The Unsettling Settlement: Minister Keith Muhammad demands Justice for Oscar Grant

Note: The remarks below were delivered at the Wednesday, Feb. 10 community rally and press conference at the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland. The rally was called following recent media reports, and statements by attorney John Burris, who represents the family of Oscar Grant, that "jeopardized" BART's $1.5 million settlement with the family for BART police officer Johannes Mehserle shooting and killing Grant.

By Minister Keith Muhammad
Special Guest Blog

On January 1st, 2009, BART officer Johannes Mehserle responded to a call at Fruitvale BART where he found BART Officer Tony Pirone and others detaining, demeaning and aggressing Oscar Grant III and his friends. Within minutes of his arrival and seconds from hearing Officer Pirone hurl racially offensive, threatening assaults at Oscar Grant, Mehserle pulls his weapon, takes aim, and kills an unarmed father, son, and citizen.

The recent so-called partial settlement with the mother of Oscar’s child settled nothing. In fact, reports in the media and BART attorney’s have been extremely unsettling. By definition, either a matter is settled or it is not. The BART Board, in its rush to settle has voted to approve an incomplete deal. Why this sudden rush to settle? Who benefits by this rush?

The rush to settle may please BART. BART has been on a public relations blitz since January 2009. It seems pleasing to Johannes Mehserle and his attorney, who regardless of judge imposed gag orders, has publicly expressed agreement with this settlement. It may please all those hired who gain financial benefit in the process; but this rush is not pleasing for those whose demand is justice.

The murder of Oscar Grant is not settled. The mother of Oscar remains strong in their unsettled $50million lawsuit. His criminal trial is scheduled soon in LA and must proceed unhindered by false information that is being leaked, according to Attorney Burris, by persons in or near this case on behalf of BART.

We stand firmly with the family of Oscar Grant as it pursues justice in the matter of its slain son. This so-called settlement is unsettling because BART officials and its attorney have made a conscious effort to drive down any settlement demands by demeaning Oscar Grant and his friends, who were witnesses to his murder.

Attorney Burris referenced last week the infamous Dred Scott decision in which Supreme Court Judge Taney declared that a Black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect. Burris declared that Black men have rights where he came from.

In fact, every right we claim, we’ve had to fight for. Frederick Douglas was right, saying, “Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never did and it never will.” What rights do Oscar Grant and his friends now have? What rights did Johannes Mehserle and Anthony Pirone offend?

Oscar Grant lost his life. His child is without her father. His mother is without her son. His sister is without her brother. His friends lost the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; made to fight media scrutiny while enduring post-traumatic stresses after witness the murder of their friend.

These lost rights are worth fighting for. We say to Attorney Burris, fight. Fight to insure that no system of laws will ever again declare that no black, no poor man has rights that law enforcement should respect.

It is unsettling to watch media reports that BART will fight vigorously against any additional attempts at settlement and before the ink dries, leaks concerning private negotiations and misrepresentations of witness statements are made public.

To be clear, Oscar Grant and his friends are not on trial; Johannes Mehserle is. We will not stand by and watch BART officials work to derail the righteous demands for justice made by the Grant family and community to drive down any attempts to settle this matter reasonably.

Not only is Mehserle on trial, but through this case, so too is the justice system. Will this system defend the rights of the Black, the Brown, and the poor who have been voiceless in a system that often persecutes and prosecutes them? The poor need a voice. Attorney Burris should not sing solo in defense of these men. We need a chorus of voices to demand justice.

Judges, prosecutors, attorneys, and general media are all under the watchful eye of a community that will only be satisfied by justice. The recent “partial settlement” has not settled this case. The murder of Oscar Grant demands justice; not partial settlements that leave a mother in pain, in search for justice.
“Justice stands afar, and equity cannot enter, because truth has fallen in the street.”

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