Riots broke out in Oakland California, on Thursday night, after a Los Angeles jury in the Johannes Mehserle case reported a verdict of "involuntary manslaughter, with a gun."
Involuntary manslaughter calls for a 2 to 4 year sentence, and "with a gun" seems to add 1, 3, 4, or 10 years, but reports of sentencing possibilities still vary widely, as attention turns to the upcoming August 7th sentencing hearing in Los Angeles.
Mehserle, a 28-year-old white ex-Bay Area Rapid Transit policeman, pulled his gun and shot Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African American apprentice butcher and father of a four-year-old daughter, in the back, in the early morning hours of New Year's Day, 2009. Video records show that Grant was prostrate on the BART platform, with hands restrained behind his back when Mehserle shot him. Grant was unarmed and Mesherle claimed to have thought that he had pulled his tazer, not his gun.
Oscar Grant was fatally shot by ex-BART cop Johannes Mesherle while prostrate and allegedly resisting arrest at the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland, California in the early morning hours of New Year's Day, 2009. Grant was unarmed and Mesherle claimed to have thought he was shooting grant with his Taser, not his gun.
The case has become emblematic of racial injustice and police abuse in Oakland and the U.S.A.
The Oakland District Attorney attempted to charge Mehserle with first degree murder, but the judge ruled that the jury could consider only second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, or acquittal, because premeditation, on Mesherle's part, could not be plausibly argued. Oscar Grant's family and groups galvanized to protest police violence had hoped for a second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter verdict, with a longer sentence. "My son was murdered," said Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson.
Mehserle had top flight legal defense funded by police officers' associations.
In January 2009, after Oakland riots to demand that Mehserle, who had fled to Tahoe, be arrested and charged, a judge ruled to move the case to a Los Angeles court on the grounds that there had been too much press in Oakland for Mehserle to receive a fair trial in Oakland. Mehserle's defense lawyers disqualified all African American jurors.
Members of the community had demanded the right to assemble at 14th and Grant Streets in Oakland for a public speak out, whatever the jury decided, as Oakland Police undertook paramilitary preparations labeled "Operation Verdict."
Many Oakland leaders criticized both the police and the corporate media for provoking the crowd.
Mesha Monge Irizarry, of the Idriss Stelley Foundation, an organization created to challenge police violence, said, last night:
"Our crisis line at Idriss Stelley Foundation has been ringing off the hook since 4:05 p.m., with fear, outrage and anxiety, and we're even getting calls from a few Mehserle supporters.
Oscar's uncle pointed out that law enforcement may infiltrate the crowd full of disappointment and outrage about the compromised verdict, to swell the rank of 'agitators' and justify criminalization and violence against our poor, Black and Brown communities."
Courtesy Idriss Stelley Foundation
Mesha Mongo Irizarry with De Lacy Davis, President of Black Cops Against Police Brutality, on stage at Bang4Change2006, Civil Rights Revival Fest in SF, hosted by the Idriss Stelley Foundation.
Irizarry founded the Idriss Stelley Foundation in San Francisco's Bay View Hunter's Point neighborhood, whose majority residents are people of color, after her son Idriss Stelley was killed in a hail of police gunfire, on June 13, 2001, in San Francisco's Metreon Theatre.