CHARLENEM -Western Reg. Correspondent-
Family of Oscar Grant hopes L.A. court will offer fair trial, convict ex-transit cop of New Year’s Day videotaped shooting
LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – Oscar Grant, III.’s family entered the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, tired after a six hour drive, but buoyed by a little rest and coffee for a pretrial hearing for the former transit cop who fatally shot the young man. The family emerged from the courtroom energized and hopeful that justice might finally be done.
“I actually feel good because he (Judge Robert Perry) announced that there is a good possibility that the trial will start in May so it sounds much better than what we heard prior to coming, that it could be a whole year before we even get to trial.So my feelings concerning what was just said in the court room concerning everything was actually very good,” Mr. Grant’s uncle, Cephus Johnson, told The Final Call.
Johannes Mehserle, who resigned from the Bay Area Rapid Transit District police force shortly after the incident, has pled not guilty to charges that he murdered Mr. Grant when he shot the subdued, handcuffed man in the back on New Year’s Day 2009. However, he has claimed that he accidentally shot the young father when he intended to use his taser. His case marks the first time that a peace officer has been charged with murder in California.
During the hearing, Judge Perry reinforced a gag order issued before the venue changed, and banned cameras in the courtroom.He also set a Feb. 19 date to decide whether to reduce Mr. Mehserle’s bail from $3 million, and remove the Alameda County District Attorney’s office as prosecutors, based on his attorney’s requests.
Not everyone was as hopeful as the family. “The only reason they put charges on this pig is because the community rebelled in outrage on first becoming aware of this case and seeing the video of the lynching in public on the Bay Area Rapid Transit System,” said Hannibal Shakur, a Bay Area organizer, during a press conference and rally on the courthouse steps. The event was organized by the Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant.
The constant, collective community actions forced the criminal justice system to bring charges against Mr. Mehserle in the first place, “but if left up to them, they would never prosecute themselves for the murders they commit day in and day out,” said Mr. Shakur.
“It is on us to make justice happen. It is on us to take our lives into our own hands and determine the fate of our communities … today is a momentous occasion because we have the ability to connect the struggles of a whole coast into one formation.”
Legal process moves forward
“Today was an important day to set the ground work. The judge set the tenor, no nonsense. It’ll be an orderly procedure,” said Atty. John Burris, who represents Mr. Grant’s family. “I think the judge has a real commitment to a fair trial for both sides and I think that the lawyers will be placed in a position where they’re going to have to try this case in a professional manner, no grandstanding. That bodes well for us because the defense lawyer can be a person who can be out of control,” he said.
Atty. Burris told The Final Call that he felt that the defense’s efforts to have Judge Perry silence him were empty attempts to reduce his conversations about the outrageous nature of the officer’s conduct, and amounted to grandstanding. Atty. Rains knows that the judge has no jurisdiction over me, he said.
Judge Morris Jacobson ordered a change of venue to Los Angeles after Atty. Rains claimed that widespread publicity, racial tension, and community protests would prevent his client from receiving a fair trial in Alameda County.San Diego County was also considered for the trial.
The demographics in Los Angeles are very similar to Oakland and so is the community sentiments about police actions so the Grant family is very pleased, Mr. Johnson said.
“We came to win and while there’s no guarantee what a jury will find, as the founding fathers declared, this evidence is self-evident and I don’t believe it will take much to demonstrate that Johannes Mehserle is guilty for the murder of Oscar Grant. We’re hopeful for a fair trial and hearings,” said Student Minister Keith Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 26B, who accompanied the Grant family to the hearing.
He isn’t surprised the Mehserle defense team wants secrecy. During pretrial hearings in Oakland, the testimony of about 50 witnesses in the courtroom revealed racism, fear, and the lack of professionalism demonstrated by the Bart police, Mr. Muhammad said.
Demonstrators support for Grant family
While the Grant family and a fraction of their supporters were in the courtroom, a coalition of peaceful demonstrators from Los Angeles County and the Bay Area held a rally and protest on the courthouse steps outside to demand justice for Oscar Grant and all unarmed, innocent civilians who are killed by police.
They circled the sidewalk in front of the courthouse, waved posters depicting Mr. Grant with the word “JUSTICE” written above his head, and chanted, “We are all Oscar Grant!” and “Convict Miserable Mehserle!”The Danza Mexica Cuahtemoc offered an Azteca dance and drumming to bless the space for Mr. Grant’s family.
The coalition formed in part to show support for Mr. Grant’s mother, family, daughter, girlfriend, and friends, who have suffered through the terrible loss for the past year, said Aidge Patterson, cofounder of the L.A. Coalition.
The case is possibly the most important one of this generation because what happened to Mr. Grant is part of a nationwide epidemic of police brutality and part-and-parcel to the U.S. government’s acts of worldwide warfare, whether being waged by police in local communities, the military, or private contractors like Blackwater, he said.
“We understand full well that this case was moved from Oakland to Los Angeles with the hope that this murderous officer would have an easier chance to get acquitted, as though we in L.A. do not understand the gravity of this case,” Mr. Patterson said.
“But we are here today to declare that we will not tolerate government-sanctioned brutality and murder in our communities no matter where it is–Los Angeles, Oakland, or anywhere around the world,” he added.
The community activity represents one of the small victories that the family appreciates, said the victim’s uncle.Other small victories were the resignations of Bart Police Chief Gary Gee and Alameda County District Atty. Tom Orloff, along with the arrest and filing the murder charge against Mr. Mehserle in the family’s view.
“Overall as a family we’ve seen some changes that we’ve been happy with.We see some positive in this case in itself with the community involvement. It’s actually bringing about some changes throughout the community and just raising the consciousness of people that this issue needs to be addressed by the community. Not just the family in itself but the community as a whole,” Cephus Johnson said.