Here's a link to a The Raw Story and clearer video of the police-involved shooting of Oscar Grant on a Bay Area BART station. Thanks to Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog for the link.
In court, the officer’s actions will be judged by the standard of a “reasonable police officer.” It does not matter what the people shouting for the BART train felt. In fact, their shouting undoubtedly contributed to the general sense of danger the officer felt.
My guess... but I don’t know (let’s remember that none of us know; we weren’t there)... My guess is that the officer will be charged and criminally convicted of something like manslaughter that is based on negligence but not dependent on intent.
Is this a racial issue? Yes and no. No, police don’t go out saying let’s kill black people. In this situation, would white frat boys have been treated differently by police? Who can say for sure. It always depends on the situation. But it's very likely.
Anybody who thinks that police behavior isn’t affected by race and class is crazy. In different neighborhoods, both the the public and the police act differently. Don't think for a second that all police act like the police you know and see and deal with.
A few points on guns:
1) Police handguns (at least all the ones I know) do not have a safety.
2) Guns fire when the trigger is pulled. You may accidentally pull the trigger. But guns don’t “accidentally” fire. That’s important to remember. Your finger shouldn’t be on the trigger unless you’re taking aim and are seriously considering shooting. As a police officer, you are responsible for each discharge. Period.
3) In most jurisdictions, pulling a gun from the holster is not considered “use of force.” In my time on the street, I probably had my gun out of its holster every other shift. But I only pointed it at somebody two or three times. And I never pulled the trigger.
I was free to pull the gun out whenever I felt the need to. That was very often (say when searching a vacant building).
But when dealing with suspects, the gun is often just an intimidating bluff. If the suspect calls your bluff and nobody’s life is in immediate danger, you can’t shoot them. You have to holster up and pull out something you can actually use as a compliance device. In my case that was mace. And even that I only used once. (But I wasn’t on the street for long.)
Look, this shooting certainly looks terrible. Facts may come out that justify the officer’s action. But I doubt it.