Tempers Flare in San Diego Over Mehserle Verdict

Emotions ran high at a candle light vigil in honor of Oscar Grant

View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print

    NEWSLETTERS

    Hundreds of miles away from Oakland, emotions ran high on a San Diego street corner on Thursday night following the involuntary manslaughter conviction of transit officer Johannes Mehserle.

    San Diegans gathered outside a Hip Hop Shop downtown to hold a demonstration and candle light vigil in honor of shooting victim Oscar Grant. The San Diego Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant handed out fliers with Grant's photo.

    Racial Tensions Over Mehserle Verdict

    [DGO] Racial Tensions Over Mehserle Verdict
    Emotions ran high at a candle light vigil in honor of Oscar Grant. (Published Friday, Jul 9, 2010)

    “Who are we? We are all Oscar Grant. Anyone is prone to be harassed by police,” Organizer Ree Soldado said.

    But not everyone agrees with their message.

    “You think he went out that day to shoot a black guy?” Law student Nick Cohen-Meyer asked an activist.

    “You don't know what a gun feels like? You don't the difference between a gun and a Taser is?” An activist told Cohen-Meyer. “I think you are in the wrong area right now.”

    Oscar Grant's Mom: "My Son Was Murdered!"

    [BAY] Oscar Grant's Mom: "My Son Was Murdered!"
    Johannes Mehserle verdict sparks emotional speech from victim's mother. (Published Thursday, Jul 8, 2010)

    Cohen-Meyer has been following the case and disagrees with the group's message.

     “I think the problem is they don't understand what murder is. The cop made a mistake. It's really unfortunate. How do you think the cop feels?” Cohen-Meyer said.

    Oscar Grant's Family, Supporters React to Verdict

    [BAY] Oscar Grant's Family,  Supporters React to Verdict
    Family and supporters of Oscar Grant express disappointment with jury's decision of guilty of involuntary manslaughter for Johannes Mehserle. (Published Thursday, Jul 8, 2010)

    But in that crowd, Cohen-Meyer stood alone in his opinion. 

    “It was a racial injustice. It was almost a hate crime by a police officer, which makes it worse and the fact that he got off easy is slap in the face,” protester Edward Peebles said.

    As a precaution, The San Diego police department dispatched extra officers downtown. They say no problems were reported.

    In Oakland on Thursday -- at least a dozen businesses were damaged, including a looted Foot Locker store and a ransacked jewelry store, police said. Protesters also smashed the windows of a bank, set fires in several trash bins, and detonated a small incendiary device near a police station that caused no damage.

    Police said they made 83 arrests throughout the night for violations that included failure to disperse, vandalism and assaulting a police officer.

    Cleaning crews began sweeping up broken glass and debris from the sidewalks early Friday morning. Graffiti on one building declared, "Oakland is our amusement park tonight!"

    "This city is not the wild, wild West," said Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts. "This city will not tolerate this sort of activity."

    In Washington state, vandals smashed the windows of a patrol car parked outside a Tacoma police officer's home at about 2:30 a.m. Friday, spray-painting the words "Oscar Grant was here" on the car.

    During the trial, prosecutors said the 28-year-old Mehserle became angry at the 22-year-old Grant for resisting arrest. He was shot in the back while he lay face-down. Mehserle claims he mistakenly drew his gun instead of his Taser.

    The jury had a choice between second-degree murder and lesser charges of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. The jury found that Mehserle didn't mean to kill Grant, but that his behavior was still so negligent that it was criminal. The charge carries a sentence of two to four years, although the judge could add 10 more years because a gun was used in the killing.

    During the trial, Wanda Johnson sat most days in the second row of a Los Angeles courtroom less than 30 feet from the man who killed her son. She hoped and prayed the justice system wouldn't fail her.

    After the jury's finding, Johnson denounced the verdict and let loose emotions that had been mostly bottled up during the three-week trial.

    "My son was murdered! He was murdered! He was murdered," she said outside the courthouse.

    As Mehserle was placed in handcuffs and taken away, he turned to his family and mouthed, "I love you guys."

    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement urging Californians to remain calm and not resort to violence. Schwarzenegger said he had informed Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums the state was well prepared to assist in maintaining order.

    The jury included eight women and four men. None listed their race as black. Seven said they were white, three were Latino, and one was Asian-Pacific. One declined to state their race. They left the courthouse under tight security.
    "As we have come to notice, and we as a family has been slapped in the face by a system that has denied us a right to true justice," said Cephus Johnson, Grant's uncle. "We truly do not blame the jury, but we blame the system."

    At least five bystanders videotaped the incident in what was among the most racially polarizing cases in California since four Los Angeles officers were acquitted in 1992 in the beating of Rodney King, setting off deadly rioting.

    The trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles because of racial tension and extensive media coverage.

    The case was a rare instance in which a police officer stood trial for an on-duty killing and that was captured on video from so many different angles.

    Legal experts said the verdict shows the jury sympathized with Mehserle's version of events.

    "It is legally as low as they could go without acquitting him," University of California, Berkeley, law school professor Erin Murphy said. Prosecutors had a "huge hurdle" to overcome in convincing a jury that an officer with a spotless record meant to kill, even with video of the killing, she said.

    Mehserle testified that he struggled with Grant and saw him digging in his pocket as officers responded to reports of a fight at a train station. Fearing Grant may have a weapon, Mehserle said he decided to shock Grant with his Taser but pulled his .40-caliber handgun instead.

    Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein said in his closing argument that Mehserle let his emotions get the better of him and intended to shoot Grant with the handgun without justification.

    Defense attorney Michael Rains contended the shooting was a tragic accident. Mehserle had no motive to shoot Grant, even though he was resisting arrest, the lawyer argued.