The City of Oakland, California is on edge awaiting the jury's verdict, expected next week, in the trial of former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop Johannes Mehserle for fatally shooting Oscar Grant at a BART station on New Year's Day, 2009.
Oakland's Police Chief, anticipating riots, ordered riot control exercises.
ABC News reported the exercises, to prepare for the worst possible outcomes, as the jury in the Mehserle trial went into deliberation on Friday, July 2nd. Riots erupted in Oakland to demand that Mehserle be charged for fatally shooting Oscar Grant during a confrontation between BART Police and a group of young African Americans leaving a BART station in the early morning hours of New Year's Day, 2009.
Mehserle and his lawyers have argued that he received poor training from BART, that his tazer was holstered next to his gun that night, and that he thought he had grabbed his tazer when he had actually grabbed his gun and shot Grant, a 22-year-old apprentice butcher and the father of a four-year-old, Tatiana Grant.
Grant was unarmed and prostrate when Mehserle shot him, after which he hollered, "You shot me! I got a four-year-old daughter!" He died from the gunshot wounds at Oakland's Highland Hospital the next day.
Oakland's District Attorney argued that Mehserle willfully and knowingly pulled his gun and shot Grant, though without premeditation; he asked for a second degree murder verdict. Mehserle's defense lawyers responded by moving to give the jury only two options: a second degree verdict or outright acquittal, but the Oakland DA succeeded in arguing that the jury should be given the full range of possible verdicts: second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, or outright acquittal.
Second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter verdicts would both mean prison time for Mehserle. An involuntary manslaughter verdict could conceivably lead to Mehserle's release for time served during and while awaiting trial.
Much of Oakland's African American community, which Oscar Grant hailed from, seems determined to see a second-degree murder verdict. San Francisco Bay View, National Black Newspaper Editor Mary Ratcliff says that "LA better get it right" has become common graffiti on the streets of Oakland, and that the community will no doubt be enraged by anything short of a second degree murder verdict.
The Mehserle trial was moved to Los Angeles in response to the argument that Oscar Grant's fatal shooting, and ensuing outrage, had received too much press for Mehserle to get a fair trial in Oakland.
Many Oakland and wider San Francisco Bay Area residents say that Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts's preparations for the possibility of more riots in response to the verdict is only heightening tension, especially between young African American residents and Oakland Police.
Others say that Batts, as Police Chief, had to consider all possible consequences and prepare.
Courtesy Jonathan Nack
Poster calling for a community speakout in Oakland on the day of the verdict in ex-BART cop Johannes Mesherle's LA trial for fatally shooting Oscar Grant at an Oakland BART station in 2009.
Activists in the Movement for Justice for Oscar Grant are organizing a mass gathering and speak-out for the evening of the day the verdict is announced. They are asking people to come to Broadway and 14th Street in downtown Oakland, at 6 pm on the day of the verdict, whatever that may be, and calling on the Oakland Police Department (OPD) not to over-react.
In a press conference on Thursday, July 1st, called by the Oakland General Assembly for Justice for Oscar Grant, Tony Coleman, of One Fam, and the New Year's Movement for Justice for Oscar Grant, opened by saying, “My son was Oscar Grant's teammate. He's 22 years old. He's a Black young man. It could have been him on the BART. I'm proud of my son for coming out here and, feeling angry enough, and feeling enough passion and compassion, to come out here and stand want to stand with the people.”
Courtesy Jonathan Nack
Tony Coleman, a leader of the New Year's Movement for Justice for Oscar Grant, spoke at a press conference held to call for a public speakout in response to the verdict in Johannes Mesherle's trial for the shooting death of Oscar Grant, and to call on the City of Oakland for the right to assemble after the verdict.
“We're asking all the people, if you feel that way, don't pent it up inside. Come out here. We're providing a space,” he said.
“It's an alternative to other forms of expression. So, if you want to go out and do other things and all like that, that's on you, but if you want to come out and participate in a speak-out, and deal with other brethren about what we can do to move forward, then come out here to 14th and Broadway.”
Coleman said that the gathering would be a speak-out and a sharing of ideas to determine what are the next steps forward for justice for Oscar Grant and his family.
Courtesy Jonathan Nack
Oakland Police spoke to Tony Coleman after a press conference in which he called for a public speakout and the right to assemble after the verdict in Johannes Mesherle's trial for the shooting death of Oscar Grant on New Year's Eve 2009.
“We have a message for OPD – Let us have our space. Do your job, but that doesn't mean going overboard and hitting on these youngsters. They may be a little hot, they may be a little angry, they may be talking. Don't over-react!”
“They have a right to be mad. They have a right to be fearful if this officer is let go...that they cannot ride the BART with their friends.”
Many think that the unemployment rate among African American youth in Oakland, estimated to be roughly 50 percent, greatly increases Oakland's volatility as the Mehserle verdict draws near.