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Witness to a Shooting

Why I pulled out my camera to record Oscar Grant's killing

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia , News feature//Video//Audio, Words by Karina Vargas, as told to Josue Rojas Posted: Feb 20, 2009

Editor's Note: On New Year's Eve Karina Vargas was on her way back from San Francisco with friends. Little did Vargas know, that as her train stopped at the Fruitvale BART station, she was about to document the death of Oscar Grant. Grant's death has prompted state officials to introduce legislation that would provide oversight for the BART police. Karina Vargas, 19, lives in Hayward and is a receptionist for a mental health clinic. Josue Rojas is an editor at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

HAYWARD Calif. -- On New Year's Eve, a couple of friends and I went to San Francisco to see the fireworks show at the pier. We went and, right after midnight, our intention was to come right back to Hayward because one of our friends was having a party.

We get on BART from San Francisco to come home to Hayward. But our train stopped at the Fruitvale station. I was still in my train and I see the cops take out five or six boys from the car in front of us, lining them up against the wall. Thats when I pulled out my camera. The first video shows the young men getting lined up against the wall. It was nothing too big. It just looked like the cops removed them from the train because they were causing a disturbance.

AUDIO: Attorney for the Grant family John Burris talks to Dr. Joseph Marshall of Street Soldiers Radio about recent developments in the Oscar Grant Case.

(3m 07s, mp3,3.3MB)Download File

Then I saw the cops yelling, cussing and actually grab somebody by the neck. When that happened, I figured people's rights were being violated right in front of my eyes. I thought to myself: 'Let me turn my camera on again.'

I am a strong believer in people's rights. I'm from the Hayward area and around here, cops are known for violating people's rights on a daily basis. I figured: 'Let me catch this on camera and show people what we have to deal with, especially the youth.

You know, you get pulled over and you have a Mexican face and they start searching your car without warrants. I'm used to it. I didn't know that I was going to catch what I caught on tape, but I knew I was catching something wrong. So that's why I started taping it. I just knew it was wrong.

So, the first images I grab are of Oscar Grant actually trying to calm down the police. The audio on my video isn't too loud, but with my own ears I heard him tell the police and his friends: "Alright, calm down! Don't get too rowdy with the cops." Then you see the police officer toss him to the floor. He's raising his hands up, telling them: "Okay man, alright, alright!"

But the cop just keeps yelling in his face, then you see him put him on his knees, then he pins Grant to the floor. That's when the police officer start restraining him, then I see another officer put his knee on Oscars neck and then the other officer stands right on top of him. That's when another boy basically was being beaten and arrested at my feet. So, I turn my camera on him.

Then that's when I heard the gunshot. Everything in the station is made of concrete, so the sound echoed. And it was loud. I knew it was a gunshot. It couldn't have been anything else. That's when I turn again. At that moment it was so crazy, I wasn't holding the camera right on Oscar, my hands were like this [her hands were lowered] because I am looking at it with my own eyes. I'm in shock like: 'He just got shot!' Right then is when I start panicking and you hear in the video. I'm like: "He just got shot! That guy got shot!" I start running back to the BART train.

That's when a lady officer approaches me and she's telling me: "Give me that camera! Give me that camera! And in the video, you see the BART doors close on her face. She's banging on the door, like 'Give me that camera!' You can hear her in the video, I'm like: "F--- no! You're not getting this camera!" Because I knew why else does she want the camera? I got something good and I knew what I had. I was like uh-uh, this is not right. I'm going to show this to the world, because this is not okay.

They didn't want the fact that they knew they had shot someone in the back, who was already willingly laying on his belly, with his arms behind his back, not fidgeting, not fighting, not being defiant whatsoever. That's why they tried to get the camera.

I never thought for a second that they would shoot him mainly because the whole time I was watching them, Oscar, in particular, was not be defiant. I never thought he was going to get shot. I did think he could possibly get tased. I figured the police officer would tase him on the floor and I wouldn't mind getting that on film because even if he had just gotten tased, that would have been wrong. The kid wasn't doing anything to try to fight the cop back.

If anything, Oscar was telling them not to shoot him. He was saying: "Alright, alright, don't shoot me!" And he was saying: "I have a little girl. I have a baby, don't shoot me."

I just hope justice is really served. If this is the next Rodney King case, then let it be. I just honestly believe in justice. That family deserves justice. Oscar Grant deserves justice. Whether (former BART police) officer Johannes Mehserle did it by mistake or not, I hope they don't go easy on him just because he was a police officer. Anyone could accidentally shoot someone and still get charged with manslaughter. Just because he was a BART officer shouldn't change anything. He messed up. He shouldn't have taken out that gun.

My prayers go out to Oscar's family. His family is not acting in hate or in anger. People need to maintain the peace. I believe justice will be served.

VIDEO:The Eyewitness, the Lawyer and the Family -- RIP Oscar Grant

Video by Josue Rojas and Paul Billingsley. Audio provided by Street Soldiers Radio, produced by Malcolm Marshall. Graphic by Josue Rojas.

Related Articles:

Amadou Diallo's Renewable Gift to New York

After Grant Killing, Community Turns Tragedy into Power

Towering Obstacles in Prosecuting the Oscar Grant Killing

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