INGLEWOOD, Calif. – At Chuco’s Justice Center here, more than 50 people met this week to discuss the next steps in the movement for justice for Oscar Grant III following the hugely disappointing and unpopular involuntary manslaughter verdict for former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer Johannes Mehserle in the death of Grant, an unarmed BART passenger.
Mehserle, 28, had also faced more serious charges of second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in the Jan. 1, 2009, killing of the young African American man as he lay face down on a BART platform following reports of a disturbance on a train.
Cell phone videos, taken by other passengers and widely circulated, showed several young men sitting on the platform, not resisting the BART police officers. Mehserle alleged that Grant and his friends represented a serious threat to police seeking to arrest them, and claimed he meant to use his taser but confused it with his gun.
The prosecution contended that Mehserle’s training, and the safeguards against unintentional use of a gun, made confusing the two weapons impossible.
No African American jurors were on the jury.
The meeting here was organized by the Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant, which is made up of teachers, lawyers, professors, students, activists and ordinary members of the community. It’s a collective that works to bring justice for the slain black youth and examine social issues.
The coalition’s Facebook page states, “The LA Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant is a nonexclusive group of community organizations who express concern for Oscar Grant’s case. The Coalition also acknowledges a need to address the bigger framework which contributed to the circumstances of his death.”
The meeting addressed what the next steps should be in ensuring that Mehserle receives the maximum sentencing.
In its verdict, the jury added a sentencing enhancement for Mehserle’s use of a gun. The sentencing date has been postponed several times and is now reportedly scheduled for sometime in October.
There is a real potential for the jury’s gun enhancement addition to the involuntary manslaughter charge to be dropped at the sentencing, and with that could come a reduction of the sentence to time served (counting Mehserle’s current incarceration at Los Angeles County Jail; in other words, no further jail time) with probation, according to a lawyer acting as legal adviser to the coalition. The maximum sentencing possible is 14 years.
The coalition will be working on adding pressure on the trial’s presiding judge, Robert J. Perry, to ensure that the maximum sentence is given. In addition, the group will also focus vigilant attention on the federal government’s review of the case, announced right after the verdict was issued. That review involves the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice. Other points that the coalition will work on include holding accountable BART officers Pirone and Domenici, who were on duty with Mehserle on the night of Oscar Grant’s killing.
Although the failure to convict Mehserle of murder or voluntary manslaughter sparked much anger, many noted that the verdict does mark the first time in California a police officer has been convicted for a killing in the line of duty. But, they said, the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant is far from over.
The coalition plans on keeping the momentum going by organizing with churches, unions, communities, organizations, families and students at high schools, colleges and university campuses.
The Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant is asking the public to come out in droves on the day of sentencing in Los Angeles.
Photo: Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant meets to plan next steps. (PW/Luis Rivas)