Revolution #204, June 20, 2010

Killer of Oscar Grant on Trial

The cell phone videos from the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station tell the story:

The New Year's Eve killing was quick. It took only minutes for the cops to drag Oscar Grant and his friends off the BART train, threaten them, beat them, and yell racist slurs at them. You can hear the people on the train shouting, "That's fucked up!" as some of the cops assault the youth. At the end of these few minutes, BART cop Johannes Mehserle bends over Oscar, pushing him down, then steps back, yanks his gun from its holster, and shoots. Then, just before the train pulls out, Mehserle and another cop, Tony Pirone, roughly turn Oscar over, look at the gunshot wound, and prepare to handcuff him as he lies bleeding on the platform.

The murder trial of Johannes Mehserle, the now-ex-cop who shot Oscar Grant, has been forced by the actions of the people: those who took the video, and those who protested and rebelled. And the trial is moving very quickly. Great vigilance is needed.

No Black people chosen to sit on the jury!

After all five African-American people in the first group of 50 potential jurors were removed, the defense and prosecution agreed on a jury. As they exited court, people close to Oscar Grant expressed shock and outrage. There are now six whites, five Latinos and one of South Asian descent chosen from the first pool of 50 jurors. According to the San Jose Mercury News, two of the Black people were removed by the judge and the other three were removed by "peremptory challenges" by Mehserle's attorney. A peremptory challenge means that no reason has to be given for the removal. As if this wasn't enough, four of the 12 jurors who will decide whether a white ex-cop will be found guilty of murdering a Black man have family or friends who are police! There are also no African-Americans among the six alternate jurors chosen. (Los Angeles County is at least nine per cent African-American.)

This is the so-called system of justice of judges and courts in America: where a Black man can be murdered by a white ex-cop in cold blood—and yet the laws allow for a jury to be selected which has no Black people who have spent a lifetime, as Oscar Grant did in his short life, facing discrimination and the threat of police violence, and who might judge the evidence in that light. It can all be found to be legal… for the judge to throw Black jurors out, for the defense to peremptorily challenge others, and for the prosecution to go along with it all. As we have pointed out before, when the cops are defendants, prosecutors forget how to prosecute. This system of justice—and these laws—reflect and enforce the basic economic and social relations in this society. The law fundamentally enforces a system of inequality, domination, and exploitation, including the oppression and subjugation of Black people and works to "legitimize" the violence the police use to maintain the whole setup.

The opening days of the trial—police lies and new evidence

Mehserle is facing murder charges, and central to the legal terms of the trial is whether Mehserle deliberately used his gun. Or whether, as Mehserle's attorney contends, he pulled and fired it accidentally. In his opening statement, Mehserle's attorney Michael Rains argued that Oscar Grant and his friends were actively resisting arrest, that they were trying to strike the cops, that Oscar himself, face down on the concrete, was resisting so Mehserle decided to tase him, but mistakenly drew his gun instead.

But the videos show the cops as the aggressors: tasers out, barking orders, pushing and shoving. Three of the four eyewitnesses so far have testified that Oscar was complying, and not resisting, when he was shot, and that it was the cops who were the aggressors at all times. Only one of the witnesses said that he saw possible hand or arm motions from Oscar when the police threw him on the ground.

Jamil Dewar, a teenage friend of Oscar's, testified, "I started recording because I had never seen anything like this in my life." As the video he took was played in the courtroom, the sound of the gunshot caused him to break down and sob out loud as his own voice was heard in the recording, "He shot my cousin. He shot my cousin, blood?"

In the videos, Oscar Grant can be seen using his own cell phone as a camera during the assault as he sat on the concrete. And at the trial, for the first time a picture from his cell phone was shown in court. It shows Mehserle in front of Oscar, looking to his right but pointing a taser directly at Oscar. Sometime between then and the shot which killed Grant, Mehserle re-holstered the taser, and, looking down at his gun, unfastened and pulled it from its holster on the opposite side of his body. This clearly shows that Mehserle knew which was the gun and which was the taser, and in that brief period of police violence he chose at the end to shoot his gun.

Everything that has happened so far shows the need for a stepped up struggle to demand justice for Oscar Grant. Protest and resistance is crucial. A demonstration is planned for Monday, June 14. (See Revolution #203, June 13, 2010.) Already each morning people have been coming early in hopes of getting a seat in the packed courtroom. Protesters have had a presence outside the courthouse, wearing and displaying signs and T-shirts with the image of Oscar's face and the words "Justice for Oscar Grant."

Thanks to Thandisizwe Chimurenga for help on descriptions of what happened in the courtroom. Her articles on the trial can be found at

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