Oscar Grant, Greece, and the irrational fear of black America

This is a tale of two stories. One happened in Greece, the other in America.

In 2008, Epaminondas Korkoneas, a Greek police officer, shot and killed Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15-year-old student. Alexandros’s execution led to protests and widespread rioting that lasted for three weeks. Rioters took to the streets armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails. Vehicles were damaged, police officers were injured, protesters were arrested, and students occupied buildings. Rioters set fire to the Kostis Palamas building, which led to the total destruction of the European Law Library. On December 23, thousands of people marched through Athens, and the next day, hundreds of anarchists peacefully gathered in the streets — all parts of the movement to resist police thuggery.

There was a trial and today the police officer was found guilty of murder.

In 2009, Oscar Grant, a 23-year-old black man was shot and killed by BART Officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California. In stark contrast to the protests that broke out after Alexandros’s murder, the riots that erupted in Oakland were quickly suppressed. In January, around 100 protesters were arrested by authorities when they took to the streets, smashed car windshields, and another protesters allegedly set a dumpster on fire. Another riot occurred when Mehserle was found not guilty of second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. Even then, the riots were smaller in nature, lasted a single night, yet oddly enough, resulted in more single-sweep arrests than the Greek riots (78 people were arrested in the second riot).

These two cases of police brutality illustrated some interesting cultural differences. In Greece, the trial of a police officer accused of slaying a fair-skinned teenager from an affluent neighborhood appeared much more justice-oriented whereas the Grant case was suppression-oriented. In Oakland, the immediate arrest and detention of hundreds of protesters (NRO adorably calls them “agitators”) was part of a Quarantine and Neutralize plan that police implemented in response to the failure of the justice system. The goal was to withstand the activist community’s rage just long enough until popular fury diminished naturally on its own.

In Greece, though police were accused of brutality by human rights groups, their collective response was still tame when compared to the single-sweep arrests demonstrated by US authorities. And then, of course, the Greek trial resulted in a guilty verdict.

In one story, activists held genuine power, and in the other, protesters were treated as unwieldy animals as they foolishly defended a poor black man who was too stupid to keep his mouth shut and succumb to police power, and clearly deserved to be publicly executed in a subway because he had a -gasp!- police record. (If you really want your head to explode, go over to Hot Air and Right Wing News to check out the comments on the Grant story. I won’t link to the bile here, though.)

The overzealous US response stems from an irrational fear of black America – that the darks will one day rise up and finally get their vengeance for that whole slavery business (the same fear infested white America during the Rodney King riots). When the world witnessed the Greek riots, they saw thousands of pissed off citizens reacting violently to the failure of the state. When middle America saw the Oakland riots, they incorrectly misdiagnosed the same exact citizen response as the former slave class plotting to invade the suburbs and kill their fat little offspring for sustenance.

I should also add that certain right-wing outlets rose above the immediate gutter-dredging response of depicting Grant activists as black extremists in the spirit of ignoring the story completely. Fox News barely made a peep about the execution and/or the trial, but didn’t skip a beat whilst furiously jerking off to the idea of the Black Panthers taking over ‘Murika.

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– Alison Kilkenny


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