Oscar Grant

( – The family of Oscar Grant, III. has launched a letter writing campaign asking a judge to impose the maximum prison term for his killer at the sentencing date scheduled for Nov. 6.

Johannes Mehserle, a former Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) police officer, shot the 22-year-old Black man in the back on a station platform in Oakland, Calif., on New Year’s Day 2009. He is the first cop in California ever to be tried and convicted of killing a Black man in the line of duty.

On July 8, an L.A. jury, consisting of no Blacks, convicted Mr. Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter. The jury found that he acted negligently, but did not intend to kill Mr. Grant. Mr. Mehserle claimed that he intended to use his taser instead of his gun. Without the gun enhancement, he could be freed on probation, but if L.A. Criminal Court Judge Robert Perry keeps the enhancement charge, he could face anywhere from five to 14 years in prison.


“No one wants to see him get a slap on the wrist and be sent home, not for a murder he committed,” said Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, Mr. Grant’s uncle.

At press time, in addition to writing letters to Judge Perry, Mr. Johnson said he was set to meet with members of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union in San Francisco to schedule a march and rally to protest his nephew’s murder.

“They too have experienced police brutality in the sense that in 1935 they had two of their employees that were, while striking, shot in the back by police and killed … and they have taken a core vote from the union and been given the right by the executive board to orchestrate a protest to police brutality concerning Oscar Grant,” Mr. Johnson said.

The scheduled date for the mass march and rally, which will include labor unions, community activists, clergymen and others, is October 23, just before Mr. Mehserle’s sentencing.

Since the verdict, some things have happened that concern the Grant family and its supporters, while some actions have given the family a measure of comfort, Mr. Johnson said.

On July 17, just more than a week after the verdict was announced, and within about a day of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger authorizing AB 1586, an independent, civilian oversight review board of BART, officers with BART and the Oakland Police Department fatally shot another Black man, 48-year-old Fred Collins. Reports indicated that Mr. Collins allegedly wielded knives at police, who shot him after two attempts to taser him failed.

AB 1586 was sponsored by Assemblymember Sandre Swanson and allows BART to establish an independent police auditor and citizen oversight board to review its police actions and assist with disciplinary actions if necessary.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, also chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on July 13, asking him to launch a formal inquiry into the people’s case against Mr. Mehserle.

“While our criminal justice system has progressed and improved over the past fifty years, we are still not in a place where we are judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin.Given the multiple issues arising from this case, I ask for your assistance in reviewing the activities leading up to and following the Mehserle verdict relative to any possible violations of federal law, including civil rights violations,” part of her letter read. Grant family attorney John Burris joined Congresswoman Lee and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums in calling for the federal inquiry.

There was a rally in support of Mr. Mehserle and law enforcement and a counter demonstration for Oscar Grant on July 19 in Walnut Creek that drew approximately 300 people combined.

“They adamantly believe that Johannes Mehserle should not get any time, that he was just doing his job and he just happened to kill someone in the business of doing his job but what I say to that is maybe they should also protest and see if they could get Charles Manson free and any of the White murderers that are sitting behind bars right now for the crimes they committed because it would be unfair to just protest for Mehserle’s freedom and he’s also a convicted murderer,” Mr. Johnson told The Final Call.

Student Minister Keith Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam mosque in Oakland and supporter of the family, said the rally in support of Mr. Mehserle spoke loudly.“How can decent people rally for a convict who was sentenced by a jury of his peers? Not one Black person was allowed to serve on that jury, yet the jury concluded guilt on the compromised verdict forinvoluntary manslaughter,” he noted.

“The recent shooting involving BART and the Oakland Police Dept. is of great concern to us. We are demanding transparency from OPD and BART and recently met with both chiefs. It is our concern that it has become too easy forpolice officersto unload their weapons on alleged suspects. We appreciate the chief’s willingness to meet the community. We are watching and intend to act in the cause of justice,” Min. Muhammad said.

He credited community demands with moving the governor to sign into law authorization for BSRT to develop a citizen review board. “While we are grateful that some progress is made; we know that advising a board that did nothing to correct its officers without the force of thousands of protesters may not be sufficient. Civilian boards across the nation have fallen short because they have been prevented from insuring that police officers who abuse their authority are corrected or removed from duty for violating the rights of citizens,” Min. Muhammad said.

“I have heard Attorney Burris and the Jonny Cochran firm publically declare they have never seen an officer held accountable for their wrongful acts. This is why city governments are now paying millions of dollars into settlements with families who have suffered frompolice brutality.”

He expressed gratitude for support for a federal probe, and thanked Rep. Lee, Mayor Dellums, county Supervisor Keith Carson, and Councilperson Desley Brooks and the community. “God willing, the state and congressional BlackCaucuseswill back our demands and join us in the journey for justice. We are all Oscar Grant,” said Min. Muhammad.

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