I live in the Bay Area — Oakland is a 30-40 minute drive for me. So like many here I was outraged by the news last week of Oscar Grant’s shooting and appalled at the halting response of police and BART. But sadly not surprised. (Local coverage is above) What happened to Oscar Grant is the nightmare that every parent of a black child fears, especially young men under 25: that one day they will be in the wrong place at the wrong time targeted by police and never come back. It’s almost a rite of passage for our young men and racial profiling hits blacks no matter the income level — po, working, middle, upper class. Don’t matter to the law — in the eyes of the po po, we are all just niggers.

When my brother was 16, he called to tell us he’d been arrested for driving a friend’s parent’s car (friend was in the passenger seat and not feeling well). He was pulled over solely for driving an expensive car while black. In the middle of the largest intersection of our community, he was placed face down & handcuffed with a shotgun to his face. A skinny teenager then — a kid who’d never done anything in his life.

My brother survived his encounter with the law. Oscar Grant didn’t. I could give you more stories. It’s typical that black kids receive instructions from an early age on how to survive an encounter with police – be polite, say yes sir, no sudden movements, do whatever they say and don’t resist, don’t sass, etc. You can bet that the Obama girls have had this talk.

The point is that racial profiling begets police brutality begets unlawful arrest begets clogged jails begets a generation of black and brown men who can’t get jobs and are a burden & a danger to society. It’s a violation of Rousseau’s social contract in which we agree to participate in government in order to receive protection. That’s where the riots come in. It has to stop. We deserve to be left alone – to be innocent until proven guilty. To not get shot for being black. Racial profiling and police brutality are about basic human rights. My hope is that the proliferation of digital cameras means that in the future as in this case, no longer will it be our word vs the cops’ going forward.

Color of Change is urging people to speak up, if you relate. Here’s the 411:

On New Year’s Eve, Oscar Grant was shot execution-style by a transit police officer in Oakland, California. He was shot in the back while face-down on a subway platform, unarmed and posing no threat.1,2

Twelve days later–despite several videos showing what happened–the officer who killed Grant hasn’t been arrested, charged, or even questioned. He quit the force and has refused to speak. The District Attorney has done nothing.

It’s time to demand that California Attorney General Jerry Brown take over the case and arrest Grant’s killer, and to ask that the US Department of Justice launch an independent investigation into the conduct of the local authorities. Please join us and ask your friends and family to do the same:


Oscar Grant is the third man murdered by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police in the past 17 years. All three victims were Black and none posed a serious threat. In each case, BART and county authorities have failed to hold the officers accountable.3

In the previous cases, BART’s internal investigations concluded that the officers felt threatened by the victims and were justified in pulling the trigger. It’s unbelievable given the circumstances of the killings:

  • In 1992, 19-year-old Jerrold Hall was shot in the back by a BART officer as he tried to leave the parking lot of a station. The officer was responding to reports of an armed robbery and said he suspected that Hall and a friend were involved. The officer tried to detain the two, Hall ran and then the officer shot him in the back and killed him. Hall was unarmed, but the officer said he thought Hall was on his way to get a gun and return for a showdown.4
  • In 2001, a mentally ill man named Bruce Seward was the next victim of the rogue force. Seward, 42, was naked and had been sleeping on a bench outside the BART station when an officer approached him. Seward did grab the officer’s nightstick at one point, but there were several options for subduing him. Instead, the officer shot and killed him.5

In addition to BART’s internal investigation, Alameda County’s District Attorney is also investigating Oscar Grant’s murder–but the office’s record on investigating police killings is horrible too. In both cases just described, the District Attorney bought BART’s argument that the officers felt threatened. As a result, the cops were cleared of any wrongdoing.

In the case of Grant’s murder, the DA has already let 12 days pass while doing essentially nothing–the officer who killed Grant is able to travel and leave the state, and he’s free to talk with other officers and attempt to construct a story to justify his killing of Oscar Grant.

The problem with Alameda County’s DA goes beyond BART police murders. In the past two years alone, there have been 11 fatal police shootings in Oakland (not including that of Oscar Grant).6 When asked, the officials at the District Attorney’s office could not remember a single case in the last 20 years where an on-duty cop had been charged in a fatal shooting in Alameda County.7 It gives the clear appearance that the District Attorney’s office just doesn’t have the will to prosecute police crimes.

California’s Attorney General needs to step in now and arrest Oscar Grant’s murderer. And the US Department of Justice should investigate the failure of the authorities in Alameda County to act. It’s the first step towards justice. After that, we will push for systemic changes to create public accountability for BART and other police departments. Creating those structural changes will be a much longer fight, but Oscar Grant’s tragic death is a wake-up call that should give us a real chance to help prevent this from happening again.

Please join us in demanding justice, and then ask your family and friends to do the same:


Thanks and Peace,

— James, Gabriel, Clarissa, William, Dani, and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
January 13th, 2008


1. “BART shooting captured on video,” San Francisco Chronicle, 1-06-09

2. “$25 Million Lawsuit Announced In BART Shooting,” KPIX, 1-04-09

3. “BART cop shooting: we’ve been here before,” Daily Kos, 1-08-09

4. “Lethal force,” San Francisco Bay Guardian, 12-12-92

5. “BART police condemned by slain man’s family,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7-18-01

6. “Forum on officer-involved shootings held,” KGO-TV, 12-11-08

7. “Death threats against BART officer,” San Francisco Chronicle, 1-07-09

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