USA

Shocking police blunder caught on phone camera

A few hours after midnight on New Year's Eve, a 22-year-old African American was detained by transport police on a subway platform in Oakland, California. The man, who was unarmed, was pinned to the ground and fatally shot in the back. Filmed by several witnesses, evidence of the outrageous scene is now online and circulating the blogosphere. Could the images spark social unrest? Read more and watch the amateur videos...

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A few hours after midnight on New Year's Eve, a 22-year-old African American was detained by transport police on a subway platform in Oakland, California. The man, who was unarmed, was pinned to the ground and fatally shot in the back. Filmed by several witnesses, evidence of the outrageous scene is now online and circulating the blogosphere. Could the images spark social unrest?

This video shows what happened quite clearly. At 36 seconds into the film, the officer fires the shot.

You don't see the actual shot in this next video, but it gives a good idea of what the atmosphere was like when it took place. As the tension mounts passers-by start to crowd around, and it's evident that the police officers are becoming stressed. We hear the gunshot at 2'56. As panic erupts, the girl filming the scene shouts "Oh my fucking god. They just shot him!"

The scene took place at around 2am on 1 January in Fruitvale metro station, Oakland. The victim, Oscar Grant, held a criminal record. The bullet fired by the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) police officer shot through Grant's body, hit the ground, and ricocheted back once more. He died shortly after being transported to hospital. 

The police were involved in several disturbances on New Year's Eve, including the questioning of armed individuals. The BART authorities explained that the officers we see in the video had just broken up a fight which had brought a metro train to a standstill. They say that the shot was accidental. One of the theories put forward by the American press is that the officer believed he was using a Taser gun and not a firearm with bullets. The victim's family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the BART police service, and on Monday a protest was organised in front of the BART head office.

Oakland suffers from a particularly high crime rate and tense race relations. Some 30-35% of the population is African American. Such an incident - caught on amateur film, which means a viral effect is certain - could add fuel onto an already simmering fire.

UPDATE (6 Jan. 08 - 6pm): we contacted our Observer in the Oakland area, Wayne Phillips, who told us that despite the incident coming as a shock, he doesn't believe the videos will cause active protest.

UPDATE (9 Jan. 08 4.30pm): Contrary to our Observer's optimistic analysis, demonstrations over Grant's death became violent on Wednesday night when hundreds of protestors took to the streets to condemn the shooting. Riot police faced the crowds with tear gas and arrested at least 14 people after shop windows were smashed and cars set alight. There are plenty of amateur photos of the events posted on Flickr, for example here.