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Trial venue changed for killer cop

Demand justice for Oscar Grant

Published Oct 28, 2009 4:41 PM

On Oct. 16, Alameda County (California) Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson granted a change of venue for Johannes Mehserle’s murder trial.

Mehserle is the former Bay Area Rapid Transit cop who, on Jan. 1, shot Oscar Grant III in his back at point-blank range. Grant was subdued and lying on his stomach when he was shot. The bullet exited out of Grant’s front, ricocheted off the concrete and pierced his lung. Grant, who according to witnesses pleaded with the cops, saying he had a 4-year-old daughter, died hours later at a hospital.

The killing was captured on cell phone cameras and broadcast via the Internet, causing a national outcry, as the cold-blooded shooting of Grant looked exactly like an execution. Throughout the country, three young Black men were shot by police within hours of one another between Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Two of them, Grant and Adolph Grimes, were killed.

Mehserle refused questioning and was later picked up on a fugitive warrant in Nevada, where he fled days after he killed Grant.

By granting the change of venue, the judge showed that the courts have little to no interest in there being a fair trial. While the judge ruled in favor of Mehserle and his defense attorney that Mehserle could not receive a fair trial in Alameda County because of all the publicity and protests, the reality is that the courts, and no doubt also BART police and the various police agencies in Alameda County, fear a trial there would be all too fair and that the community would be able to decide the fate of the cop who shot and killed an unarmed young Black man.

Originally scheduled to begin on Nov. 2, the trial is now expected to be delayed until a new venue is decided.

The trial of Mehserle could set a precedent that, when there is a struggle, the people can win a victory, even by way of the courts that are stacked and aligned against them.

The trial of the four cops charged with the brutal beating of Rodney King—Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno—was granted a change of venue as well. It was moved out of Los Angeles County to the predominately white and conservative Simi Valley. Ten of the jurors were white and none of them were Black.

After the acquittal of the four cops, despite the videotaped evidence of the horrific beating of Rodney King, the South Central area of Los Angeles erupted in a full-scale rebellion.

It was a rebellion and sustained protests that won the charge of murder against Mehserle. BART officials, BART police and the city of Oakland had days to respond to the killing of Grant but did nothing until the community began to protest and demand action be taken.

It is the community that should get to try Mehserle, but in lieu of that, at the very least the trial should remain in Alameda County, where the jury pool is comprised of oppressed people of color who have all too often seen police brutality.

The decision as to where the trial will be moved will now be made by the California Judicial Council, assisted by Judge Morris Jacobson. The outcome could be a venue with very different demographics than Alameda County. This would be favorable to the cop who shot and killed this young Black man and to the other cops and police agencies in Alameda County, who have committed and continue to commit acts of violence against oppressed and poor communities on a daily basis. It would not be justice for the oppressed.