“The police are the public and the public are the police:” Examining the case of Oscar Grant

Posted: November 18, 2011 by gcheema in Policing's New Visibility

One of Sir Robert Peel’s main principles was that “the police are the public and the public are the police.” This implied that the police’s ability to perform their lawful duties depended on the public approval of their actions. In the past, it was easy for police officers to attain public approval because masses were not able to see the ‘dark’ side of policing. However, as mans need for technology grew; the ‘dark’ side of policing slowly started to come into the light. This phenomenon significantly increased when camera phones, video camera were first introduced. “Citizens have increasingly had access to privately owned video cameras, allowing them to record police in action and, in many instances, share those recordings with wider audiences” ( Andrew John Goldsmith 2010:914). As a result it has become easier and easier for the masses to see police officers engaging in deviance. This phenomenon has undoubtedly increased accountability, however. The police have found a way around this ‘problem.’ For example, when an officer is seen on video using excessive force, the police argue that the video captured does not show the entire picture. They are keen to point out that the police are there to “protect and serve, not seek and destroy.” I agree that the police are the upholders of society, however. I feel some officers knowingly break laws because they think they are above the law. Some argue that there will always be ‘bad apples’ in policing. However, I feel this premise if fundamentally wrong. History has shown that police subculture ‘breeds’ deviance.

Oscar Grant was an African-American who was fatally shot by a police officer named Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California. Mehserle was a member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit police department (BART). Grant was shot by the officer while he was on his hands and knees. The officer claimed that it was a mistake and he did not mean to shoot Grant. The officer argued that he mistook his gun for a Taser. A video of the incident surfaced the next day; it showed a man who was on his knees getting wrestled to the ground by two officers. While Grant was on his knees one of the officers, Mehserle, shot him in the back. Mehserle had argued that he was going to Taser Grant because he was resisting. However, the video showed that there was no reason for the officer to deploy his Taser. It was because of this video that Mehserle was charged with murder. As a result Mehserle was forced to resign for his position with the department. When the charges finally went through he was charged with involuntary manslaughter and received two years minus a day. If it was not for the video Officer Mehserle would have been charged because it would have been his word aganist someone else’s.


Goldsmith, A. J. (2010). Policing’s new visibilty. British Journal of Criminology, 50, 914-934.





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