was murdered on New Year’s Day by Officer Johannes Mehserle. Mr. Mehserle fatally shot Mr. Grant in the back after Mr. Grant and some friends were pulled from a train following a report of an altercation according to Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) spokesman Linton Johnson. Officer Mehserle stood over Mr. Grant and fired his weapon point blank at the man’s back. The group of young men had been celebrating the New Year at a waterfront tourist spot. They were heading home when police pulled them from the train car about two in the morning. In a video taken by a cell phone camera, Mr. Grant was seated on the ground with his back against the wall. He held up his hands, appearing to plead with police. Seconds later, the police put Mr. Grant face down on the ground. Mr. Grant appears to struggle. One of the officers kneels on the struggling man’s back as another officer stands, upholsters his gun, and fires a shot. Mr. Grant died seven hours later in hospital.
BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger said that the shooting is a tragic event in every respect for all involved. We recognize that the family and friends of Oscar Grant are in mourning, and we extend our condolences. BART officials said that Mr. Mehserle was devastated but is presumed innocent. It was also said that the various videos from the cell phones that are making the media rounds are inconclusive and that there is more to the story than what can be seen on the grainy images. BART officials contend that Mr. Mehserle may have been trying to determine whether the officer meant to draw his gun instead of his taser.
Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff said that his investigation will focus primarily on what led to the shooting. Mr. Orloff said that some homicides are lawful. According to Mr. Orloff, the part that needs dissecting is what, if anything, can be determined about the mental state of the actor, meaning the officer. It’s possible that the district attorney’s office could find no basis for criminal charges, the office could file involuntary manslaughter charges if Mr. Mehserle exercised gross negligence, voluntary manslaughter if Mr. Mehserle reasonably believed that he was acting in self-defense, or murder if the police officer acted with malice and forethought. There is an ongoing investigation to determine whether or not criminal charges should be filed against the police officer and this is going to take time.
But let’s be honest. Oscar Grant is just the latest example of overzealous police officers killing unarmed black men, in this example the black man was pleading not to be tasered, and being given the benefit of doubt. Mr. Mehserle is presumed innocent. The funny thing is, supposedly, Oscar Grant was presumed to be innocent as well. A lot of good the presumption of innocence did for him. He’s now dead. The public needs to give BART officials time to get to the bottom of what happened. A video of a police officer shooting a black man in the back is too inconclusive. How do we know the cop even pulled the trigger? How do we know a bullet actually came out the gun? How do we know Mr. Grant is dead? How do we know the video is really of actual events? There are far too many questions to make this an open and shut case.
Like most instances of black men who are the victims of police posses, any evidence of a crime is dismissed and downplayed. What can you expect? We saw a video of seven boot camp guards killing Martin Lee Anderson while the boot camp nurse looked on. The investigation into that crime came up inconclusive because fourteen year old Martin Anderson had a latent sickle cell trait. It took months for the coroner to come up with a less than plausible excuse as to why a baton across Mr. Anderson’s throat and ammonia tablets stuffed up his nose didn’t cause the boy’s death.
We watched the video of four police officers in New Orleans, Louisiana attack Robert Davis in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The police didn’t like Mr. Davis’ uppity attitude and decided to teach him a lesson. They attacked the retired school teacher and accused him of drunk and disorderly conduct, only to find out that Mr. Davis hadn’t had a drop of alcohol in years. The video didn’t show Mr. Davis acting drunk or disorderly. But the less than honorable judge Frank Marullo said that he didn’t even find it a close call. In Mr. Marullo’s opinion, the video evidence showed Mr. Davis struggling for several minutes while police tried to detain him. The entire event could have ended at any time if the man had put his hands behind his back. The judge never thought about how hard it is to put your hands behind your back when four police officers are holding them in front of you.
So the BART police investigators on this case know they have time on their side. They will do their best to delay their findings until the public anger dissipates and everybody moves on with their lives. They will wait until the public finds some other outrage that catches our collective attention. Then when we’re sufficiently distracted, they’ll release their statement that there was nothing criminal about Officer Mehserle’s behavior. The poor officer was just afraid for his life because the mean black man on the ground with his back to the officer was simply too black and menacing and too much of a target to be resisted. There was nothing wrong. Killing unarmed black men in America is nothing more than business as usual.