CHARLENEM, Jamo Muhammad and Melanie Muhammad
OAKLAND (FinalCall.com) – The city suffered some violence Nov. 5, hours after Los Angeles Judge Robert Perry sentenced a former transit officer who fatally shot Oscar Grant, III, on New Year’s Day 2009 to two years in prison.
The Associated Press reported that police arrested more than 150 people after a crowd reacted violently to the decision. While AP reported a peaceful downtown rally and march turned into smashing of bus and car windows, activists and some protestors accused the police department over reaction. Hip hop journalist Davey D wrote online that at one point, police officers outnumbered the protestors.
New police chief Anthony Batts said the protest was declared an illegal assembly after an officer’s gun was taken from him.
“We saw images in the news of many protests and the public should know these were not wild-eyed radicals, but men and women from every walk of life and in every event, there has been misinformation about the conflicts,” said Student Minister Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque 26B in Oakland.
Anger was fueled by minimal prison time given after the involuntary manslaughter conviction of Johannes Mehserle.
“Michael Vick had to serve four years in prison for fighting dogs. Four years,” Wanda Johnson, Mr. Grant’s mother, told Judge Perry during her victim impact statement, which she read during the more than three hour long sentencing.
“Anything less than the maximum prison term (14 years with a gun enhancement) is unjust, not just to me, but to all people because it says that officers are above the law,” she said.
Before he ruled, Judge Perry read, some inside the courtroom said interpreted, a few of the thousands of letters and postcards he received urging punishing Mr. Mehserle with the full weight of the law for the shooting.
Judge Perry was offended by use of the word “murder,” and emphasized the word each time he read it, particularly when the communications asked for a fair ruling to send a message of justice for Black and Brown victims of police brutality and murders across the nation.
“We, as a family, still see this as a murder, so you will still see me refer to this over and over as a murder,” said Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, Mr. Grant’s uncle.He became upset and told Judge Perry sternly, even hitting his fist on the podium, that his family shouldn’t lose the case because of a failure by the judge.
The judge’s had apologized, saying he erred when instructing the jury about the gun charge. The form given to the jury could have somehow led to their verdict of involuntary manslaughter and the gun charge should never have been included, the judge said.
Outside the Clara Shortidge Foltz Criminal Courts in Los Angeles, young demonstrators chanted, “Forget about it? No we can’t!We want justice for Oscar Grant!”
Judge Perry doubled the 146 days Mr. Mehserle served in custody as credit for good behavior. He could be released from state prison in less than a year.
His attorney, Michael Raines, an ex-policeman, is gunning for a quicker release: He filed an appeal to have the involuntary manslaughter conviction overturned and will soon be in court asking that his client be sent home on bail.
Asked by a reporter if the two years was enough, Mr. Johnson replied, “We’re talking about murder.”
Judge Perry granted the defense a new trial on the gun enhancement, and then dismissed the gun charge. Jackie Bryson, Oscar’s friend who was with him on the platform, walked out of court at that point.As Judge Perry continued, Oscar Grant’s fiancÃ©e Sophina Mesa walked out. Her mother followed minutes later, disgusted that Judge Perry was acting as an apologist and sympathizer for Mr. Mehserle, the family said.
Judge Perry said Mr. Mehserle showed great remorse for the accidental shooting. The victim and his friends–as well as a loud, volatile mob on the train and platform–were partly to blame for his death, the judge added.
As he announced the two-year sentence, a frustrated and disappointed, yet composed Wanda Johnson stood up first, declaring, “That’s it? That’s nothing.He’s free.Let’s go.”Family members and supporters walked out as Judge Perry continued with sentencing formalities.
“His behavior in court was atrocious.He attempted to answer the race problem by declaring to Black people, ‘Don’t bring me the race problem. Just deal with it.President Obama is in position so you should be happy and just go away,’ ” Min. Muhammad said.
“He actually declared that he waited on sentencing to give us a chance to calm down but those of our people know that we’re angry, not only for Oscar Grant, but because we’ve witnessed this type of murder and brutality of our people for hundreds of years.”
“That just goes to show you that a dog’s life is more valuable in this country than a Black man’s life,” Ms. Grant told family members in a quiet setting in the courthouse as next steps were planned. Min. Keith Muhammad said the community wants justice and wants the Justice Dept. to probe the case.
Trial in videotaped shooting of Oscar Grant begins in Los Angeles (FCN, 06-17-2010)
Transit cop who killed unarmed man gets a change of venue (FCN, 10-29-2009)
Leaders accuse officers of lying in Oscar Grant shooting case (FCN, 07-02-2009)
Fatal shooting of unarmed man sparks outrage (FCN, 01-19-2009)