Oscar Grant was unarmed. He was lying face down on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) platform on New Year’s Day 2009 when BART Officer Johannes Mehserle, as he was attempting to restrain Grant, pulled his pistol and shot the 22-year-old in the back. The video that would later go viral captured it all in chilling detail. Johannes Mehserle would lose his job, be arrested, and eventually stand trial for the homicide of Oscar Grant. On November 5, 2010, according the Christian Science Monitor, Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 2 years in prison.
Counting time already served (292 days), Johannes Mehserle will walk out of prison in seven months.
Those observing the Los Angeles court proceedings were stunned when the sentence was handed down. Instead of the four-year sentence usually handed out, the judge sentenced Mehserle to two years. Instead of the “enhanced sentencing” that can be brought to bear in a case where a firearm was used, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry chose not to employ it. The “enhancement” law usually automatically increases the sentencing, but the jury ruled that Mehserle may have mistaken his pistol for a taser, which has been the former BART officer’s defense since the shooting.
The decision to not use the enhancement law left the Oscar Grant family and supporters reportedly stunned, inside the courtroom and out. Later, Oscar Grant’s uncle compared the sentencing to that of Michael Vick’s for his involvement in dog fighting: “If a man goes to prison for killing a dog and he gets four years, then of course two years is not enough.”
Hundreds gathered to honor Oscar Grant outside Oakland City Hall during the day. By nightfall, hundreds more were in the streets to protest what many deemed as an unfair sentencing in the faraway L. A. courtroom (the trial had moved because the judge believed it may have not been possible for Johannes Mehserle to get a fair trial in Oakland).
Oakland Police were out in force in anticipation of rioting and were able to quell much of the violence, although 50 arrests were made.
Demonstrations following the shooting of Oscar Grant in January 2009 turned to riots and saw millions of dollars worth of property damage as hundreds were arrested in the days that followed. Although the demonstrations had begun peacefully, days of a District Attorney not at least charging the young BART officer, who had subsequently resigned, with the shooting led to a frustrated group of protesters and demonstrators rioting. Fueling their anger had been a YouTube video that showed what looked to be a callous killing of another human being. An unarmed human being.
Many thought they were seeing justice delayed in January 2009. And as the days turned into months as the case proceeded to trial, many continued to feel justice being delayed by the slow grind of the court system. But when the final ruling came down, the Oscar Grant case did not feel like justice delayed. To most, it felt like justice denied.
“Mehserle Verdict: Johannes Mehserle sentencing stuns Oscar Grant supporters, sparks riots in Oakland,” CSMonitor.com