Preliminary hearing were resumed today (June 2) at the Alameda County Courthouse for Johannes Mehserle, the Bart police officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant, Jan. 1, 2009. And I was up at 6:30 this morning preparing to leave and get to the courthouse by 7:30, even though, I live only 10 walking minutes away from it. But the courtroom has seating for only 27 people. So, getting there early to stand in line is part of the ritual of doing one’s civic duty to support the implementation of justice.
When I arrived at the courthouse at 7:40, the line was not as long as I had expected. So, I anticipated actually entering the courtroom and witnessing the proceedings. But from 7:40 until the doors opened at 9, I became aware of how the courtroom situation replicates the forced scarcity we experience daily in our country. And I watched a few people in line respond to that lack with the same preferential behavior and dismissive attitudes used to get us through our regular dog eat dog circumstances.
Those who exercised selective privilege for places in line did so, seemingly, without any consciousness of the disrespect their behavior carried or its implications for other situations. One young woman tried to resist when those further along in the line pulled her in front of others to be with them. She and I had been talking about social construction as we stood together, and I empathized with her as she was held, looking back at us, because I knew that she realized all that I am now saying was wrong with that move. The sheriffs let people enter in groups of fives, and I was fourth in line when they called the last group. As I was about to step forward, another older woman pushed ahead of me. That was it; the last to go in was a group of four.
Surely, there are larger courtrooms in that building. Why have we not advocated to have the hearings located were we could, in larger numbers, exercise our right and responsibility to witness the trial? A high profile case such as this one being held in such a small courtroom seems to be a way of denying the public the right to attend. I know that we have been traumatized by the loss of our young brother by oppressive power, and that there is much to do to insure that justice is carried out. But it seems that demanding a larger courtroom is an important part of that work.
Most important, it is necessary for us to check in with ourselves relative to ethical practice, and be models of it for ourselves, and for each other in our small as well as in our large areas of interaction. Small acts can produce huge consequences. After all, it was only a small gesture of a few seconds that ended the life we now grieve and are seeking to honor with justice. We must practice fairness among ourselves to support the ethical foundation and solidarity from which we calling for justice. Yes, I was disappointed that the woman jumped ahead and prevented me from witnessing the trial. But after I thought about it, I felt really good about letting it go, and realizing that it was an instance of our collective way of being that needs addressing personally and collectively.
Bisola Marignay is an Oakland writer and artist and is actively engaged in supporting justice for Oscar Grant.