The Bay area transit officer convicted of killing Oscar Grant will go free on Monday after serving less than a year in jail.
Johannes Mehserle, a white former Bay Area Rapid Transit cop was convicted last July for the shooting of Oscar Grant, a black unarmed man on an Oakland train station platform on New Year’s Day 2009. The incident was captured on video by onlookers and quickly uploaded onto YouTube, where it was watched by thousands of viewers online. In the clip, Mehserle is seen shooting Grant in the back with his firearm while Grant lay face down on the ground. According to police reports, Grant had allegedly been pulled off the train for fighting.
During a tearful testimony at his trial, Mehserle said that he had simply been arresting Grant for resisting an officer, claiming he thought he had pulled his stun gun to subdue Grant and mistakenly pulled his .40-caliber pistol instead.
The case sparked outrage in Oakland and throughout the country as many felt Oscar Grant’s unjust killing was another example of police using their authority to inflict brutality. The trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles in December of 2009 after a local judge ruled that “pretrial publicity and the threat of violence” would make it impossible for Mehserle to have a fair trial. None of the jurors chosen to hear the trial were black.
Given his mistaken weapon use defense, jurors in Los Angeles convicted Mehserle of criminal negligence instead of murder. He was sentenced to two years for involuntary manslaughter sparking riots and protests. In the hours following the announcement of the verdict, more than 150 people protesting Oscar Grant’s wrongful death were arrested in Oakland, the city which has struggled with racial tensions running decades back.
Now, the Alameda County District Attorney’s office has confirmed that Mehserle has been granted early release for good conduct. Oscar Grant’s uncle, Bobby Johnson, says that he was notified that the man who killed his nephew will be released on Monday. He says that the news has added insult to injury for his grieving family and the community:
“What really hurts is that we are just expected to get on with our lives. How can we?” Johnson said. “We’ve been dealt with a racist criminal justice system that has denied our true rights to justice…This whole thing was staged. It was planned. It was acted out. It has brought this type of conclusion.”
It is unclear where Mehserle will head after he leaves prison, but Oakland and Los Angeles police say they are preparing for protestors to take the streets following his release. Many who have followed the case say that Mehserle’s early release may spark a wave of unrest from the community that has not healed or forgotten last fall.
When asked what he expects the reaction to be to Mehserle’s early release, Grant’s uncle Johnson says he hopes that protestors will express themselves and stick together:
“I hope what happens is that we stand together, share our experiences and speak to the injustices that occur in our communities. Voices can be heard when there’s unity.”
What do you think of Mehserle’s early release from prison after shooting Oscar Grant? Do you think it’s fair he served less than a year for taking a man’s life? Tell us what you think Clutchettes and gents- weigh in!