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Will the Killer of Oscar Grant Go Free?
Whatever the Verdict: The Whole Damn System Is Guilty: There are plans for a convergence in downtown Oakland at 14th and Broadway at 6 pm on the day the verdict is announced. People need to be there and elsewhere to respond politically to the verdict.
The murder trial of ex-BART police officer Johannes Mehserle who shot and killed Oscar Grant on January 1, 2009 is proceeding swiftly. There may be a verdict as you read this. The point is: The killing of Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old Black man, was a cold-blooded murder.
Seven minutes after the first cop arrived at the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train platform in Oakland, and began pulling Oscar Grant and his friends off the train, Johannes Mehserle shot Oscar point-blank in the back. Witnesses have testified they turned on cameras when they saw the police become increasingly aggressive. Jackie Bryson, a friend of Oscar’s who was near him on the platform, testified, “He [Mehserle] stands up, he says f– this, and he shoots.” Bryson said he looked at Oscar. “You see smoke coming out of his back. They roll him over, and there’s just a puddle of blood.”
The legal requirement for a murder conviction includes “intent,” and this is something Mehserle’s attorneys have tried to sow doubt over. The defense’s video expert, a former sheriff, spent hours on the witness stand re-interpreting the video frame by frame for the jury. He argued that in spite of what the video looks like, Oscar Grant and his friends were the aggressors—they were the ones who were trying to attack the cops. This “believe me, not the video” method was used in the trial that acquitted the cops who beat Rodney King in a famous case of videotaped police brutality in Los Angeles in 1992. When four cops were acquitted the city erupted in the famous L.A. Rebellion.
On Friday, June 25, the defense called Mehserle to the stand. The defense has tried to rebrand Mehserle, a 6-foot 4-inch, 240-pound cop who had towered over Oscar, as a boyish teddy bear, a real nice guy who was voted “most huggable” in high school. Mehserle, weeping on the witness stand, said he drew his gun by accident when he meant to use his taser.
The evidence shows that this is not true. A picture that Oscar took with his own cell phone camera shows that moments before Mehserle forced Oscar to the ground, he had a taser out pointed right at him. Mehserle had to reholster the taser before finally drawing his gun. Video shows Mehserle looking down at his gun before he pulled it out of its holster. It has been reported that “Mehserle never told other officers at the station that the shooting was an accident or that he had meant to grab his Taser” and that Mehserle’s first excuse for murdering Oscar Grant was “I thought he was going for a gun.” (“Dramatic Video of BART Shooting Released by Court,” LA Times LA Now blog, 6/24/10.)
Oscar’s mother dismissed Mehserle’s story: “Now he’s sitting on the stand crying? I’ve been crying every day. He knew the difference between his gun and his taser… he knew what he was doing. He killed my son with intent.”
Whatever the Verdict: The Whole Damn System Is Guilty
There are plans for a convergence in downtown Oakland at 14th and Broadway at 6 pm on the day the verdict is announced. People need to be there and elsewhere to respond politically to the verdict. And the LA Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant is calling on people to gather at the courthouse (at Spring and Temple) on the day of the verdict. To be notified of the verdict, text “TRIAL” to 213-973-3434.
It was the outcry and protest of the people, in many different ways, including on January 7, 2009, that forced the system to arrest and bring murder charges against Mehserle. The law fundamentally enforces a system of inequality and exploitation, including the oppression and subjugation of Black people, and “legitimizes” violence the police use to maintain the whole set-up.
The authorities are sowing confusion and also trying to intimidate people from speaking out in the wake of the verdict. Police staged a highly publicized practice “riot” in the port of Oakland. They set up a hotline for “tips, rumors and information” relating to protests or “potential problems” after the verdict. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums met with non-profit groups, urging them to inoculate their base against “outside agitators.”
But the truth is the people acted with conscience and vision when they said “we are all Oscar Grant.” Protest was needed and justified. It made a big difference. And the people’s verdict must also be heard.