Fear Factor: The Oscar Grant Story

On January 1, 2009 the life of a young father, Oscar Grant, 23, was taken by the San Francisco BART police. Mr. Grant was unarmed, handcuffed, lying face down and restrained by officers when the fatal shot was delivered.* The family has filed a $25 Million lawsuit. According to the family, over the last year he was changing his life for the better. Unfortunately, he was killed during this transformation.

This sad story is not the first and surely not the last regarding the loss of young life at the hands of the police. And while I will not call this racially motivated, it does cause me concern as the mother of an African-American boy. There are just too many stories of police brutality involving young black men – Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo - for race not to be a factor. There is a long litany of men of color subjected to fatal treatment at the hands of the police. The Oscar Grant story is reminiscent of Rodney King, a bystander documented the scene for the world to see. Unfortunately, in this case, a man that was clearly subdued lost his life.

There are times when I optimistically believe that better police training will prevent tragedies like this one but in reality it is a crapshoot. Like any profession, sometimes training does not make much of a difference –especially when those participants are truly unwilling to learn.

I am frightened about releasing my only son into this world of unknowns where statistically he is at risk because of the color of his skin. And yes, I can teach my son how to respond if he is ever stopped or questioned by police. However, his responses and behavior are subject to interpretation. God forbid the officer he encounters is having a bad day, a bad life or worse just dislikes his job and mistreats my son because of a misunderstanding.

I honestly am at a loss because sometimes, following all the rules is not enough.

My heart is heavy with sorrow for all the mothers that have lost their sons because of police brutality. It is also filled with fear. My son is in danger and it comes from the place where you least expect it.

*I have posted the video of the Oscar Grant shooting, at most he may have been resisting arrest but that surely is no reason to use deadly force. View it at your own discretion and form your own opinion.

ETA: A protest was held on Wednesday. Click HERE for the story.
The police officer that fired the deadly bullet resigned before his appointment to be questioned by internal affairs. Click HERE for that story.


Very sad. It only takes one person who choses to abuse their power for something like this to happen.
We have all encountered policemen, heck, even store managers, who are obviously self-important and will throw their weight around to make others miserable, just because they can.
I particularly feel that people like that are drawn to careers in law enforcement and the military.
It's scary, and unfortunate.
My step-son's best friend is African-American. While he has a terrific home life, he often joins us for holidays, outings, and vacations. He calls us his "white" parents. I should not have to worry for him more than my own kid, but apparently I do. Thanks for posting this.
My God, this story is absolutely horrible. I, too, live in fear for my 16-year-old son, who is a terrific boy, but to those who don't know him, might be considered a "threat" because he's an African American male. Please understand that this fear is REAL--every time that boy steps out of this house, I wonder if he's going to get stopped or mistreated or abused by someone who can't see him for what he is: A good kid. Every time incidents like these happen--and they happen WAY too often to be mistakes if you ask me--I hold him a little title, warn him a little more, worry a lot more. But when he leaves the house, none of this is solace. He is my child and he can be taken.

That's no way for a mother to have to live.

I feel for this family, and though there is no way for them to bring back their son, I hope that they find justice for him. His life was worth that much.
T.Allen-Mercado said…
It's a very real fear of mine as well Renee and I don't see any imminent resolution. At best a police officer who fears for his life at the hands (well, back)of a restrained suspect: 1. lacks proper procedural training 2. is not psychologically sound enough for the position. At the very worst, this is yet another brutal example of how very little black male lives are valued in America.

My heart goes out to his family and all of the families who have lost sons (and daughters) to abuse of power.
Threeboys1mommy said…
I don't blame you for having these fears. Nobody should have to fear the people that exist to protect us.
anymommy said…
I am sick to my stomach. I think you and your commenters are right, I'm not sure any amount of training would prevent an incident like this. It's abuse of power at it's very worst.

I fear teaching my daughter about these facts when I can't experience the fear in the way that she can.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for posting this. I wish I could say something to assuage your fear - but I can't! As mommy to a little black man, I have the same fears. I have no answers....just empathy, sadness, indignation and quietly simmering anger.
Cindy said…
We can only hope..pray..that our children and their children will make this world better. I think the president-elect is glowing proof that we are on the correct path!
Anonymous said…
I've been loosely following the story and have a myriad of feelings. First and foremost, my heart aches for the family. Another life taken.

I believe this is more universal than color though; I believe it's something we ALL must fear. Incompetence is not color bound or gender bound. A man with a gun that thinks irrationally, acts irrationally. Make that a man an officer of the law and the result is volatile. It will be very interesting to hear this man's "justification" and it will be horrendous should that man not be held accountable. That is all that can be done now; to make the system accountable. I think the 25M is a token amount, there is no amount of money that can take away that pain or make everything okay.

In that same light, I don't know that it would have been any different had Oscar Grant been Caucasian. I believe that in all honesty, there are probably just as many stories of Caucasian atrocities at the hands of police officers. The thing is, those are the crimes that are not elucidated upon because the media won't get that much of a pubic outrage. It's just not that interesting if the man is your average white guy.

Maybe it's easy for me to think that.
Maybe if I feel that the masses are threatened, it makes my son less of a direct target. I don't pretend to know what it would be like to be an African American mother but I don't know that it would be any different than being a Caucasian mother when it comes down to it. We all cry the same, we all bleed the same blood.
We are all mothers that are concerned that something tragic may happen to an innocent child out on the streets today. And at the hands of those protecting us.

And you're right. Sometimes following the rules is not enough. Be you African American or be you Caucasian.
First of all, that video looked more like a mob killing from a movie than a police arrest. What could Oscar have possibly done at that moment with all those officers sitting on him that would warrant that? Say something nasty to them for being so rough on him? I supposed he could have pulled a knife or something but they totally seemed to have control of him to prevent that.

This is an awful, horrible thing and I am so sad that you have to be afraid for your son. My nephew is half African-American and although his Dad (who is not in his life) was into some bad stuff, my nephew is the sweetest kid on the planet and his only "bad habit" are video games. He will enter high school next year and it scares all of us that he will be treated differently - and not in a positive way.

There is so much other stuff parents have to be afraid of for our children, I am ashamed of people who do things like this and add an additional level of fear just because of skin color.
Ali said…
It's such a tragedy that racism exists. I think there is a ridiculous cycle going on that I don't know how to break. I hate to catergorize such a phenomenon but I believe the root of distrust between the police and the African American community goes back to the abuses of power during the civil rights movement and the Jim Crow system before and even more inhumane systems before that.

White authority figures during those times were clearly oppressive towards anyone not like themselves, esp. African Americans. Having not lived during those times and not being African American, I can't even begin to comprehend the kind of feelings of anger and distrust those who have experienced it justifiably feel. These feelings are passed on to our children and we are only a generation or 2 from those times.

Fast forward to now. I, as a police officer, stop someone whether they are white, black, or any other race. I don't know who they are, what they have done before my encounter with them or what they may do (if anything) to me in order to get away. Or maybe they are just having a bad day. Add to that the distrust I just talked about from the perspective of an African American and this distrust and/or contempt starts to show itself in subtle ways. Then I become more apprehensive and cautious which the citizen may take as me treating them differently, so their feelings of distrust and/or contempt manifests itself in not so subtle ways and the encounter continues to go downhill.

This doesn't account for every racially charged police encounter but I have personally seen it and experienced it time and time again. Unfortunately, I don't think most officers or young African Americans realize what or why it is happening.

I assure you that neither myself nor any other officer I work with goes to work wanting to find an African American to abuse.

As for the racist cops, they are ignorant fools who give us all a bad name. I only wish my children could live in a world where skin color doesn't matter.

Excellent comment Mannequin.
Cat@3KidsandUs said…
What you ladies are missing from this story is that the officer was carrying a taser which is carried next to his firearm.

It's much more likely that he was trying to control him through the use of his taser, not deadly force.

It's tragic, and no matter what kind of life this man led, he didn't deserve to die. Unfortunately, until department policies are changed on where tasers are carried on the duty belt, these deadly accidents are going to keep happening.

It's just as disturbing that conversations like this always jump to racist conclusions. None of us know this officer, so who are we to say this accident was racially motivated?
Wow! Such great comments! I must echo the sentiments of my other mothers with little brown baby boys! There are SO many things I fear concerning mine! I remember when my husband first got his Toyota Sequoia...he was one of the first to get one when they came out...special ordered so it was really really nice..black, shiny...lots of tint...nice rims (but not too flashy)...the first week he drove it, he got pulled over 3 times! Crazy!
I truly appreciate everyone that has commented on the post.

@mannequin I do agree that all mothers fear for their children. It is natural.

As @Ali, a police officer has mentioned there is a initial suspicion on both sides whenever a person of color is stopped. And it can easily escalate if one or both parties are not cognizant of what is going on.

@Cat Perhaps your comments regarding this incident being racially motivated are directed to the comments in this post and not me because I clearly stated that I will not call this incident racially motivated. However, the fact that it happened at all brought to mind the other cases that have involved African American men and the very real fear that I have for my son based on past atrocities.
felicia said…
I am completely saddened by this event. I have two boys a 12-year old and a 4 month old. I too worry for their safety, but I also worry for the safety of my husband. Last year, my husband and his younger brother along with our 12-year old, was stopped by police. They pulled them out of the car, had them sit on the curb just steps away from our apartment. While they went through the car. Luckily my husband has a cool head and nothing to this magnitude happened, but to be pulled over for no reason at all. My husband was driving since his brother was drinking, the car was in his girlfriend's name and registered to our house. They had proper identification but they were still humiliated and made to be inferior including a 12 year old boy who was just out bowling with his father and uncle. So I worry every single day for the men in my family when they leave the house, even if it is just to go bowling.
Ms. Bar B: said…
Yep, we are truly feeling this senseless murder very hard and heavy here in the Bay Area. It left us all in shock and speechless. To actually see the actions of this officer and then to be told that we should not let our emotions get away with us AND that we should just be patient AND the undertones that we should feel some level of sympathy for the officer who made the choice to kill. Because they are questioning if he actually did make the choice. Its just... a grand mess and its even more of a mess since he resigned his position.

People did take to the streets last night night simultaneously protesting and rioting. Hurt feelings, anger, feeling like there was a great injustice done.

Cat, yes the officer was carrying a taser and a firearm, however they are not carried on the same side. They are carried of opposite sides of the officer's belt. When lives are involved mistakes can't afford to be made. Tell his 4 year old daughter that the taser was near the firearm, or that the firearm was mistaken for the taser. Its not gonna matter to her because now she no longer has a father because of what people are trying to call a "mix up".

It is true that emotions run high right now, but at the same time, emotions aside, the evidence is there. He was face down on the ground, and was shot in the back. The officer made a very quick move for a situation that did not call for it and now he has taken a life that should have never been lost. You can't go backwards, you can only go forward from here and that is why people are mad as hell... because the officer involved is pretty much refusing the come forward in this case.

Renee, I share the same fears and have been very happy and relieved that I have a daughter. But still fearful that maybe my next child will be a boy and then I will have the same task that you do, preparing him to be a black man in America. It doesn't matter what the law is. People make up their own laws and ways of perceiving and treating people. Its not right, but that is STILL the reality and we are left trying to make sure that our men are not taken from us.
@ Ms. Bar B. Thank you for your perspective as a person that is living in this moment. We live in crazy times. I only hope that justice is really served. Otherwise I fear a replay of the Rodney King riots.
Cat@3KidsandUs said…
Renee, you're correct, my concern for jumping to conclusions on racial motivation was directed towards some of the comments.

I'm not blind to the actions of some police officers when it comes to race. Racism is still very alive in this country. Being part of a multiracial family, I do have concerns on how my children will be treated as well.

The problem here is that in general the public has a great dislike for law enforcement officers. It's heartbreaking for me seeing this daily, knowing my husband, my children's father is out there on the street risking his life for the very people that want to burn him at the stake just for carrying a badge.

If you use your browser to zoom in on the video, watch as the officer unholsters his weapon. You can see the officers around him remove their hands from the victim. This is done when a taser is about to be used so they don't feel the effects of it as well.

The media likes drama, and they love to put law enforcement in a bad light because it SELLS. It's a shame they can never truly be unbiased and paint the entire picture.
F.P.E. said…
Cat - please excuse my ignorance and I'm not trying to be funny or mean, just looking for a bit of clarification as I am not a police officer and I do not handle guns or tasers. I thought you must put a taser on to the person in order for it to be effective. Also, I thought the cop that stood up and pulled his gun was the one who shot him. If I am correct, I'm not sure how he accidentally was trying to use a taser while standing and the person is on the ground. Once again not trying to start anything or be funny, but I'm trying to get things clear in my mind. As I said in my post I fear for the men in my family not because of their race but because they are young and are assume to not have any authority some people like to show their authority over young folks.
@Felicia - to answer your question, there are tasers that you shoot and they travel several feet. However, based on another comment that the taser is carried on a different side from the gun and I would assume that they are shaped differently than a gun. I do not know for sure. We do need to hear the full story and I look forward to hearing what is uncovered.
tanyetta said…
I am HORRIFIED over this. I must truly be living under a rock. I live in Cali and hadn't heard of this. As the mother of a son, I can't even imagine what this family is going through. My goodness, the young man was handcuffed and laying on his stomach what could have motivated this police officer to do this?

Thank GOD for the videotape. This will NOT bring back the young man but, will hopefully the wrath will be brought down on the officer for what happened.

I am sick to my stomach watching this. I couldn't watch it all. After the shot, I turned the video off.

Lalapoo said…
I saw this story yesterday, I was very much at loss for words and horrified, while I am not the mother of a black boy I am the mother of 2 black girls... I say black because we are not african americans.. we are haitians.. I grew up in a country where being black was the last thing on my mind.. in fact I did not know that I was black until I was 11 years old! I would like to raise them in world where this kind of thing never happens..
Felicia said…
Thank you Renee for clearing that up and pardon my ignorance on the matter.
Mama Zen said…
After I read your post, I watched a couple of other videos (different angles) that have surfaced. I can see the possibility that it was an accident.

But, even if THIS incident was an accident, it doesn't negate your basic point. I'm just an average looking white woman; I never learned any "special rules" for dealing with police officers. But, the mothers of my black students made sure that their little boys knew: keep your hands visible, move slow, obey instantly.

It is sick and sad and wrong when a mother has to fear for her child's safety like that. It's just wrong.
Anonymous said…
I was thinking about this yesterday because I have seen this kind of behavior from not just white cops, but from black ones as well- not the murdering, but the overly-aggressive behavior that seems to be fueled by fear more than duty.

I worked in a very large urban HS- one that is 99% minority and has a reputation for having a bad population. The security officers (most of whom are Task Force police officers and black) who are supposed to be maintaining order are often times the catalyst for chaos. They are many times too brutish and seem to get a sick kind of enjoyment scaring people.

Am I saying that is what happened in this case? I don't know, but what I do know from speaking with friends on the force is that there are many officers who become cops simply because they like the power.

I think this is what drives a lot of these incidents- power. Power and fear. Theses same people who need to feel powerful feel this way because they are in fact VERY AFRAID. It is what drives their desire to seek positions of power. It is what makes them overreact in situations like these.

And then, then there is the prejudice. See, I don't believe that most of these cops or any cops are racist. Racism implies that they are purposely hateful of another race- but I don't think that is the case. I think that they are just ignorant an unaware or their ignorance. I
believe that they are prejudices and they are motivated by these prejudices and that fear generates a very basic equation: Black man + nice car = Drug Dealer = Fear = Death.

While I am not raising a black male, I am a black woman raising a bi-racial daughter who will be categorized despite what I do. I know what it feels like to be hopeless concerning how the world treats her. Renee, I feel your pain. I am saddened by it, but know that all we can do is educate and make sure that those ignorances that fuel the actions of some are unlearned.
Weith Kick said…
I read about this too the other day when it happened. Truly an awful, horrific event to happen to this boy's family and community. You have expressed and written your feelings very well and concise. Obviously, the police have a lot of explaining to do. I cannot watch the video. It is too difficult for me to watch that kind of realism. Like I told Ms. Bar B, it's hard enough reading about it.
Vodka Mom said…
That was a very sad story, and I don't blame you, Renee, for having these concerns. However, if more people like you KEEP this topic visible, and on the table at all times- perhaps these kinds of things can change.

I pray they will.
Stephanie said…
Im getting a wierd error popping up on your site. I'll try it again at home tonight. I agree the video was astonishing. There is no excuse for what happened. You are right raising a african american boy is a challenge, I have a 1 year old and I have not idea how to explain situations that he may run into later inlife. I hope our boys and everyones boys stay safe.
fly tie said…

not saying it's the case with this particular situation, but in a lot of situations like this i tend to think it's an emotional thing. the cop can be well trained on what he's *supposed* to do and how he's *supposed* to handle certain situations, but it might take one "wrong word" or a bad attitude from the person being arrested for the officer to just act a fool with a weapon. a lot of times i think it's emotional, and they basically have a license to kill/beat/torture. sadly (i think) do so for personal reasons.
OMG- I wasn't aware of this horrible tragedy and feel so sorry for this young man's family and little girl. I also appreciate your willingness to blog about a controversial issue in such a respectful and accurate way. Sometimes you do have to shake your head and wonder what kind of world are we creating for our children and grandchildren. May Oscar rest in peace...
CaraBee said…
What a horrible tragedy. I suspect this was more about a police officer overreacting to a situation than a racially motivated crime. They are, after all, only human. How many hundreds of thousands of times a year are officers put into dangerous situations where everyone walks away, no worse for the wear? While I am heartbroken for that young man's family, I just can't turn this into a commentary on society today.
Petula said…
I wasn't surprised when I heard about this, but I was saddened. It's a devastating shame how this keeps happening. This is the first time I've seen the video and ... well, I know exactly what you mean. No matter how far we "progress" as a people it doesn't look like things like this will ever change and it's so sad -- and like you said: scary -- our children.
Kimber said…
You have awards waiting for you at my site.
MomMega said…
I am speechless. Thank you for bringing this story to our attention. My husband and I just watched open mouthed in shock. We are so sad that something like this could happen. I don't blame you at all for being scared.
Tooj said…
Stories like this that continue to penetrate our everyday are haunting and disturbing and sad. I understand your pain and fear and worry. I only hope that in the years to come, these situations become fewer and the generations before and after us have grown out of the ignorance that was our nation's past and still lives in our nation's present.
Joanie said…
The death of anyone's child is enough to break a mother's heart. When it occurs as the result of someone in power going too far, it becomes an even greater tragedy.

Regardless of color, the fact that we look to the police to "protect and serve" and we end up with more than one instance of them going overboard, actually killing someone in the process, it erodes the very trust we're supposed to have in them.

At the same time, I can't imagine being in uniform and having to make split second decisions, reacting to a situation that changes with every blink of the eye. As a nurse, it's so much easier -- I can grab a crashcart, call the docs, place a hand on a wound to stop bleeding, give CPR, etc. For a cop, there are too many factors I can't even fathom. A flash of light to a cop -- is it a knife? A gun? What? Add to that the crowd, the voices of many yelling things you can only half hear.

I'm not trying to excuse the actions of the police in this case. I'm just trying to wrap my head around this in every conceivable manner possible to try and make sense of it. And I can't.

A young man is left dead. And surely the career of at least one office is over. I wouldn't want to be in either position, nor would I want to be a part of either's family.

I wish I could say there's a simple cut and dried answer to prevent this from ever happening again, but we all know there's not.

I found Cat's perspective to be very interesting regarding the movement of the police off of the victim, as if they believe a taser is about to be used. I truly hope that's what the officer intended. However, the fact that such a mistake could lead to a fatal gunshot leaves me questioning the weapons with which the police are armed.

May God watch over us all and may He bring peace to everyone involved. May we also find the strength to navigate through the turmoil and the heartache and find practical answers and solutions to preventing another shooting like this.
We pray for his family and friends. That his soul is at peace. That people will allow the legal system to work.
Remember Romans 12 people.
Mariah said…
I saw when you twittered about this and I have been sick ever since. Your concerns are certainly valid. My heart and prayers go out to his family
Louisa said…
Gosh Renee, this is absolutely appalling! I can't believe stuff like this still happens! I am so glad you posted about this and really hope justice is done here!

Also, I thought you'd like to know that I've added you to my blogroll!
Lisa @ Serah's said…
Renee, stories like this not only worry me but cause me to also look upon this world and wonder if things haven't changed after 2 centuries, will it ever? I am deeply saddened.
tara @ kidz said…
Thank you for sharing this and spreading awareness. It's so sad some feel the need to abuse power (and others).
calinda.loyola@gmail.com said…
I was reluctant to post my comments, especially since I don't keep up daily. But I want to add my anguished and outraged two cents to this forum--and to thank you for the space when it's easy to feel impotent in the face of boogeymen as big as racism, apathy, FEAR of our children.

While I "hear" other bloggers say it's incompetence and we're all tired of screaming "racism" yet again, there's a reason why we knowingly look in that direction. Since the first of the year, at least two young unarmed black men have been killed by police (Oscar Grant and Robbie Tolan) and very little has been done about it (though certainly NOTHING can bring them back). I know that when I teach my little brown boy about the dangers of this world, just like my mother before me, I have to also "warn" him about the authority figures that are supposed to protect and serve him. Moreover, I'll have to discredit the lessons of self-worth and confidence that I try daily to impart to remind him to lower his eyes and voice, try not to seem provocative, suck it up in the face of unreasonable and unfair disrespect--all in service of saving his life. My husband and I lament this together. We discussed it a year or so ago when he left us momentarily to move the car from a restricted parking zone near our Chicago condo to another spot better for that time of day. We waited for daddy to come back and have breakfast together. When he finally arrived and I asked what took so long he answered, "police." What crime had my husband committed? He sat at a stop sign and a cop eased up beside him in an area where there really was not a lane. So Ben waited. Was something wrong? He rolled down the window and asked the officer. "Whassup?" the cop said. "What're you doing over here? Whassup?" "I live here," Ben responded. "Well, watch yourself," and the cop was off. After he parked, my husband sat in the car, trying to contain his rage--and feelings of shame because it wasn't the first time and what could he do? Live in the precinct making complaints?

We have to ALL be outraged and vocal, no matter the color of our skin, to bring this to an end--for teh sake of all of our children.
calinda.loyola@gmail.com said…
PS. I mistakenly wrote that Robbie Tolan was killed. He was shot and suffered a life-threatening (and potentially career ending--at age 23) injury.
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