Uncertainty over justice for Oscar Grant
Calls for justice were heard outside the Los Angeles Superior Court today as the trial of Johannes Mehserle, the first police officer in California history to be tried for a murder committed while on duty, got underway.
Demonstrators stood outside the courthouse on Temple between Broadway and Spring and demanded that Mehserle be brought to justice for the death of Oscar Grant, a black 22 year-old resident of Hayward, Calif.
The incident took place in Oakland, but the trial was moved to Los Angeles due to “violence sparked by racial tensions and intense media coverage,” according to the Associated Press.
In the early morning hours on New Year’s Day 2009, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police responded to a report of a fight between youths on one of its platforms in Oakland. While police were restoring order to the train platform, Grant was placed faced down on the ground with his hands on his back. Eye witness videos then show Officer Mehserle stand up, unholster his handgun and shoot Grant in the back.
Grant died that morning from internal bleeding caused by the gunshot.
Mehserle claims he thought he was firing his Taser.
Several videos of the BART shooting were posted on YouTube. Demonstrators present at the Los Angeles Superior Court today uniformly expressed strong emotions about their first viewing of the clip.
“More than logic, this is about feeling for me,” said Steven Frazier, who attended today’s demonstration because of the videos. “I just know the feeling I had when I watched that video. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.”
Demonstrators appeared at the courthouse today because many fear that justice will not be served. They are concerned that moving the trial to Los Angeles will be in Mehserle’s favor.
There is also concern over the judge and jury. Similar to the trial of LAPD officers who beat Rodney King, there are no black jurors. The Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant are also unnerved that the same judge, Robert Perry, who presided over the Rampart scandal trials, will preside over this trial as well.
“I personally don’t think this judge will give a fair trial,” said Aidge Patterson, an organizer for the Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant. “We see 40 people killed every year by police and there is no accountability.”
Ann Dolan, an LA resident who joined today’s demonstration, feels Mehserle’s arrest is a victory, but is also uncertain of justice being served.
“I’m sick of police brutality,” she said. “There have been too many people of color killed. I’ve attended many rallies with families that have children murdered by the police. I feel great sympathy for them as well as for the family of Oscar Grant.”
Nicholas Heyward, Sr. came from New York to show his support for the Oscar Grant family. His son, Nicholas Heyward, Jr., was killed by NYPD in 1994.
According to Heyward, Sr., his son, 13, was playing cops and robbers. “They tried to blame it on the toy gun,” he said. “But he dropped the gun and told police they were playing. The officer still shot him.”
Heyward explains the incident took place in a dimly lit stairwell and the officer who shot his son said he heard a click which prompted him to fire. The NYPD officer was exonerated. Heyward is currently trying to get the DA to re-open the case due to inconsistencies in various accounts of the event.
“I’ve been fighting this ever since, not just for my son, but for all victims who were killed by police,” he said. “It’s sad we have to take to the streets to get justice.”
Heyward calls Oscar Grant’s death an “execution” and is also pessimistic about the trials outcome. “The system is doing everything possible to cover this up,” he said. “The majority of people that police kill are innocent and unarmed. And none of the police officers go to jail. The system protects them.”
Also from New York was Juanita Young who lost her son, Malcolm Ferguson, to NYPD in March, 2000. Her son was mistaken for a robber and during a scuffle with police was shot. A civil court ruled the officer was responsible for the death of her son and awarded her $10.5 million, which was later lowered to $2.7 million by an appellate court.
Young was also harassed by the NYPD since the court case. She was awarded by a civil court a further $1.35 million for the harassment.
Young also came to LA to show her support for the Grant family. “I can’t even understand why we are here,” she said. “The video speaks for itself. You can plainly see that cop, in cold-blood, murdering Oscar.”
Onochie Ejogo came from Oakland to attend today’s demonstration. Like others, it was the YouTube video that prompted him to participate.
“I saw the injustice and I wanted to do something about it,” he said. “You hear about this stuff, but you never see it. I am hoping that justice will be served, because I’m afraid of the consequences.”