Adam Serwer has an excellent piece about the involuntary manslaughter conviction of Johannes Mehserle, the former BART police officer for killing Oscar Grantwho was lying face down and handcuffed in an Oakland train station.
Times change, but the radioactive fear of black people, black men in particular, has proven to have a longer half-life than any science could have discerned. This is not a fear white people possess of black people--it is a fear all Americans possess. It makes white cops kill black cops, it makes black cops kill black men, and it whispers in the ears of white and nonwhite jurors alike that fear of an unarmed black man lying face down in the ground is not "unreasonable." All of which is to say, while it infects all of us, a few of us bear the brunt of the suffering it causes.
This aged fear is not the only thing preventing justice for Oscar Grant. We live in a time when Americans are also possessed by a fear of terrorism. In the thrall of that fear we've done more than just cede civil liberties, we've come to accept extraordinary government power over life and death in the name of Keeping Us Safe. Instead of believing that people who hold the power of life and death in their hands should be held to the highest standards of conduct, we remember our fear and just feel thankful for their presence. Instead of believing that great power comes with responsibility, we shrug at the collateral damage, because at least it isn't us.
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