By Michael Reilly, Oakland, California
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Anger in Oakland as shooting cop declared ‘not guilty’ of murder

This article is over 13 years, 9 months old
Police officer Johannes Mehserle shot 22-year-old African‑American Oscar Grant in the back at 2am on New Year’s Day 2009.
Issue 2210
Oscar Grant
Oscar Grant

Police officer Johannes Mehserle shot 22-year-old African‑American Oscar Grant in the back at 2am on New Year’s Day 2009.

Last week he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, rather than second degree murder – a verdict that sparked protests across California.

“My son was murdered,” stated Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson outside the Los Angeles courthouse.

Last week’s protests were on a far lower scale than those that came immediately after Grant’s killing. Then the streets of Oakland exploded in rage.

From Mehserle’s viewpoint the verdict was the best possible outcome short of acquittal. The case centred on the argument that the transit police officer had confused his gun for his taser.

Officer Mehserle shot the unarmed Grant while he lay face down on an Oakland train platform, pinned-down by another officer.

An officer repeatedly punched Grant in the face and shouted racial abuse moments before the shooting. He was finally fired two months ago.

The shooting was captured on numerous mobile phones and circulated on the internet – though police had unsuccessfully attempted to impound them.

Initially, officials from the transit company claimed that the platform surveillance cameras did not record the incident – this was quickly proven false.

Soon after the shooting Mehserle quit and fled to Nevada, claiming he was receiving death threats.

The trial was moved to Los Angeles after the court decided that he would not get a fair hearing. This amounts to saying Oakland’s largely black population can’t make educated or impartial decisions.

Shops were boarded up and riot police deployed as the verdict was delivered.

The announcement was followed by protests in several cities but primarily in Oakland where nearly 1,000 gathered near city hall. Riot police greeted protesters by penning them in for hours on end.

Local Democrat congresswoman Barbara Lee has been working to secure a federal prosecution of Mehserle.

He will be sentenced on 6 August, and activists must make sure pressure is kept up and the maximum sentence is delivered.

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