Ex-NFL standout Plaxico Burress spent almost twenty (20) months behind bars for carrying a handgun without a permit. It was his first criminal offense, he accidently shot himself and nobody else was harmed. Still he was sentenced to two years in prison and served all but three months of his jail time before being released less than two weeks ago.
Ex-San Francisco Bay area transit officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of fatally shooting Oscar Grant in his back as he lay face down and unarmed on a train platform. There were dozens of witnesses and video at the scene. Last summer Mehserle was sentenced to two years for manslaughter in the case. Yes, an on-duty law enforcement officer got only two years for taking the life of a defenseless man. Now that two year sentence has been reduced to (11) eleven months. Mehserle is expected to be set free within days. It’s bad enough this transit officer was sentenced to only two years for taking another human life. But his early release is a slap in the face to justice and to the Grant family.
Burress didn’t kill anybody, yet he got two years in prison. Mehserle killed somebody, yet he got two years in prison. And he’s not even going to do all of his time. Why would one man who broke the law but didn’t kill anybody have to serve his entire two year sentence while another man who killed somebody have to serve less than half of his two-year sentence?
I couldn’t help but think about Grant last week as I read about another police shooting of an unarmed man. This time it happened in Miami on Memorial Day. CNN said police surrounded the man’s car on a busy street and opened fire on him killing him as he sat inside the vehicle. Just like in the killing of Oscar Grant, there were plenty of witnesses. At least one witness to the Miami shooting recorded the firing squad in action with his cell phone. And when police saw him recording it, they tried to destroy the video evidence and his cell phone by stomping on it. Do you want to guess what else this shooting and Oscar Grant’s shooting have in common? Take a look at the video and see for yourself: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2011/06/06/todd.pkg.miami.police.shooting.cnn?hpt=ju_t4
There are plenty of news stories about unarmed Black men getting wounded or even killed by police. Has there ever been a time where an unarmed white person accidently or intentionally has been gunned down by police? Why do some law enforcement officers show reckless disregard when it comes to men of color? If they’re not accidentally or intentionally trying kill us they’re trying to lock us up and throw away the key.
Until last month anyone who was convicted of possession of crack cocaine the size of five sugar packs would have been sentenced to a mandatory five years in prison. But someone convicted of possessing powder cocaine of the same amount might never see a jail cell. Why the difference? Apparently white people prefer the powder version while people of color tend to use the rock version. President Barack Obama recently signed the Fair Sentencing Act to address this inequality. And guess who opposed it? The Fraternal Order of Police. Why would law enforcement not want fair sentencing for the same crime?
I believe criminals should be held accountable for their offenses. And I know every injustice is not about race. But once all reasonable doubt has been exhausted and there is no other legitimate explanation for the systematic destruction of one segment of the population, all that’s left to do – like my grandmother used to say – is tell the truth and shame the devil.
Steffanie is a freelance journalist. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video version of her journal at youtube.com/steffanierivers.