Verdict in Oscar Grant murder case met with protests


OAKLAND, Calif. - In a verdict some observers called contradictory, a jury in Los Angeles July 8 found former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer Johannes Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of unarmed BART passenger Oscar Grant III, and added a sentencing enhancement for use of a gun. Sentencing is set for Aug. 6.

Mehserle, 28, had also faced more serious charges of second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in the Jan. 1, 2009, killing as the young African American lay face down on a BART platform following reports of a disturbance on a train.

Cell phone videos, taken by other passengers and widely circulated, showed several young men sitting on the platform, not resisting the BART police officers. 

In his defense, Mehserle alleged that Grant and his friends represented a serious threat to police seeking to arrest them, and claimed he meant to use his taser but confused it with his gun.

The prosecution contended that Mehserle's training, and the safeguards against unintentional use of a gun, made confusing the two weapons impossible.

Observers have pointed out that the verdict of involuntary manslaughter seemed to accept Mehserle's claim his gun use was an accident, but the sentencing enhancement the jury added for use of a gun appeared to reject that claim.

No African American jurors were on the panel. Their decision came after deliberations had been underway for just a day and a half.

Action in the case is far from over. Civil rights attorney John Burris is representing the Grant family in a civil lawsuit against BART.

And right after the verdict was announced, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement that the Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney's office and the FBI "have an open investigation into the fatal shooting" to determine if federal prosecution is warranted.

The judicial system "has failed us," Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson, said in Los Angeles, as she vowed that "as a family and as a nation of African American people, we will continue to fight for our equal rights in society."

"My son was murdered, murdered!" Johnson declared. "And the law has not held the officer accountable in the way he should have been held accountable."

Attorney Burris called the jury "dismissive," but added, "In my long history of being involved in police matters since 1979 and well over 30 homicides with police, never have I had a case when a police officer was convicted of any crime against an African American male."

Others have noted that Mehserle's conviction marks the first time in California a police officer has been convicted for a killing in the line of duty.

Shortly after the verdict was announced, over 1,000 community members rallied in downtown Oakland near City Hall. Police were everywhere; media had predicted for days that violence would erupt following the announcement.

Though the crowd was filled with outrage over the verdict, they protested peacefully for hours. Speakers, mostly young African Americans, condemned an "unjust system," called for nonviolent action, and vowed to organize to "change the way the system operates, to change the way the police can get away with police brutality."

Declaring, "I know what went down today is wrong," Grant's grandfather, Oscar Grant I, told the crowd, "Protest, protest righteously. Don't dishonor my grandson by coming out here, tearing up Oakland."

In actions some observers said police encouraged by abruptly ending the rally, and others blamed on advance planning by troublemakers, looting and vandalism did take place as the evening wore on. Police reportedly made over 80 arrests.

Photos: Marilyn Bechtel/PW

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  • Once E.E.W Clay compared this murder to the execution of Mumia, who murdered a police officer, the rest of the post was minimized. It is rare for a police officer to be found guilty when a life is taken in the line of duty whether the victim is white or black. It is not a racial issue. It is a fear of taking power away from our law enforcement officers. That being said, there is no question that there are racial problems in this country and the world. But to blame every decision that involves a black and a white person on race is simply reverse racism. There is only one way to eliminate racism. All children have to be raised to see all people of color as the same. I have taught my children that skin color is no different then hair or eye color in how they make people different. Parents cannot not continue to point out that skin color makes people different. When people explain that black people jump better then white or that there are more black people dropping out of school, we are telling children that people of color are different. We need to look at socioeconomic differences, issues of parent involvement and education as the cause of some of the differences in people. In one word, the differences in the lives of people is education. Let's push for quality of education of all people regardless of socioeconomics. That will take parental support as well as community support. We need to start talking about people issues and not black/white issues.

    Posted by Don, 01/22/2011 7:47am (4 years ago)

  • Let me get this stright.....there are people calling for the execution of Michael Vick for animal creulty and this Police Officer gets a slap on the hand for cold blood execution of an unamred, non-violent African American Male.

    Clearly, America seems to favor animals over African American Males. I am sure that ther will be some interesting replies to this post...becaue the truth about this country hurts those who attempt to play a blind eye to it...

    We need the Police and do support the police. HOWEVER< when an Officer commits murders he should be placed in prison for a long time at a minimum.

    Posted by Richard Johnson, 01/01/2011 8:19am (5 years ago)

  • him,fear

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 07/12/2010 7:33pm (5 years ago)

  • The long history of brutal exploitation,genocide,and oppression of African Americans,extensively documented by William Patterson and presented to the United Nations by he and Paul Robeson in his We Charge Genocide petition,is known and will be known by freedom fighters everywhere.
    This genocide continues up to today and is shown by cases like that of Oscar Grant and Mumia on the other side of the country.
    It is only a reflection of the practice of brutality taking a priority over intelligence and peace in our public policy and politics,and our international crimes against peoples of color world wide. Imperialism and its wars directly and indirectly lead to the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,Vietnam,Korea,Iraq and Afghanistan. One could easily include Zimbabwe,South Africa,and the West Bank,with a stream of tragic policies and practices in traditional West Africa.
    Perhaps the enemies of human liberty fears what a freed African American would do to help the cause of African,Asian and European liberation.
    With examples like Robeson,Du Bois,Patterson,Winston and today's Horne,we understand.
    The repression and murder has not and will not stop the steady growing consciousness of the world of the connection between group oppression and international liberation of all oppressed groups.
    This article helps to build unity and consciousness of the necessary unity of all to stop all forms of genocide and national oppression.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 07/11/2010 7:03pm (5 years ago)

  • Give that guy the electric guitar, if you know what I mean

    Posted by joe day, 07/10/2010 1:22am (5 years ago)

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