As many as 150 demonstrators have been arrested following the sentencing of a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer convicted of involuntary manslaughter according to the Los Angeles Times. Protesters assembled peaceably but then turned more violent as demonstrators began damaging property and cars in the streets near Oakland City Hall.
A judge in Los Angeles determined Officer Johannes Mehserle accidentally reached for his gun instead of a taser when he fatally shot an unarmed black man on New Year’s Day in 2009. Video of the incident showed Mehserle firing a single round into the back of Oscar J. Grant III who was lying face down at a public transit station.
Grant was involved in a fight at a subway station in Oakland when Mehserle was called in to stop it according to Yahoo! News. Grant eventually was face down on the floor with his hands behind his back. Grainy cell phone videos recorded the incident.
What happened next will be forever burned into the minds of Oakland residents. Mehserle fired a round into his back after he claimed Grant reached for something. Grant shouted “You shot me!” while Mehserle tried to reassure him “You’ll be okay,” administering first aid.
Mehserle was tried and convicted of involuntary manslaughter in July 2010. Mehserle contends he thought he was stunning Grant instead of shooting him as he believed he was reaching for a taser.
In a hand-written note, Mehserle apologized to the family of the victim.
“It saddens me knowing my actions cost Mr. Grant his life, no words can express how truly sorry I am,” Mehserle said.
Mehserle also said he and his family received death threats following the incident.
Judge Robert Perry intially delayed sentencing and then gave Mehserle the minimum two year sentence with credit for time served according to the San Jose Mercury News. Defense attorneys argued that a “gun enhancement verdict” added by the jury was too much. Perry agreed with the defense.
The additional gun clause would have added 10 years to Mehserle’s sentence but it only works if there is evidence he intentionally used the gun to shoot Grant. CBS News reports Perry believed there was overwhelming evidence the gun was pulled and fired on accident.
Protests turned violent in July when Mehserle was convicted. As many as 80 people were arrested. After the sentence was announced in early November, Perry admitted openly protesters would not like the two year sentence he handed down.
The victim’s mother rushed out of the courtroom and told the press, “He got nothin’,” referring to Mehserle’s sentence. Within hours a protest was formed outside Oakland’s City Hall in light of the seemingly easy sentence.
Many arrests were made when protesters were found with backpacks full of things such as hammers, knives, and pepper spray. The mayor of Oakland has pleaded with police and citizens to maintain order and reduce violence when peaceably demonstrating.
The Oscar Grant case had the appearance of racial motivations to citizens although, according to Perry, no evidence was found corroborating racial factors in the shooting.
Similarly, the Rodney King riots of 1992 occurred when four officers were acquitted of beating King while he was on the ground. The ensuing riots caused 53 deaths and over $1 billion of damage according to Time magazine.
Los Angeles Times, “Scores arrested in Oakland protests over BART officer Mehserle”, LATimes.com.
Goodwin, Liz, “Oakland cop apologizes for killing transit rider”, Yahoo! News.
Drummond, Tammerlin, “Justice not served in Mehserle sentencing”, San Jose Mercury News.
CBS News, “152 Arrested in Oakland Cop Sentencing Protest”, CBSNews.com.
Time, “The L.A. Riots: 15 Years After Rodney King”, Time.com.