New—and Even More Ugly and Horrific—Truths Come to Light in the Police Murder of Oscar Grant



From a reader:

Ten years! It has been 10 years since hundreds of people on a BART train in Oakland saw cops shoot unarmed 22-year-old Oscar Grant in the back, 10 years since millions saw videos of that murder on TV and the internet. An internal report has just been released that shows the cops and BART authorities knew full well that Oscar was murdered in cold blood and this has been kept secret until now.

The system knew. Their own report said it. This speaks volumes about what happened to Oscar, about the real role of the police, the actual nature of the system they serve, and why what we need is an actual revolution.

Oscar’s cold-blooded murder by BART cop Johannes Mehserle at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California, was one of the first times police were caught on cell phone videos killing someone, and it went viral. People rose up in the streets of Oakland, and there were many powerful protests when the system failed to indict Mehserle. This led to the very rare case of a cop actually doing time for shooting someone down (no cop in Alameda County, the county Oakland is in, had ever been brought up on murder charges for killing someone while on duty). And people protested when the verdict was announced because Mehserle was convicted of manslaughter and not murder. (He did a little bit of time—less than a year—and then he got out on unsupervised probation.)

Because of the mass protest, the murder of Oscar Grant became an important symbol and indictment of the system’s vicious treatment of Black people. The San Jose Mercury wrote: “‘I am Oscar Grant’ became a rallying cry so loud it spread to far-off places such as Egypt, where protesters in the Arab Spring uprising held signs bearing his name.” An important, powerful, and heart-wrenching movie was made of Oscar and what happened that night, Fruitvale Station.

Oscar Grant’s murder is in the news again now because reporters in California working for the San Jose Mercury News filed a lawsuit seeking internal BART documents that had been kept secret about what happened that night on the BART train. They used a new law in California that allows for release of records of police misconduct. A major internal study BART had commissioned of what happened at Fruitvale Station was released to the public for the first time.

The report is significantly redacted, but it reveals important things about the case, the murderous role of the police on the scene, and how the system went about covering this up. One key point exposes that Mehserle knew full well he was drawing his gun. In his trial, a key point of his legal defense was that he didn’t know he had drawn his gun, that he got confused and thought he was drawing his taser instead, so, the lie went, shooting Oscar was not intentional. This had real influence on why he was convicted of manslaughter (which means in part that he did not intend to kill) instead of murder. At the time, many people exposed Mehserle’s claim about the taser as ridiculous, as the revolver and the taser are very different, feel very different, and were in holsters on opposite sides of his body. Now, BART’s internal investigation, which was written before his trial, says what everybody who saw the videos at the time already knew:

“The conclusion can be made from a close viewing of the enhanced video that he [Mehserle] was intending to pull his firearm and not his Taser....” And: “[Mehserle] can be seen trying to draw it at least two times and on the final occasion, can be seen looking back at his hand on the gun/holster to watch the gun come out....”

The report draws the conclusion: “at the time of the shooting the video clearly depicts Oscar Grant with two hands on his back in a handcuffed position. Deadly force was not justified under the circumstances.” This was cold-blooded, intentional murder.

The report also exposes the consistent and systematic way BART and the BART police cover up their brutality. For example, Mehserle had six use-of-force incidents reported in the year before he killed Oscar. The report said that this constituted “ample warning signs of an impending problem.” Yet nothing was done to address this “impending problem,” and Mehserle remained on the force. And of course these “incidents” were hidden from the public. The report talks about how hiding these kinds of [use-of-force incident] reports—including complaints of brutality from the public—is the rule. They are not revealed unless they are found to be “unjustifiable,” which, according to the report, had NEVER happened in the history of the BART police. Meanwhile, throughout the huge battle over his murder, Oscar’s previous police records were “leaked” to the press.

A big claim of the defenders of Oscar’s murder was that Oscar and his friends were “thugs” and that they caused a fight on BART and the police had to use force to deal with that. The newly released report demolishes that story, especially when it goes into the role of BART officer Pirone. Pirone, along with his partner, was the first BART cop on the scene at Fruitvale Station. Pirone claimed that Oscar attacked him. But the report noted that the “video reveals a different story,” saying: “Pirone approached Grant, grabbed hold of him and pushed him against the wall ... he [then] appears to have struck him one time in the head or facial area.” He is on tape and in the report calling Oscar the N word. Pirone also “kneed Grant in the face,” which the officer did not report, and an autopsy revealed Oscar suffered a hemorrhage. Everyone who looked carefully at the videos at the time could see what Pirone did. But here we have BART’s own official internal investigation summing up the role that Pirone played. BART claims that this report led to Pirone’s firing, and so their hands are clean. But that is just a further cover-up and a further example of the way the system protects its pigs. Pirone never faced any legal charges at all even though he went on a racist rampage and brutally assaulted Oscar and the people who were with Oscar, and this had everything to do with Mehserle pulling the trigger.

What all this points to is that even though this was a famous case that went viral, was shaped by powerful mass protest in the streets, was made into a very good and important movie—and was one of the rare cases in which a cop who killed someone actually went to jail—STILL, the system hid key facts that showed that this was cold-blooded murder, AND hid key facts that showed that Mehserle had a history of using force. You can see in this how the system operated to defend police murder and gave Mehserle the lightest sentence possible. You can see how this points to the deeper reality that without getting rid of the SYSTEM of capitalism and white supremacy, we cannot put an end to police brutality and murder. As Bob Avakian put it:

The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness.

BAsics 1:24

Oscar Grant

Bob Avakian, "Yes there's a conspiracy, to get the cops off."

"Yes there's a conspiracy... to get the cops off" Is a clip from Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian, given in 2003 in the United States. More about Bob Avakian here


Get a free email subscription to

Volunteers Needed... for and Revolution

Send us your comments.