If cop beats murder charge
Protests expected in BART shooting
Published Jul 2, 2010 8:20 AM
Media in the San Francisco Bay Area are full of warnings that the Oakland
Police Department, police of the Bay Area Rapid Transit, the California Highway
Patrol and the Alameda Sheriff’s Office have all been practicing
“riot control” maneuvers in anticipation of a verdict in the trial
of former BART cop Johannes Mehserle.
Mehserle has been on trial since June 12 on charges of murdering Oscar Grant
III. He was videotaped kneeling on a prone Grant and shooting him in the back
at the Fruitvale BART stop on Jan. 1, 2009. Mehserle is white; Grant was
The authorities anticipate outrage if Mehserle’s trial ends with anything
less than a murder conviction. The OPD has been conducting crowd-control
tactics and exercises to squash any rebellion, as well as spying on social
networking sites, and most likely on public meetings, to determine where people
might gather when they hear the news.
BART police have also been doing “intelligence work,” according to
chief communications officer Linton Johnson, and will focus their efforts on
Oakland and San Francisco, where they expect mass outrage.
The strategy of the Bay Area police forces points to an ambush being set up
against activists and community members, who are preparing to demonstrate
against any unjust verdict.
There have already been setbacks in the case, starting with a venue change to
Los Angeles. Defense attorneys successfully argued that their client, Mehserle,
could not receive an impartial hearing in and around Oakland. The switch of the
trial helped secure a jury with no Black jurors. Mehserle’s defense
attorney used peremptory challenges to remove three of the five Black jurors in
the jury pool. L.A. Superior Court Judge Robert Perry excluded the other
Oakland and L.A. have very different demographics. Black people make up 32
percent of Oakland but only 10 percent of L.A. Moving the trial was important,
seeing as this case highlights the low-intensity war being waged against Black
people by police departments across the country, made more evident by reports
from Oregon to Missouri to New York citing that Black people are significantly
more likely to be stopped by police.
Before the start of the trial, Judge Perry granted some rulings favorable to
the defense. He allowed Mehserle’s lawyer to use Oscar Grant’s
prison record and the fact that he was on parole to demonize him in the eyes of
the jury, thereby “justifying” his execution. The defense will also
be allowed to have a so-called expert testify about what he sees in the six
videos to be used during the trial. Perry will also allow a San Leandro cop to
testify about having used a Taser on Oscar Grant in 2006.
Defense attorney Michael Rains tried also to have excluded from the trial key
witnesses for the prosecution, such as Sophina Mesa, Oscar Grant’s
partner and mother of their 4-year-old daughter, but these motions were denied
by the judge. Rains sought to have excluded from evidence a racial slur used by
fired BART cop Tony Pirone, who was there when Grant was shot in the back and
who punched Grant in the face, as well as a synchronized video. All these
motions were denied by Judge Perry.
While vilifying Grant, Rains has presented Mehserle as an upstanding father and
husband who simply made the mistake of pulling out his gun instead of his
Taser. The former BART cop in his testimony even resorted to shedding tears,
eliciting a spectator to shout, “Save your fucking tears, dude.”
The 24-year-old friend of Grant was arrested.
Officers Tony Pirone and Marysol Domenici had testified earlier. Domenici, who
has contradicted her testimony at various times, had to admit that Grant and
his friends on the BART platform complied with her orders and did not resist.
She had insisted there were 50 people on the platform and they heckled her, but
was shown video from several angles that showed an empty platform. She then
conceded that the platform was indeed empty, but said she considered the people
on the train as being on the platform and felt threatened by their
Pirone, who was fired in April for his actions on the day Grant was killed,
said on the stand that Grant and friends sat down when he, using harsh
language, told them to.
The trial, which is expected to end by the beginning of July, has been a long
time coming. Many people are anticipating the outcome, including those from
southern California to the Bay Area.
Were it not for the movement that sprang up after the ruthless killing of the
22-year-old Grant, which included a mini rebellion, Mehserle would doubtless
have been allowed to go free with no charges at all. That has been the racist
tradition regarding many other cops who have killed oppressed and working
If the verdict is anything less than the second-degree murder charge for which
Mehserle is being tried, it will take a movement to win justice, which is best
determined by the community in Oakland. That community desires that Mehserle be
locked up and never again see the light of day.
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