Justice in Oakland for Oscar Grant

October 12, 2009

OAKLAND, Calif.--More than 100 activists gathered at the Alameda County Courthouse on October 6 to demand that the trial of former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Officer Johannes Mehserle remain in Alameda County.

Mehserle is accused of killing Oscar Grant III early on New Year's Day. Video footage taken by horrified BART passengers showed Grant, who was unarmed, being shot in the back as he lay facedown on a train station platform, surrounded by BART officers who had pulled him and several friends off a train.

Due to "the long history of racism and violence by police," it would be impossible for Mehserle to have a fair trial in Oakland, argued the defense--surprising words from an attorney hired by a group of Mehserle's cop buddies, though hardly a vindication for activists. As Minister Keith Mohammed of the Nation of Islam said, "Why should we allow justice to flee [to another county] because they're uncomfortable with their crime? If the men who commit these crimes against our people are uncomfortable, imagine how we must feel."

Craig New, a "jury behavior consultant," for Mehserle's defense team, testified that a change of venue was necessary based on what he called "unprecedented" publicity, especially of the incident itself. Video of Grant's death has been viewed more than 750,000 times on YouTube, and played on all Bay Area news stations. New described the case as a "lightning rod" of Oakland's anger with police brutality and predicted that any potential jury would fear violence.

There is no word yet as to a ruling in this pretrial motion. Yolanda Mese, Grant's sister-in-law, said that keeping the trial in Oakland was important for the family to be able to attend. "It's justice for Oscar, but it's justice for everybody," she said. "We deserve to feel safe. We deserve to decide how things happen in our community and on our trains."

"Here you have a white cop, probably a racist, killing a young Black man and brutalizing his friends and now they say he can't get fairness?" asked Jack Bryson, whose two sons were beside Grant on the platform during the shooting. Bryson is among the activists fighting for justice for Oscar Grant whose hard work has yielded what Craig New called, "the highest [98 percent] case recognition of any case my firm has handled since the Oklahoma City bombing."

We must continue to call out racist police violence--not like Mehserle's attorneys, who use it to avoid justice, but in the struggle for justice and equality.

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