From the July-August 2011 issue of News & Letters:
Oakland, Calif.–On June 12 over 150 demonstrators marched to downtown Oakland from Fruitvale BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station, dubbed “Oscar Grant Station” by community activists. We were protesting the mild charge and minimal sentence handed down to Grant’s killer, former BART cop Johannes Mehserle. Mehserle was released from a Los Angeles County jail the following day after serving 11 months of a two-year term for involuntary manslaughter. Oakland lawyer John Burris called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to charge Mehserle with violating Grant’s civil rights.
Los Angeles–On June 13, about 100 demonstrators from the L.A. Justice for Oscar Grant Coalition protested at the downtown criminal court building. Oscar Grant’s uncle Bobby Cephus Johnson said they were denied entry to the courtroom to speak against Mehserle’s release. He said he was misled by authorities about the release hearing date. The family has a right to speak as allowed by the California Victims Bill of Rights.
The protesters then marched to the Federal Court to demand that the Justice Department file federal charges against Mehserle and other police for violating Oscar Grant’s civil rights. As his family stated, the killing of Oscar Grant on Jan. 1, 2009, was murder, openly done. People of color have no rights.
Mehserle’s release after serving only 11 months is just one more in a string of injustices in this murder of a Black worker youth. After the killing, the trial was moved from Oakland (where the crime took place) to Los Angeles and assigned to Judge Robert Perry, who has a history of pro-police bias. The judge ruled out first degree murder charges against Mehserle, who shot Oscar Grant in the back as he lay face down at a BART platform. The judge prohibited evidence of Mehserle’s past racism but allowed the defense attorney’s negative “evidence”–so-called–of Oscar Grant’s character into the trial. As in the trial of the four police who brutally beat Rodney King, there were no Blacks on the jury.
There are many complaints against police misconduct, brutality or killings, but indictments are very rare. If mass public exposure results in a trial, rarely is a police officer convicted, and if found guilty, as in Mehserle’s case, he gets a slap on the wrist.
In contrast, the courts throughout the country are filled with cases of young Black and Brown youths on various charges–mostly non-violent. The convictions fuel the growth of the U.S. prison system in our time of massive unemployment and extreme reactionary law-and-order policies. We need a new human society in place of capitalism, unemployment, poverty and racism.