LOS ANGELES, Calif.—Dozens of protesters rallied in front of the county courthouse here Jan. 8 to bring attention to the recent move of the trial against an Oakland Bay Area Rapid Transit officer charged with the murder of Oscar Grant, a young African American man.
The move to Los Angeles County was done in hopes of working in a less prejudiced location, with less media attention, something Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson has stated is now impossible to do in Oakland.
A 27-year-old BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle, is being charged with the murder of the 22-year-old Grant, who was fatally shot on New Year’s Day 2009. Mehsrle has pleaded not guilty and has said that the shooting was accidental. The incident was captured on several cameras and has been well-circulated on TV and Internet sites, like YouTube.
In 2009, Grant was returning home with friends after watching New Years Eve fireworks in San Francisco. Police were called to the train platform after reports of a fight. Videos taken by witnesses show several young men sitting on the platform, not apparently resisting. Grant appears to be cooperating before two officers push him face down, followed by the shooting. Grant died several hours later.
A later-released video also showed BART officer Tony Pirone, apparently unprovoked, punching Grant in the head moments before the shooting.
Mehsrle claimed his intentions were to use his taser on Grant, who was face down and unarmed on a BART platform.
Under the Sixth Amendment, everyone has the right to a fair and impartial trial. Mehserle’s attorney and the judge have used this as a reason not to have the trail in Alameda County, where Oakland is located. County residents organized many demonstrations, press conferences and rallies to demand justice and to make sure those involved are held accountable, and received much media exposure.
After it was decided the trial had to be moved, San Diego was suggested as the site, a city that does not have as large an African American population as Oakland. The final selection of Los Angeles, as a community with demographics closer to those of Oakland, was seen as a positive move.
The Oakland Police Department, including the BART officers, has a bad history of excessive force, especially toward the African-American community. Since 1960s with the fatal shootout with the Black Panther Party, to the deadly shooting of a 42-year-old man by BART officers in 2001 and the fatal shooting of another unarmed African-American youth in 2008, there has been ongoing tension between the police and the African American citizens of Oakland.
Along with the great anger over Grant’s killing and other police killings of African Americans in recent years, there is also a strong sentiment to work together as a community, across racial, ethnic and class lines, not only for better police practices but also to change underlying factors that contribute to tragedies like Grant’s murder, according to many Oakland residents.
With the trail moving to Los Angeles, Mehsrle’s attorney, Los Angeles County Judge Robert Perry and Grant’s family attorney, John Burris, are hopeful that the trail can finally begin in six to twelve months.
Photo: Luis Rivas/PW