Verdict Is a Victory for the Movement, But Not Justice

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Despite all the foot dragging and machinations of the police, the justice system, the government, and the politicians, the movement to win justice for Oscar Grant secured the first conviction of a California police officer for the killing of a black man. This victory is a testament to the strength and determination of people of Oakland and the Bay Area to stand up against racism and police brutality. It is also due to the courage of Oscar Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson, who refused to accept a civil suit settlement and fought to win justice for her son. The victory provides some greater protection for black and Latina/o youth.

However, this verdict does NOT constitute justice for Oscar Grant.

The jury's decision to find Johannes Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter, rather than murder, clearly ignored the facts of the case. Millions of people around the world saw the videotape and know that Oscar Grant was murdered. Oscar's multiple attempts to reason with and de-escalate the police's aggression, Mehserle's long, drawn out struggle with the safety on his gun to release it from his holster, testimony from every witness to the even that neither Oscar nor his friends were resisting the police all this was disregarded by the jury.

Moving the trial out of Oakland was the key element to the outcome of this case. The Alameda County District Attorney's office was resistant to prosecuting the case from the beginning. It only charged Mehserle and secured a murder charge in the context of the most militant organizing of the movement. Moving the trial out of Oakland allowed the prosecutor to conduct a half-hearted, unaccountable prosecution. First, the prosecutor allowed or went along with allowing a jury that included not a single black juror, despite dozens of black members in the jury pool. He conducted inadequate research of witnesses on both sides, and he failed miserably to stand up to the defense attorney when he maliciously harassed and manipulated the testimony of key prosecution witnesses. When Oscar's fiance, Sophina Mesa, testified, the defense's cross examination of her was so egregious that the judge, not the prosecutor, repeatedly objected to the line of questioning. One family member who attended the trial commented that the D.A. was fighting at a fraction of the level that he did when the hearings took place in Oakland.

Moving the trial also allowed the case to be taken over by a judge who had no ties to the Bay Area, the community that Oscar was born and raised in, and the community most affected by the outcome of the case. It allowed the judge to get away with withholding critical evidence from the jury, including the fact that Mehserle has another lawsuit against him for beating another black victim, Kenneth Carrethers, at the Coliseum BART just weeks before he murdered Oscar Grant.

Most importantly, the verdict reflects the continued depth of racism and pro-police sentiment that still saturates this society. Contrary to claims that the Obama-era signals the end of racism, this decision reflects the danger and purpose of that mythology. Despite scores of eyewitnesses, multiple videos, and hundreds of thousands of people across the world following the case, a white police officer was convicted with the minimum charge for killing an innocent black victim. Oscar Grant and his friends were villainized and smeared with age-old racist stereotypes as "thugs" and "gangmembers." The assumption from the beginning was that Oscar, as a young black man, must have done something to warrant his own death.

Fighting racism and achieving justice for Oscar Grant requires that the movement continue to build and grow in determination, drawing in millions more black, Latina/o and other youth. We pledge to Wanda Johnson, Oscar's daughter Tatiana, her mother Sophina, and all family and friends that we will not rest until we achieve justice for Oscar.

We call on the movement to maintain the fight by fighting to win the following demands:

1. Maximum sentence for Oscar Grant's killer, Johannes Mehserle.

2. Jail Officers Pirone and Domenici, both of whom were with Mehserle on the night of the killing.

3. Disarm and disband the BART Police.

4. Provide massive funding to Oakland for education and jobs for Oakland's black, Latina/o, Asian, and poor and working-class white youth.

5. Stop police/ICE racial profiling of Latina/o, black, Asian, and other minority youth with and without papers.

6. We call on Oakland Mayor Dellums and other governmental authorities in Oakland to declare that this verdict does not render justice to Oscar Grant and to act on the demands of the movement.


Yvette Felarca is an organizer for BAMN. Reply to [email protected]

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