Justified Homicide: The Oscar Grant Verdict

What's the penalty for shooting a man in the back? You got seven months to spare?

Where there is no justice there will be no peace.

There was no justice in the murder of Oscar Grant.  There was even less in the verdict.

LOS ANGELES — Johannes Mehserle will likely serve seven more months in prison for killing Oscar Grant III after a judge’s ruling Friday dismissed a key part of a confusing jury verdict that could have landed the 28-year-old former BART police officer in prison for as long as 14 years.

In making his decision, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry acknowledged that the sentence would anger Grant’s family and possibly much of the Bay Area but said, “I did the best I could with this case.”

Given his opinions about the evidence, and the jury’s verdict of involuntary manslaughter, Perry said that “no reasonable trier of fact could have concluded” that Mehserle intended to use his gun early Jan. 1, 2009.

As a result, Perry said, he was mandated by law to dismiss a jury finding that Mehserle is guilty of a gun enhancement and by doing so he immediately lowered Mehserle’s possible term in prison to four years.

Perry said the evidence presented during the trial was “simply overwhelming” in favor of Mehserle’s claim that he made a mistake in shooting the 22-year-old Hayward man by confusing his gun with his Taser.

But Perry said the four-year term was too harsh for a defendant who, contrary to statements by Grant’s family, has shown remorse. It was also too harsh a penalty for a defendant who did not bear sole responsibility for the crime or for a defendant who does not have a history of violence, Perry said.

“Many people contributed to the tragedy in this case,” Perry said as he listed various figures in the incident, including Grant for fighting on the train and BART for failing to train its officers properly. “I made the ruling because I believe it is in justice to do so.”

Cephus Johnson, Grant’s uncle, felt otherwise.

“Today we saw the best example of what we already believed,” Johnson said. “It’s a racist criminal justice system. There can be no peace without justice.”

Dr. King once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard” and while the trash can fires and broken car windshields that followed when  protests after the verdict turned ugly were more an exasperated expression of anger than armed insurrection in the streets,  it’ll do barring anything more serious jumping off.

It’s wrong when innocents are harmed and property is damaged. It’s even more wrong when a transit cop shoots a handcuffed and unarmed man in the back while he’s lying on the ground and gets less time than Michael Vick received for killing dogs.

Don’t kill dogs if you don’t want to do time.  America loves dogs.  Kill a Black man instead.  America could care less about them.

Don’t believe me?   Go to New York City and ask the fiance of Sean Bell how wrong I am.  Ask the family of Amadou Diallo or Patrick Dorismond.   Ask anyone who’s buried a loved father, son or brother who “accidentally” ended up on the business end of a cop’s bullet.

If I come off somewhat less than reasonable,  please excuse me.  I’ve heard this song played too many times with slightly different lyrics don’t  like it much.

Don’t riot,” Oscar Grant Sr. said. “Life didn’t stop when my grandson was killed. We have to live here. They could give him 100 years (in prison), and it won’t bring my grandson back.”

I don’t know if  Mehserle meant to kill Grant and neither does anybody else, but I would bet every last dollar I have he will never do two years and by this time next year he will back walking the streets as a free man while Oscar Grant molders away in his casket.

I  looked up how California punishes cases of manslaughter.

Mehserle: seven months for murder.

There are three degrees of manslaughter, which carry different punishments. Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing that happened either because of “adequate provocation” or in an unreasonable attempt at self-defense. A voluntary manslaughter conviction carries a sentence of 3 to 11 years in prison. Involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing that happened during the commission of a misdemeanor or because of gross negligence (carelessness). Involuntary manslaughter carries a sentence of 2 to 4 years.

The third degree of manslaughter is vehicular manslaughter and since it wasn’t relevant I omitted the specifications, but I do find it interesting the district attorney’s office chose to prosecute Mehserle on the involuntary, instead of voluntary manslaughter charge.

In effect what they decided was Mehserle did not draw his weapon “in an unreasonable attempt at self-defense” but instead was just careless when he shot Grant in the back. So he’s not malicious, just incompetent.

I’m sure that will make Grant’s family feel so much better. I also hope they sue the living shit out of everyone that can be sued. It won’t make things any better but maybe if they have to pay out the ass next time BART will hire cops that aren’t such fuck-ups.

There is no excuse for the rioting.

But a reason? Oh hell yes, there was a reason to riot.

There’s no reason someone too stupid to know the difference between a taser and a gun should be walking around authorized to use lethal force.

There was no way Mehserle was looking at any serious time once he was charged with involuntary, instead of voluntary manslaughter. That little difference of that “in”voluntary was the difference between at least three years and as many as 11 and two years minus time served allowing Mehserle to walk in seven months.

For involuntary manslaughter, in California the average sentence is two-to-four years. Mehserle got the minimum. Had it been Grant with the gun and Mehserle lying dead face-down on the subway floor, he would have received the maximum and probably whatever charges they could hang on his ass like Christmas ornaments.

Because if you’re a White cop and you kill a Black suspect you either walk out of prison early or never walk in. If you’re a Black suspect who kills a White cop you go to prison for the rest of your natural life and die there.

That’s how “justice” works.

January 2009: new president, same old stuff.

7 thoughts on “Justified Homicide: The Oscar Grant Verdict

  1. Blacks have for years lived in a “reverse-it universe.” It wasn’t a “big bang” that set it in motion, but years of living among a folk that made it crystal clear that in every way they are our betters.

    Had it been a black Bart police officer who shot a young white man, would we have seen a similar judicial outcome? Would we have heard the judge plaintively say, “I did the best I could with this case”?

    “One ever feels his twoness – an American, a Negro,” Du Bois wrote in words that resound to the present day, “two souls; two thoughts; two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

    The burden is always on us to adjust, to accommodate, to agitate for the redress of grievances. How many whites rioted on behalf of Oscar Grant, or Rodney King? How many condemned the actions that led to the deaths of Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond? Not many, if any at all. Why is that?

    Always the same answer roars back: “It’s tribal. You’re not one of us. We don’t care about you to the same extent that we care about ourselves. It’s that simple.”


  2. Had it been a black Bart police officer who shot a young white man, would we have seen a similar judicial outcome?

    I think so. We can’t dismiss the training cops and wanna-be cops receive and the attitudes they absorb during training. It doesn’t help that Grant was black, but it wouldn’t matter if he were white, either. Cops have been given the green light to break into houses in the middle of the night in the interests of capturing a suspect or preserving evidence, and in the chaos and confusion, someone winds up dead. We praise 2nd Amendment rights and then are surprised to find a homeowner gunning down a cop in self-defense. But I’m not surprised at all that homeowners are prosecuted like criminals for reacting like any human being.


    If Mehserle is remorseful we’ll read about him taking his life.


  3. This sort of racist rant is what contributes to the problem in the first place.

    Does anyone in their right mind believe that this cop, subduing a FELON RESISTING ARREST intentionally fired his gun into his back with other cops and a train station full of witnesses looking on? Under stress, he screwed up. A tragedy but ultimately an ACCIDENT brought upon by the PERP in the first place. Of course some people believe it. The same who thought that OJ Simpson was innocent of double homicide. In other words, ignorant racists.


    • Still having trouble with facts when they don’t fit, huh, LH?

      Johnannes Mehserles didn’t know about Oscar Grant’s prior criminal record. All he knew was he had enough of Grant refusing to be handcuffed. So Mehserles grabbed his gun, shot Grant in the back, and then came up a bullshit story he confused his gun with his Taser. Of course, that completely ignores the Taser weighs half as much as the gun and is not configured the same way, but for cop apologists like you any alibi is a good one.

      You played this song before with the “PERP” controlling the situation, not the COP. That’s exactly backwards. Mehserles should have gotten the maximum sentence possible. Seven months is an insult.


      • NT, the cop didn’t have to know about Oscar’s prior record. He was RESISTING ARREST. What non-felon does that? Again, do you REALLY believe that this cop drew his pistol, and on PURPOSE, shot this guy in the middle of the back with other cops and dozens of civilians watching? Is that what we are supposed to believe in order to buy into your racially charged version?

        The cop was under stress. He was in the physical confrontation. He grabbed what his mind told him was the taser and pulled the trigger.

        The perp violently resisted and his own stupidity cost him his life. Of course, we can go back to the wisdom of a police force that equips police with two similar weapons, with grips, triggers, etc. that are held in holsters. Weight? Are you kidding me? Have you ever been involved in a stressful situation like that or even bothered to read the accounts of cops (or military) involved in such a situation? Of course not.

        The officer involved got an excessive sentence given the accidental nature of this tragedy and the fact that the perp brought it on himself.


      • ANY non-felon might resist arrest if they didn’t know WHY they were being arrested. Where do you get the idea citizens are supposed to meekly acquiesce to a cop’s order simply because they are a cop?

        Mehserles wasn’t just under stress. He lost control. Grant was on his stomach with a cop kneeling on him. How in the hell did he initiate being shot by some moron too stupid or too scared to know the difference between a gun and a taser. If Mehserles was that incompetent he should have never been issued a gun in the first place.

        But this is just your same old tired ass song. White cop kills Black suspect and you will without fail and exception find a way to absolve the cop of the slightest hint of police brutality. If that requires you twisting the facts to do so then that’s what you will do.

        There was stupidity in this situation all right. The stupidity of Mehserles. The stupidity of the judge and probably the stupidity of the family of Oscar Grant who believed they would get justice from a system that absolves cops from suffering the consequences of their carelessness.

        Oscar Grant was not a “perp.” He was a victim of a transit cop who panicked, screwed up and shot in the back an unarmed man. And you can rationalize that as being Grant’s fault? That is such a load of utter bullshit I cannot begin to take it seriously.

        The shooting of Oscar Grant was a tragedy. The sentencing of Johannes Mehserles is a travesty and I am done debating this with you.


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