Editor’s Notes

Pub date July 13, 2010
WriterTim Redmond
SectionEditors Notes


Broken windows can be replaced, and in two weeks, they will be. Stolen merchandise can be replaced, and it will be. But who’s going to replace this justice system that got looted? What insurance policy takes care of that?

Davey D Cook, Hard Knock Radio, KPFA, July 9

I’m not going to argue with the jury that convicted Johannes Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Oscar Grant. I didn’t sit through the entire trial; I didn’t hear all of the testimony; I didn’t get the judge’s instructions on the law. I know it looks a lot like murder when you take a gun and shoot someone in the back, but the law requires intent, and the jury clearly believed — based on the evidence presented at trial — that the white officer made a mistake and never wanted to kill the young black man.

Based on the evidence I’ve seen — the videotape of the shooting, which, like many Bay Area residents, I’ve watched dozens of times— Mehserle had plenty of opportunity to back off, to recognize that he was about to fire a weapon at a man who was already on the ground and under police control. And remember: a Taser can also be lethal.

But the jury didn’t see evidence of murder, and voluntary manslaughter is a strange amalgam that’s very hard to fit with this case. If the judge sentences Mehserle to something close to the maximum (14 years), then some form of justice will have been done.

I say some form because it’s impossible to talk about this case without talking about race.

If Oscar Grant had been a white guy — even a drunk, belligerent, obnoxious white guy — I don’t think he ever would have been shot. The cops deal with annoying white people all the time, and they don’t get beat up, shot, or abused anywhere nearly as often as black people. That’s just reality.

Well-trained police officers working for professional law enforcement agencies are taught to be sensitive to race issues. They’re also taught how to make sure not to confuse a pistol with a Taser. It doesn’t always work — anyone who follows the criminal justice system knows that racism is very much a part of life. (And, of course, the BART police force is not a professional operation, and its officers aren’t well trained.)

If Mehserle had been a black kid from Hunters Point who was involved in a shooting death — even if he didn’t pull the trigger, even if he never meant to kill anyone — he’d be going to prison for a long, long time. The very fact that people are discussing the possibility of probation or a short sentence for Mehserle is a statement about the unfairness of our justice system.

And that’s not going to get fixed in two weeks. *