Revolution #165, May 24, 2009

Lines Drawn in a Battle for Justice

Hearing for Oscar Grant’s Killer Begins

As we go to press, the preliminary hearing for Oscar Grant’s killer, ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle, is set to begin on Monday, May 18 and proceedings may go on for days. At this hearing witnesses to the killing will testify, video may be shown and interpreted, and then the judge will decide whether there is sufficient evidence for Johannes Mehserle to stand trial for murder, or whether he will be tried for some lesser offense. It is even possible that the judge could choose to let Mehserle walk free and avoid trial and punishment completely.

This case is unfolding against a tense and complicated landscape. There is no question that Mehserle killed Grant and ended the 22-year-old father’s life. And as we have reported before, a careful review of the videos taken by riders that night shows an escalating series of violent acts by the seven BART police against the group of youth on the train platform: threats with tasers; shoving; hitting; take-downs; and finally the drawing of a gun and firing it into Oscar’s back. Many people Revolution has talked with, even people who have seen the police get away with brutalities and killings in the past, think that since this killing was videoed from at least three different angles and aired numerous times on TV, that a trial for murder is the only course and that a conviction is almost certain.

Young people among the oppressed, particularly in Oakland, are eagerly anticipating a trial and want to see Mehserle convicted—and to see justice for Oscar Grant. The system has been forced to arrest and charge this cop, but whether the charges stick and result in a murder trial is anything but certain. Experienced attorneys, and a media source who claims to have talked with all sides in the case, say that it is probable the murder charge will be lowered and that a conviction for murder is very, very unlikely. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, in the last 15 years in the whole U.S. there have been only 6 cases where murder charges have been filed for killings by police “in the line of duty.” In none of these case were any police officers convicted of murder, and most of those charged were cleared altogether.

But brutal law enforcement is an indispensable component of this oppressive system, under which the role of the police is not “to protect and to serve” the people but to keep people down. A murder conviction of a cop for murder would be a set back for the police and this whole system. But the police, district attorney, courts, and the mainstream media do not have the freedom to do anything they want in this case. The cold-blooded police execution of Oscar Grant, caught on video, shocked and outraged thousands of people--in the Bay Area and even around the world. And this outrage still simmers. Attempts to cover up and tank the case will surely be met with deep and justified anger.

At the same time, the powers-that-be have taken full advantage of the coincidental incident involving Lovelle Mixon, a young Black man who was on parole and allegedly killed four Oakland police before he himself was shot by police. A grand state funeral, a personal letter from President Obama about the “heroes,” and even adding an “OPD” patch to the Oakland Athletics uniforms—the system has worked overtime to try to bury and invalidate the people’s anger over the murder of Oscar Grant under a heavily state-orchestrated period of mourning for the “heroic” cops. Jerry Brown, California’s Attorney General, said: “The fact of the matter have urban terrorists, not by the hundreds, but by the thousands, and they have to be kept under control, and parolees and probationers need extra control. And cops when they get into combat sometimes make mistakes, and people shouldn’t pile on as though they were doing something bad, when they were really doing something good.” (See “The Battle for Justice for Oscar Grant...And the Rulers’ Counter-Attack,” Revolution #161, April 12, 2009.)

Meanwhile, the Oakland police department itself continues to be mired in scandal, and stories of the Department’s brutality and corruption keep seeping out.

Court Documents by Mehserle’s attorney promote defense arguments, and try to get around the gag order

Johannes Mehserle’s current attorney, Michael Rains, is a notorious and busy lawyer. He represents many Oakland police, and he himself is a former cop. What he has argued in the bail motion, and in his recent motion to disqualify the district attorney, and what BART has said in its answer to the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the Grant family’s attorney is that Oscar’s death may have been a tragedy, even a “terrible error,” but it was not a murder. In fact, Rains has implied two conflicting defenses: the first is that Mehserle pulled his gun by mistake, that he meant to use his taser; the second is that other cops say Mehserle told them he thought Grant was going for a gun. The implication here is that the cop’s state of mind was that he was in imminent danger and he shot Grant in self-defense.

Both these claims are ludicrous; a gun weighs three times as much as a Taser and is holstered on the opposite side from the BART police’s bright yellow Taser. And Grant was unarmed, lying face down with both hands behind his back at the moment he was shot; he was not going for a gun. And the district attorney has pointed out that it is “disingenuous” for Mehserle and his attorney to claim both the taser and the “waistband” defenses because IF Mehserle really thought Oscar Grant was “going for a gun” he would not be trying to Tase him.

Mehserle’s attorneys have delayed the case, no doubt hoping the stunning images of the videoed murder would fade from the memory of witnesses and the public. The preliminary hearing was originally scheduled for March 23. But Rains seized upon the killing of the four cops in Oakland arguing he thought there would be “violent” protests during the trial, and that the Oakland police were too “emotionally scarred” to deal with the protests. The judge agreed to re-set the hearing for May 18. Now Rains has filed papers saying the Alameda County District Attorney’s office should be disqualified from prosecuting the case for supposedly attempting to question Mehserle without his lawyer present.

If the District Attorney is disqualified, the case will go to Attorney General Jerry Brown whose sympathies are clear! Brown has replied to the motion to disqualify the district attorney, and this issue will probably also factor in the upcoming court proceedings.

Oscar Grant’s family and activists have called for people to protest on the first day of the preliminary hearing, Monday, May 18. A flier with the photos of Emmett Till, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell and Casper Banjo placed above photos of lynchings calls on people to come to court all this week. Emblazoned across the pictures of lynchings are the words, “This Cannot Happen Again.” Exactly! The lines are being drawn and the battle for justice must not only continue, but be stepped up. And everybody, everywhere, should pay close attention to what happens in the next and what may be decisive days.

Revolution newspaper, the Revolution Club in the Bay Area, and Revolution Books have been playing a unique role in the midst of the struggle, joining with others to fight for justice, and bringing into this fight the need for revolution to really change this system and end police brutality. This has been noted by the bourgeoisie which has put outrageous felony charges on David, a young member of the Revolution Club who was arrested during the rebellion on January 7.

This whole situation is in motion, and this preliminary hearing is an important juncture. The people’s active role in waging mass determined resistance is key in fighting to win justice for Oscar Grant as part of building the revolutionary movement we need.

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