Anger Without Violence as LA Reacts to Verdict in Grant Case

Anger Without Violence as LA Reacts to Verdict in Grant Case

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Dozens of protesters made their voices heard but remained peaceful during a demonstration in the Leimert Park district of South Los Angeles on the night of July 8, just hours after a jury found a white former police officer guilty of involuntary manslaughter for fatally shooting an unarmed black man last year.

Several protesters expressed that they had expected a light verdict for Johannes Mehserle. The former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop also could have been found guilty on a harsher charge of second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.

The charge of involuntary manslaughter left many of the protesters unsatisfied.

Mehserle shot 22-year-old Oscar Grant as he lay on the ground unarmed at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009. The shooting came after officers responded to a call about a fight on a train.

The officers took Grant and several others off the train at the Fruitvale station. Several witnesses used cell phones to record images of the 22-year-old Grant on the ground as Mehserle stood over him at the time of the fatal shooting.

Mehserle contended that he meant to use a non-lethal electric Taser on Grant rather than his gun. Prosecutors contended Mehserle meant to shoot Grant, and wanted him convicted of second-degree murder.

The trial shifted to L.A. after the case drew heavy media coverage and sparked racial tensions in the Bay Area. The L.A. jury deliberated for roughly six hours over two days before returning the verdict.

Sentencing for Mehserle is slated for Aug. 6.

Mehserle could spend anywhere from two to four years in prison for the involuntary manslaughter charge, or as much as 14 years in prison with a gun enhancement charge added on.

Reaction to the verdict was mixed.

PROTESTING — A woman talks to a crowd of protesters in Leimert Park. Dozens gathered after a white former police officer was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for fatally shooting an unarmed black man last year.
"We are outraged that the jury did not find guilty of murder in a case that is so egregiously excessive and mishandled," NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a prepared statement. "The most tragic aspect of this case is that the cost of this police misconduct was a 22-year-old father, son, and brother — an unarmed man killed because he allegedly scuffled on a train. The lack of accountability in law enforcement undermines the safety of the community and the integrity of law enforcement."

Los Angeles-based community activist and political columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson called the trial a "benchmark."

"The trial of Johannes Mehserle will stand for years to come as a benchmark for law, public policy, and attitudes toward police use of deadly force," Hutchinson said in a prepared statement. "It's a decision that civil rights leaders, prosecutors and police officials will continue to discuss as part of the oncoming dialogue on present and future relations between police and minority communities."

Grant's family members and supporters stood outside a Los Angeles courthouse July 8 expressing disappointment in the jury's verdict.

"He was murdered. My son was murdered," Wanda Johnson said of Grant. "And the law has not held the officer accountable the way that he should have been held accountable."

Johnson also said:

"The system has let us down, but God will never, ever let us down. Though the system has failed us, though we fight continually. But you know what, one thing I know (is) that the race is not given to the swift nor to the strong, but to the one who endures 'til the end."

In another related development, the officials of the U.S. Department of Justice said the agency will look into the Mehserle case, according to The Associated Press reported. Mehserle could face additional penalties if he's charged with violating Grant's rights.

In Los Angeles, there was "no significant reaction" but peaceful demonstrations after the verdict, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) spokesperson Bruce Borihanh told the L.A. Watts Times.

LAPD reported no arrests related to the trial or subsequent demonstrations.

LAPD and other law-enforcement agencies took extra precautions around the city in anticipation of the verdict, an effort that included an increase presence in Leimert Park.

Borihanh said the number of officers who were in L.A. preparing for reaction to the verdict could not be released, but that the department had "sufficient resources."

Tensions, however, flared in Oakland July 8 as protesters rioted, looting stores and committing other types of vandalism. Authorities said they made more than 80 arrests at the scene in Downtown Oakland.

Samuel Richard is Managing Editor at the L.A. Watts Times.