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Town Hall on Justice for Oscar Grant and Community Gathering at 14th & Broadway, 7/3/10: audio
This week's Town Hall covered the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant from the very first week through events that unfolded in the court room in its final days this week and the battle against city officials and local non-profits for the right of the people to assemble on the day the verdict at 14th and Broadway in Oakland. Minister Keith Muhammad, Cephus "Uncle Bobby" Johnson, Tony Coleman, Minister Christopher Muhammad, and Reverend Raymond Lankford address the issues confronting the movement for justice today.
In regard to justice for Oscar Grant, Minister Keith declares that you will never get the truth from KTVU or CNN. Quoting Jesus Christ, he adds, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." The media has sought to minimize Oscar Grant's live, calling him ex-convict as if to justify the murder. This is the trial of the century. Minister Keith goes on to recount the first week after the murder with people coming together to confront Alameda District Attorney Tom Orloff to bring charges against Mehserle. There were lies then, and there are lies now. First defense Mehserle tried was saying, "I thought he had a gun," to fellow BART police officers. That almost always works for police, but this time there was video, so the story had to change to the taser-confusion defense. One of the first things the defense did last year was to retain a video "expert" to create favorable interpretations of eye-witness video. The taser "expert" was paid a $5,000 retainer, then $36/hour, and $3,000/day in court, for $50,000 total. Experts told jurors not to believe their eyes. DA attorney David Stein blew jury selection, but did okay job overall. Every defense witness was a police officer in some form. Every one was paid. One said police acted reasonably when beating Rodney King. Defense said Oscar Grant was resisting arrest but he was never under arrest. On the last day of the trial, there were eight sheriff's deputies around Mehserle's family, yet none of them ever in the entire trial ever expressed condolences or greeted Oscar Grant's family warmly.
At about 29:00 in the Town Hall, Tim Killings and Jabari Shaw were asked to come forward and speak. Tim spent three days in jail for speaking out during the trial. Just as Mehserle was describing the shooting and rehearsed tears came flowing, Tim called it out. Rains attacked Jamil Dewar in court for crying while video was being played, but Mehserle was allowed to go on and on. Rains' voice was cracking as a cue to Mehserle to cry -- Rains is a pit bull whose voice does not otherwise crack. Six other cops who claimed to confuse tasers for guns offered medical help immediately and called the hospital to check on the victim, but Mehserle flipped Oscar over and handcuffed him.
At about 37:00 into the Town Hall, Cephus "Uncle Bobby" Johnson said that the defense claimed Mehserle was once voted "most huggable" in high school but that he was kicked out of his school for slapping a Hispanic woman was not allowed in court. Mehserle having beaten Kenneth Carrethers just weeks before killing Oscar Grant was not allowed. Mehserle was set to kill someone eventually, if it had not been Oscar Grant. He recounts a recent run-in he had with police where he was ordered to his knees, and notes that It could happen to any of us. We are all Oscar Grant.
Minister Keith discusses the charges and sentencing that Mehserle faces now while the jury deliberates. Second degree murder is not premeditated but requires intent. Voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are also possible. Voluntary manslaughter is a criminally negligent act, a crime of passion in the heat of a moment, or imperfect self-defense. All can have gun enhancements added. Second degree murder is 15 years to life, with a gun 25 years to life, the "one they always tell us we get." Voluntary manslaughter carries 4, 6, or 11 years of prison, with a mandatory additional 10 years with gun enhancement. Involuntary manslaughter can carry 2, 4, and 6 years, with 10 added for gun. Stein did was Judge Clay did in Mehserle's preliminary hearing, that is he showed that there was no doubt Mehserle intended to pull his gun and not his taser.
After a bouquet of flowers were presented to Oscar's mother Wanda Johnson, who was in attendence, Bobby Johnson gives thanks to the community for their support, being in court, and speaking for justice in the community. Community support brought the case to light. He specifically thanks Reverend Humphreys for allowing the Town Halls to take place at Olivet Baptist Church over the last 18 months, Minister Christopher (from SF), Minister Keith (from Oakland), Reverend Kerry (from Oakland, who led the opening prayer), and others. He adds that the family trusts in God for justice. Cephus speaks about the jury questionnaire being culturally biased and then asks his friend, Donald, to speak about jury instructions that have been given. The jury was specifically instructed that if they think Mehserle intended to pull his taser, as the defense claims, that they must find him Not Guilty.
Minister Keith says that the media wants Mehserle to go free and to see many of us under the boot of law enforcement. Some in law enforcement are looking to handle voices of dissent after the verdict. Oakland police department Chief Batts said OPD had no intention to interfere with freedom to speak. No BART police are to be involved in the call for police mutual aid. People are prepared to voice celebration or outrage, and demand that the Feds intervene right away. It doesn't require a not guilty verdict for Feds to jump in. Every young man on the Fruitvale BART platform on New Year's Day 2009 had their civil rights violated. The survivors were in handcuffs for 6 hours without being arrested. BART police officer Tony Pirone was allowed to come in and taunt them. A BART detective said they were free to leave (but they were in handcuffs) so there was no need to read them their rights, but then later read them their rights anyway. Every officer that testified lied -- not one said they heard gunfire, including Mehserle. Yet they train at firing ranges all the time and clearly know what a gun shot sounds like. Minister Keith gives thanks to the Oakland General Assembly for Justice for Oscar Grant and the Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant as he introduces Tony Coleman.
At about 1:02:40, Tony Coleman speaks about his son running track with Oscar Grant and how the system has a track for youth straight to prison. Oscar could have been any one of our kids. A lot of people have been missing all this time over the last 18 months but are back now worried about property damage and not justice. Oakland city leaders have 6 talking points they want the General Assembly to say, and they don't respect the community democracy that the Oakland Assembly has going on with regard to decision making and talking points. Local non-profits are getting paid to put PSA's out about violence not justice. We're creating a space so youth can speak out, Oscar Grant-aged people. We've got something wrong if we are worried about replaceable windows and not our babies. We're not going to censor young people at 14th and Broadway community gathering on the day the verdict is announced -- we'll listen to what they have to say. The NGOs are raising money on Oscar Grant. We know how to handle ourselves and don't need them to tell us. 14th and Broadway is Oakland's town square, and guilty or not, we'll gather to figure out our next steps. City leaders don't want to hear the youth. NGOs are making a lot of money off of poverty. Their ineffective programs are wasting money, and they are not hiring us. The California NAACP president said we have to trust the system. Don't shy away from making demands for justice. We must have justice before there is peace.
At about 1:14:00, Minister Christopher Muhammad says that if you want to change that California is becoming a police state, you have to do more than "express yourself". You have to organize and mobilize. More Oscar Grants are in the plan if we don't do anything. He tells the story of a 7-month pregnant woman in Union City, Tanisia Black, who was pulled over for using her cell phone while driving and they told her they were going to tow her car for a bad license. She went into Starbucks, came out, they wanted her keys, and then they tased her. Minister Keith says that shows that, because they did not shoot and kill her, that Oscar Grant is already saving lives. On the blood of Oscar, we formed a movement, and the movement forced murder charges. He reminds people that power never concedes anything without a demand, and that the demand has to be backed up with a movement. Too many elected officials have not even made condolences to Oscar's family, out of fear of not looking friendly to police. They all spoke out when four OPD officers died last year but no words for Osscar Grant as if his life is worth less.
Minister Christopher goes on to say that no longer can we expect silence from Black elected officials. We don't want to leave a legacy, as we get older, of slavery and buck dancing. We must channel anger to pressure points that the enemy fears: organization, unity, strength, commitment, and truth. We have to subordinate our egos to the cause for justice. Justice is a principle only second important to freedom. We have to build a movement so strong that anyone who dares to say they speak for us must really stand up or we will sit you down. The in San Francisco are political whores to corporations and lobbyists.
The Reverend Raymond Lankford from the Voice of Hope Community Church closes the Town Hall out with a word about the importance of walking the streets and talking to people about the issues that face the community, from police brutality to the violence the community inflicts on itself.
These are but some notes from the Town Hall. Not every sentiment expressed can be transcribed here. Listen to it all for yourself if you can.
previous recorded Oakland Town Hall Report from First Two Days of Mehserle Murder Trial in LA, 6/12/10: audio
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