Friday, July 16, 2010

'My son was murdered!'

BY CHARLENE MUHAMMAD -NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT
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Diverse groups of protesters rallied at Leimert Park in Los Angeles after the verdict was announced. Johannes Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. He could face between five and 14 years in prison. Photos: Malcolm Shabazz

Family: Manslaughter conviction of ex-transit cop won't end fight for justice

LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) - “My son was murdered! He was murdered! He was murdered! He was murdered! My son was murdered, and the law has not held the officer accountable the way that he should have been held accountable,” declared Wanda Johnson after a jury convicted Oscar Grant, III.'s killer guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

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Student minister Keith Muhammad consoles Oscar Grant III’s mother, Wanda Johnson after the verdict was announced on July 8. Photo: Charlene Muhammad
The decision, rendered July 8 at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, means the jury felt former transit cop Johannes Mehserle committed a negligent act and used a firearm in the process. He could be imprisoned anywhere from five to 14 years.

Mr. Grant was lying face down on a station platform, with his hands behind his back, when Mr. Mehserle, then a Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) police officer shot him in the back at close range on Jan. 1, 2009.

Ms. Johnson said the battle is not over. “Even though this system will fail us and let us down, God will never fail us, nor will he let us down and I will trust in him until I die. ... We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places and we will continue to pray without ceasing because we know that our deliverer, Jesus Christ, the Lord our Savior ... will deliver us.”

Before the verdict was announced, Oscar Grant's family, Jack Bryson (whose sons Jack and Nigel were with Mr. Grant that night), their supporters, and even some members of the media, locked hands from row to row and prayed. With all of their heads bowed, and under heavy police watch, Ms. Johnson prayed first, and then Student Minister Keith Muhammad of Oakland.

Immediately after the clerk read the verdict, disappointment, sadness, and disgust ran across the faces of some in the public seating area. Reporters scribbled their notes feverishly and some people stared ahead for a few moments.

Judge Robert Perry had deputies take Mr. Mehserle into custody and his sentencing is set for Aug. 6. As he was being led from the courtroom, he mouthed “I love you guys” to his family, who sat near the court's entry doors, shielded by sheriff's deputies.

In a quiet, somber meeting in another area of the courthouse, the Grant and Bryson families met with John Burris, their attorney, and sorted out their next steps. Already waiting for them on the second floor was Cephus “Uncle” Bobby Johnson, who, like his sister the day before, was shut out of the courtroom by deputies for arriving a few minutes late.

Mr. Johnson told The Final Call that the system let the family down in many ways—in particular by denying evidence into trial that would have shown the shooter's state of mind. That evidence included Mr. Mehserle slapping a Hispanic woman and getting kicked out of school, failing to identify the Grant shooting as accidental on a post-shooting form required of all officers, and beating up a Black man within 35 days of shooting the man's nephew.

“This really has stuck a dagger in us to a degree to where we know today that we must begin this fight from this point in order to seek justice ... It hurts us as a family to have been going through this the past 19 months to hear that there's a possibility that this man who committed murder may be able to go home and eat dinner after Aug. 6,” Mr. Johnson said.

While the families were collecting themselves, dealing with their first emotions after the verdict, and Mr. Johnson was speaking with The Final Call, a member of the court's media staff apologized for interrupting and asked them how long they would be because there was a lot of media waiting to talk to them outside of the court.

“Let them wait. We'll be there. We've been waiting for justice for almost 19 months,” Mr. Johnson responded.

When asked if he felt any consolation in seeing Mr. Mehserle handcuffed and taken into custody, Mr. Bryson replied, “No, not at all. You brought us all the way to Los Angeles for this. We could have done this in Oakland.”

Before escorting the delegation to a press conference, Atty. Burris said the decision was a compromised verdict that did not accurately reflect what the former officer did to Oscar Grant that night, but he felt the voluntary manslaughter conviction was better than no conviction at all. It was an historic verdict—the first case where Atty. Burris had seen an officer convicted of any crime against a Black male.

“The next test of course is when and how much time the officer, Mr. Mehserle, is sentenced to jail. Under traditional, regular notions, he should be going to jail for the rest of his life, for the rest of his life, but yet, he very well may get a sentence that does not even require him to go to jail, which would be the ultimate insult and travesty as I could imagine,” Atty. Burris said.

The jury's deliberations for six and a half hours after the family waited for justice for 19 months was a travesty of justice itself, but justice cannot be compromised, said Min. Muhammad.

“Be crystal clear we are not satisfied. Be crystal clear God is not satisfied! It is written in the Bible that God declares that he hears the moaning and the groaning of a people that have endured this kind of suffering for 400 years and that when God hears that kind of suffering know for a surety that if the system of justice will not do justice while it is in the hands of the system of justice to do, that God himself will relieve the suffering of a mother and of a people that have attempted to see that this system would work,” he added.

Grassroots youth and community activists held peaceful demonstrations in Los Angeles and Oakland but by that evening rioting had broken out in Oakland. News reports indicate 83 people were arrested after a group allegedly stormed businesses and vandalized property.

According to Min. Muhammad, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums asked the Department of Justice to intervene and announced after the verdict that the Justice Dept. is conducting an independent review of the case to determine whether federal prosecution is warranted.

“No verdict can ever replace the loss of a son, a father and a friend. Our condolences continue to go out to the family of Oscar Grant during this trying time. Understandably there is grave concern in the community,” said California Democrat Barbara Lee in a press statement.

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