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No Justice, No Peaceful Rest for Oscar Grant III. By Alix

August 24, 2010

Racism in the U.S. judicial system reared its ugly head yet again on July 8th 2010 when an all-white jury delivered a benign conviction of “involuntary manslaughter” for Oakland transit officer Johannes Mehserle. Officer Mehserle stood trial for the wrongful death and apparent murder of a 22-year-old African American man, Oscar Grant III.

Video evidence of the incident, which took place on January 1st 2009, shows Officer Mehserle pinning an unarmed Oscar Grant face down on the floor of an Oakland BART station. The officer can be seen reaching into his holster, taking hold of his gun, and proceeding to shoot young Grant in his back, which punctured his lungs.

Johannes Mehserle and his defense attorney, Michael Rains, claim that Mehserle intended to grab his Taser but mistakenly grabbed his gun instead. According to weapons experts, a stun gun or Taser looks different than a handgun and is about half its weight. In addition to these physical differences, officers are trained to carry them on the hip opposite of their handgun.

The witnesses brought to the defense of Officer Mehserle contributed to appropriate skepticism of the jury’s verdict. In Tashina Manyak’s report for the California Beat, LAPD Captain Greg Meyer gave inconsistent testimonies. When questioned by Mehserle’s defense attorney, the retired captain said he believed that “Grant’s arrest was warranted for re-boarding the BART in order to avoid an officer.” When questioned by Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein, he later testified that he believed it was a “cheap arrest.” Under questioning from stein, Captain Meyer also revealed some of his bias. When asked about the 50 previous cases he’s provided testimony for, he admitted to defending officers the majority of the time. Popular opinion, video evidence and expert weaponry knowledge suggest that Oscar Grant’s death on New Year’s Eve 2009 was an act of murder. However, the all-white jury for officer Mehserle’s case only found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter, sentencing him to a service of merely 4 years in prison. Popular sentiment holds that had the situation been reversed, and a black officer had shot a white man, the conviction would be substantially worse, if not life in prison.

Police brutality and the disproportionate number of blacks in our prisons are only some of the racial injustices that remain embedded in our system—even decades after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Violations of this nature have only become more difficult to fight as they are allowed to pass under the façade of our so-called “fair and just legal system.” As a student of legal theory, practice and justice, I find it personally offensive and disheartening when the system is made a mockery of by such biased verdicts. Of course, this isn’t the first incident of police brutality with a racial undertone and unfortunately it will likely not be the last. There has been a large amount of public outcry from the Oakland community and acts of violence and looting were reported on the eve of the verdict. Some say that for Mehserle to have received even any conviction and prison sentence was almost unheard of and that in most similar cases to this one, the officers have been acquitted of all charges. Setting this obscenely low standard for justice aside, the sentencing issued to officer Mehserle seems to be an weak repercussion for the wrongful death of any person. To show their outrage at the jury’s decision, over 1,000 protestors took to the streets of Downtown Oakland on July 8th, 2010. The U.S. still has a long road to travel on the way to equality. It’s hard to tell if any progress has come from this case. There are those who are complacent with the conviction and say that any conviction at all is “progress.” However, the recent killing of yet another man at the same BART station this July 19th, 2010 suggests otherwise. And to the despair of many, justice and peace are yet to be seen for the memory of Oscar Grant III.

Sources:

Bernstein, David. “Cops Kill Again in Oakland.” 21 July 2010. CounterPunch. http://www.counterpunch.org

Accessed: 19 August, 2010

Egelko, Bob. “BART shooting draws Rodney King case parallels.”

15 Jan. 2009 San Francisco Chronicle. http://www.SFGate.com

Accessed: 22 July, 2010

Green, John. Tinoga, Alessandro. “Justice denied for Oscar Grant.”

9 July 2010. SocialistWorker.org

Accessed: 22 July, 2010

Manyak, Tashina. “Defense use of force expert falters during cross examination.”

28 June 2010. California Beat. http://www.californiabeat.org

Accessed: 22 July, 2010

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