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U.S. Paralympic Athlete Podium Protests 2009 Police Shooting Death of a Bay Area Man

STORY AND PHOTO BY ED MORAN

TOKYO, JAPAN – United States Paralympic rower Charley Nordin took a moment during the medals ceremony at the Tokyo Paralympics Sunday afternoon to protest the shooting death of a Black man by a transit police officer on News Years’ Day 2009.

Sunday, just after being awarded a silver medal at the Tokyo2020 Paralympics, Nordin, while standing with his teammates and holding flowers after medals were awarded, and the British national anthem had concluded, unzipped his podium jacket and revealed a black T-shirt that read, “Justice for Oscar Grant.”

Later, while meeting the media in the post-race media mix zone, Nordin, a Bay Area native said the Grant case struck close to home and he wanted to bring attention to the case.

“Oscar Grant was murdered,” Nordin said. “The police officer that shot him while he was handcuffed, facing down only served 11 months. It’s not justice. It’s representative of a corrupt system in America that has been oppressing and murdering minorities for all of our history and I wanted to raise awareness to that,” he said.

“Being from the Bay Area, it hit especially close to home and, yeah, I just wanted to show Oakland that I’m still here for them and I’m still representing them, and that there hasn’t been justice, and that his name deserves to be known.”

While Nordin stood with the shirt visible, his teammates beamed in the spotlight of the Paralympic celebration. Asked later if they were aware of Nordin’s intended action, boatmate John Tanguay said they were.

“We’re all one hundred percent behind Charley in this. So, we also support him.”

So is the United States Rowing Association. In a statement sent to Rowing News, USRowing CEO Amanda Kraus said: “We’re incredibly proud of Charley Nordin and the rest of his crew that captured the silver medal yesterday at the Tokyo Paralympics. Charley used the medal ceremony as an opportunity to express his views and USRowing stands fully behind his right to protest just as we support all of our athletes’ freedom of expression.”

The case, while over a decade old, was thrust back into the spotlight Aug. 19 when the California Department of Justice announced it was opening an investigation into the shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, as he lay face down on a platform at the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland, California.

Johannes Mehserle, the officer who shot Grant, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in July 2010 and served 11 months in county jail. A second BART police officer, Anthony Pirone, was not charged in the shooting but was fired from the department after an internal investigation.

It is his role in Grant’s death that is the subject of the review and comes at the request of Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, the BART Board of Directors, the Justice 4 Oscar Grant Coalition, and several other local community leaders.

Rowing News contacted the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) for comment. There has been no immediate response.

Olympic protests have been in the news this summer and have been the subject of discussion by both the USOPC and the International Olympic Committee in advance, and during the Tokyo2020 Games.

And there have been protests.

The IOC launched an investigation into a protest by Raven Saunders, 25, a U.S. shot-putter who won silver at the Tokyo Olympics.

Saunders raised her hands and crossed them in an X while posing for a photo on the medal podium. Moments later, U.S. fencer Race Imboden who won bronze in a separate venue appeared to flash a circled X on his hand while receiving his medal.

She told the New York Times that a group of Team USA athletes designed a plan to use the X symbol as their way of protesting.

An openly gay and Black woman Saunders has said that the X is meant to represent “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”  

The IOC Olympic Charter Rule 50 that, until recently, barred athletes from participating in “political, religious or racial propaganda” was revised in July.

The rule now allows athletes to protest in a non-disruptive demonstration to “express their views,” while on the field of play, but not during competition or on the podium.

Following Saunders’ protest, the USOPC determined that Saunders’ action did not violate its rules.

In a statement sent to Reuters, the USOPC said Sunders did not break any rules, saying “Raven Saunders’ peaceful expression in support of racial and social justice” and was respectful of her fellow competitors and as such did not violate the USPOC rules related to demonstrations.

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