This piece was originally published on OpEdNews.com under the same title.
To borrow a line from John Lennon, "Imagine there's no heaven." Really, imagine it.
Now imagine you are Oscar Grant, lying on your stomach on the cold hard pavement of the subway platform. A knee, putting the weight of a two hundred pound man, descends on your neck like a wolverine's jaws, grinding your face into the cement. With knowledge of the excruciating pain a taser causes, you try to remain still and cooperative. Then it happens; the shot nearly deafens you as the bullet rips through your back. The sound of the crowd on the platform shouting out verbal abuses of the police in your favor ceases immediately, and becomes a shocked silence, as does your life.
The temptation of this country is to find comfort in the grief that Mr. Grant, an innocent, will find his way to Heaven; that somehow, the Lord will find a way to even the scales and make sure he is treated to an eternity of paradise for his misfortune. I do not know if Oscar was a Christian, but his parents have certainly made it clear to the press that they are. "We are a Christian family," they have said over and over again. I wonder if the ministers of their faith have the audacity to command they love Mehserle as Jesus once, quite disgustingly I might add, commanded his disciples to love their enemies. To forgive the other officers the blatant display of Racism that preceded the shooting? The very belief that all of Man’s sins are forgiven by a Messiah who died two thousand years ago is nauseatingly opportunistic for vermin such as former officer Mehserle, who is saved by virtue of his profession of apologetic guilt (quite convincing if there weren’t video) to the public via letter. Let a Christian minister publicly declare that the killer cop will be saved by virtue of his remorse. They don’t dare. To even suggest something so sordid would be to betray Mr. Grant a second time.
When Oscar Grant died, all evidence points to the fact that his entire being was wiped from the Universe forever. This was Oscar's only opportunity. To subscribe to the other Christian idea that Oscar Grant is now in Heaven, no matter how comforting or well intentioned the thought, is to give a repugnant pass to this crime committed in the material world (as well as all others). The truth is that there are no second chances when it comes to life and death. No afterlife to get it right. As someone without any faith, my own inevitable death is hard enough to come to grips with, but an "accident" such as this, forgive the dramatics, but it makes me want to cry, and in fact has already done so. I have no personal kinship to Mr. Grant whatsoever. I did not know him or any of his friends and family, but we are both Americans, and in that I find the necessary solidarity to feel such emotion. When a human being is murdered by an officer of the state, who has sworn to protect him and uphold his rights, in the most blatant case of brutality ever caught on video (yes, including Rodney King), it is a tragedy that hurts my heart more than any play Shakespeare could have ever written. It hurts so much that it also frightens, almost not seeming real. But it is, and the concept of the nothingness that Oscar was banished to is a scary place to let the mind wander.
Maybe if we realized the true fragility of life, we would not be so hasty to issue out the ultimate sentence of death, and take comfort in the supernatural to set things right. Maybe not, but one can hope. Johannes Mehserle did not only take away everything Oscar Grant had; he took away everything he was going to have. Imagine. Imagine all the things you want to do in your lifetime, and ask yourself if Oscar did not have goals of his own, dreams, ambitions, plans. Ask yourself if two years is the appropriate punishment for so brutally stripping all of that away permanently. Pardon the use of a clichéd observation, but Plaxico Burress will serve more time for shooting himself in the leg.
My thoughts are not immune to the realization that the likelihood of me sharing such a fate is drastically reduced by virtue of a genetic accident. A Black American man has an eight times higher chance of going to prison in his lifetime than a White one. A newborn Black male has a one in four chance of going to prison in his lifetime (Source). Oscar Grant’s skin color put him at a prejudicial disadvantage from the second he and his friends were lined up on the subway platform.
How much longer will America allow unjustified use of force by police to continue? It is not a job for just Black Americans, but all. We are all Americans, and the police report to us, not the other way around. The leniency on police officers using excessive force must end, and citizens as well as other police officers must lead the movement to end it. The Blue Wall of Silence will only continue to perpetuate a sense of distrust. It is the 21st century. We must find a way to come together and fight for justice for Oscar and Americans like him in the future, to ensure this never happens again, and the only way to work towards that future is with the help of our police departments and each other. It would be a mistake to let race divide us in this too important issue. We only get one life. We need to be protected, and a large number of police officers are doing their best to serve their communities. An incident like this hurts everyone; so all parties need to make sure we’re most protected from those who swear to protect us. I truly hope for the moment when we can realize our solidarity and stand up for what is right. Until then, the image of Oscar Grant being shot in the back on a day of revelry will be forever branded in my mind as will his non-existence.