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Mehserle Verdict and Reaction in Oakland

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on July 09, 2010 12:41 PM

As has been widely reported, the jury verdict in the trial for the shooting of Oscar Grant by Johannes Mehserle was returned on July 8. The jury found the defendant guilty of involuntary manslaughter, not of the more serious charge, as was hoped by the prosecutor and the friends and family of the victim. There has been strong public reaction, as expected, in the city of Oakland where the shooting took place at a BART station last New Year's Day.

Mehserle was charged with second degree murder in the shooting of Oscar Grant. According to the New York Times, those in court supporting Grant's family found the conviction for involuntary manslaughter to be unjust. "We thought the jury was dismissive," said John Burris, a lawyer for the Grant family. "It's a small victory, but it is not a fair representation of what happened -- an officer standing over him with his hands tied and shooting him." There were no African-Americans on the jury.

Mehserle will face from five to fourteen years in prison for the shooting. Under California law, the use of a gun in commission of a crime enhances the amount of time that be must served. In addition he may see other charges emerge. The Times reports that as a result of the verdict, the Justice Department will examine the possibility of a federal prosecution.

As discussed in a prior post, a large public reaction was expected, but some reports said protests in Oakland were peaceful, or at least began that way. Some looting, vandalism and clashes with police did occur and in all, 83 people were arrested. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that according to Oakland police, many of those arrested were "anarchist" agitators who were not from Oakland and wore bandannas, hoods or black face paint.

Perhaps the reaction was slightly muted by the work that youth advocates, police and city officials had done in preparation for the verdict announcement. The Times reports one group, Oakland for Justice, organized an evening rally to create "a safe space" where youths would not be "exposed to the risk of arrest because of the actions of others."

Still, feelings are running high. One bystander, Arnold Lucas Jr., told the Times he was depressed by the verdict and thought it was unfair. "It's the same thing as Rodney King," he said. "It's 2010. The same thing is going on. There's never going to be peace on earth."

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