Being schooled by (in)justice: Mehserle verdict shows injustice, bias in our society (Op-Ed)

The jury deliberated less than seven hours to reach the verdict in the trial of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle for murdering Oscar Grant: involuntary manslaughter. In other words, although the former officer was found guilty of pulling a gun on Grant and shooting him in the back as he lay face down, hand-cuffed, on a platform, the jury did not find that Mehserle had any intent to end Grant's life when he pulled his gun and shot him in the back as he lay handcuffed on the platform, face down, with another officer's knee pushing into in his back.

With this verdict, the jury essentially affirmed their belief that Mehserle, while guilty, had made a "mistake".  As someone who has observed juries deliberate, the idea this jury could reach a concensus so quickly in such a complicated case makes me wonder how manyy of the people sitting in the jury box actually listened to what they heard.

Did they hear the witnesses describe how helpless Grant was as he lay on the platform, and how unlikely, even impossible, it would have been to reach for a gun?

Did they hear about the climate of racism and violence fellow Office Pirone created as he cursed Grant and held him down with his leg as a young and poorly trained officer joined him to intimidate and oppress?

Did they hear the witnesses who described the differences between reaching for a taser and a gun, and the reflex that  can kick in when an officer smoothly draws a weapon he has been trained to reflexively shoot?

I didn't think that jury heard what I did, or listened the way I did, because if they had a different verdict would have come back. A verdict that recognized that Mehserle intended to caused harm, that pulling his gun and firing at  close range, which perhaps an unconscious gesture, was not a "mistake."

And perhaps I am not the only person that feels that way. According to KGO and other local media, The US Department of Justice is planning to  conduct an independent review of the case through their Civil Rights Division and the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI were still investigating Grant's death and would determine whether federal prosecution was called for.

However, even if if these investigations result a stronger conviction for Grant's murder, the reaction of this jury shows me how far apart we are in our own values. If Grant had been white, and the officer Black, would his tears on the witness stand have won him a diminished charge?  If both victim and murderer had been people of color, would the jury have voted the same way?

I think not. 


Originally posted

Susan Mernit, Susan Mernit's Blog

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