Oscar Grant was shot on New Year’s Day by police in Oakland, California, on a Bay Area Transit train platform. The 22-year old butcher’s apprentice was lying face-down on the platform, ordered by police to lie there, when he was shot in the back. Grant was among several people who had been removed from the train by officers investigating a fight. Passengers captured cellphone videos of the shooting, which have been viewed thousands of times on Internet and news sites.
Johannes Mehserle, who resigned from the transit police force a week after the shooting, has been charged with the murder of Grant. He was arrested in Lake Tahoe, NV, where he had gone to avoid angry mobs. He was returned by Oakland Police. The District Attorney of Alameda County, Tom Orloff, said refused to speak to Oakland police or transit police investigators. Mr. Mehserle’s lawyer, Christopher Miller, said he expected his client to be cleared of all charges.
When no charges had been filed nine days later, the apparent execution nature of the shooting and, of course, the fact that the unarmed Grant was black, and Mehserle is white led to several days of demonstrations in Oakland. These turned in small riots, complete with police in riot gear, shooting tear gas and crowds running through the streets, setting cars on fire and smashing storefronts. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums asked for calm asked the people to be patient as police conducted their investigation of the shooting.
Oscar Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, asked the people to use restraint. “I am begging the citizens not to use violent tactics, not to be angry. You’re hurting people that have nothing to do with the situation. Please stop it, just please stop, ” she said.
Police supporters later gave their version. They said Grant and the other young men on the platform were violently harassing other passengers, that Grant was struggling against the officers, that the officer who fired the shot believed he was firing a taser instead of a handgun.
It’s possible the officer thought he was firing a taser instead of a handgun. However, if tasers look just like handguns (which I’d be surprised at this) then this points out a serious problem with the equipment used by law enforcement, which probably would have produced other “accidents” before this. The other possible alternative is that the officer got caught up in an emotional situation and carried the “enforcement” too far.
If someone is on the ground, face down, it’s inconceivable that he could be considered uncooperative, or a threat…..so that leads us to the question of who can the accused look to for protection? Who will protect us from those who are supposed to protect us? After all, this is still America, where the accussed is presumed innocent, until proven guilty.