’s too bad. There are no consequences for such deadly misbehavior. It’s tough. Move on. But that’s not an appropriate approach in a free society.

In my view, if officials are given such latitude to kill the citizenry, with little punishment if they make a mistake or act carelessly or viciously, then that will lead to more instances of deadly force. This will create a less safe and less free society, one that will encourage corruption and lead Americans to become ever-more fearful of a government that is supposed to serve the People.

Thomas Jefferson’s quotation applies: “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

Let’s hope there is some justice in this murder trial.

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