On New Year’s Day of 2009, three young Black men - Adolph Grimes, Robbie Tolan and Oscar Grant III were all racially profiled and shot by members of law enforcement; only one survived.
Let that sink in for a second.
Grimes, 22, was killed after being shot 14 times, 12 times in the back, after nine plainclothes New Orleans police officers, who were part of an undercover narcotics task force, mistakenly identified him as a suspect. Grimes was fatally shot in front of his grandmother’s home near the French Quarter after a five-hour drive from Houston, Texas and after leaving a New Year’s Eve celebration.
Tolan, the then 23-year old, was shot in his driveway by Bellaire police officer, Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton, after he and Officer John Edwards mistakenly identified Tolan’s vehicle as having been stolen. Tolan’s vehicle was found to have not been stolen, after the license plate number that the officers entered into their computer was found to have been the wrong one. Tolan was shot in the chest after attempting to ask the officer what he was doing to his mother, who relatives claim had been pushed against the wall after coming outside to see what was happening.
In Oakland, 22-year old Grant III was standing at a metro/BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stop, when he was confronted by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. Despite not committing any crime or carrying a weapon, Mehserle fatally shot Grant in the back as he was lying defenseless on the floor of the platform. The entire incident was recorded on cell phone video by bystanders and uploaded on YouTube.
In a span of 24 hours, these three young Black men were mistakenly identified and became the unwilling recipients of racial profiling and gunshots from law enforcement officials that left them either dead or in Tolan’s case, scarred for life.
What were the results in these three cases?
Officers were either given a slap on the wrist or no punishment at all.
The issue of police brutality has been at the forefront of many individuals and organizations across this country.
To spark discussion on the issue of police brutality, a free public screening of the 2013 award-winning film about the life of Grant III, "Fruitvale Station", was shown at the Acres Homes Community Center this past Friday, June 13th. The film Fruitvale, directed by 26-year-old Ryan Coogler, depicts the final day leading up to the murder of Grant III by BART police officer Mehserle in Oakland, California. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison and ended up only serving 18 months, which sparked outrage and riots across the Bay Area.
The event was hosted by Parents against Predators, an organization founded by Sonia Parker and Krystal Sonia with the New Black Panther Party.
After the screening there was a panel discussion on police brutality, crime and the community.
Robbie Tolan was a special guest and came to connect with Johnson, as well as offer his support and encouragement to continue fighting against these tragic occurrences.
"Sadly, I share a similar experience with two other brothers on that fateful New Year’s Day," said Tolan. "I am alive to share my story and they are not. I can speak on behalf of those who are no longer able to speak for themselves. Anything I can do to help bring healing and comfort to these families, I’ll do."
Cephus "Uncle Bobby" Johnson, the uncle of Grant III, was on hand to deliver remarks along with his wife Beechie X. Keeton. He discussed the impact of the shooting on his family and the steps he and his family are taking to join forces with other victims of police brutality to bring forth effective and realistic change.
"We don’t need another killing," said Johnson. "The ‘Fruitvale Station’ movie shows the loving spirit of Oscar and offsets the way he was being portrayed by the defense and by the mainstream media. We must address the issue of racial profiling today, not tomorrow,"
Ironically, Mehserle is currently back on trial this week after Oscar Grant Jr. sued him in civil court over his son’s death. In the same trial, Zeporia Smith is suing Officer Marysol Domenici for alleged excessive force against her son Johntue Caldwell, a best friend of Grant III’s who was killed in an unsolved shooting at a Hayward gas station in 2011.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided to reinstate a civil lawsuit filed by Tolan, in which he sued the city of Bellaire and two White Bellaire police officers; Officer John Edwards and Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton in May 2009, alleging unconstitutional excessive force was used when Tolan was shot. The suit also accused Bellaire and police of racial profiling, false arrests and racial harassment. The Tolan family announced the addition of Trayvon Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump to lead their legal team.
The above examples of injustice are just a small number of the many cases of police brutality that have plagued our country. The justice system has historically shown that African Americans disproportionately receive the same treatment in the courts and with law enforcement, than other cultural groups in the United States.
The question is, "How many more victims will it take before things change?"