My Thoughts on the Mehserle Trial and True Justice for Oscar Grant...
by Tina Phillips
July 8, 2010
I don't know how someone can come to a 100% conclusive answer to why what happened to Oscar Grant happened... One cannot go into the mind of Mehserle at the moment he did it..No one can. If you watch the videos and hear from witnesses Mehserle was shocked that he shot Grant. That reaction makes no sense for someone who was angry and wanted to shoot Grant.
Second degree murder is when someone kills another person with intent to kill. I don’t think the evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that Mehserle was trying to kill Grant. There are accounts that Grant was struggling when they were trying to handcuff him. I can’t be completely sure this was the case.. but either way police officers have the discretion to taser (I am not going to get into tasering and whether its just or not right now though).
There is another argument… That Mehserle thought Grant had a gun and that is why he shot him. Grant was lying on the ground. A police officer could subdue him other ways. Reaching for a gun and shooting as a first reaction doesn’t make much sense. It makes more sense that as police training is nowadays..when a person resists arrest you try to subdue them the ways they were trying.. with knees on backs etc. and then you stun them with a taser. That is the next step. So it makes sense that’s what Mehserle was trying to do when he pulled his gun by accident.
I don’t see how it’s that reasonable to believe that he just “got pissed” and intended to shoot and kill Grant. In front of all those people including Grant’s friends’ feet away and knowing people were recording everything on their cell phones? I just don’t see it. I don’t believe even someone who was pissed would do that. Besides, did you see his reaction after he did it? Can you explain it? He was stunned and shocked he did it. He puts his hands to his face and look at this testimony:
Carlos Reyes, a friend of Grant's who sat about 2 feet away from the 22-year-old Hayward man when he was shot, said Mehserle appeared shocked and shouted, "Oh (expletive), oh God, I shot him," after the bullet entered Grant's back, causing his death hours later.
This shows the state of mind of Mehserle immediately following the shooting and gives us an idea of his intent. An intent not to shoot.. not to kill. To me this looks like an incompetent officer who made a very bad mistake. That is what the evidence tells me.
Obviously he should have known better… That is not being argued here. That is why he deserves a manslaughter charge and not to be acquitted. There is no excuse for his actions… That is why he will have to pay for what he did and take responsibility for it. A manslaughter charge would do that.
However, everyone has an opinion about what happened.. about what they see from their own perspective about why Mehserle did what he did. That is a scary prospect to me. That means our own bias can cloud our judgment of this case. It is up to the jury to come back with the facts..to come back with a just verdict..and the truth. Can the truth be seen if everyone who looks at it sees something different? I just feel it is a lot more likely, based on the evidence, that it was an accident made by an incompetent officer under great stress, and not a murder done with intent.
I know police officers murder Black men (and others) unjustly. I am not arguing that point. I think the law is wrong... and should be changed in regard to a police officer being allowed to shoot anyone if they deem them a threat. I think that's wrong. There must be some other way protect all lives involved...
No matter what verdict comes in it won’t change things fundamentally. The system of how things are done needs change. The laws and procedures need to change. Police officers need more technical training and if it were up to me a lot more therapy and sensitivity training too. They need to be taught how to deal with stressful situations and interact with people in a way that invokes cooperation and not escalation. Of course officers who abuse their power and verbally or physically assault people should be punished stiffly. There needs to be more safety measures so that accidents are reduced. If it were up to me police officers would not carry deadly weapons because it’s too easy to make mistakes that kill people when one is under a lot of stress and confusion. Of course race and a lot of other factors play into the criminal "injustice" system.. I do not argue that at all. As a society we need to tackle these issues to make sure things like this don’t continue to happen.
However, I do not think Meserhle should be convicted of murder as a symbolic victory for all those who have suffered police brutality even if it is emotionally satisfying for some people or sends a message that needs to be sent. I also don’t think it’s right to assume just because a lot of cops do kill people with intent and on purpose and think they can get away with it (and do get away with it), that that means Mehserle did that in this case. While it is understandable with the experience of a life time of racial profiling, mistreatment by the police, and the prison industrial complex to believe this is just another racist pig on a power trip murdering one of our communities’ young African-American men in cold blood, one could only say this for sure if the evidence says it.
Since none of us can go into his mind the moment he pulled the trigger..we can't really know why he did it for sure. We can only look at the available evidence and come up with the most logical conclusion. Based on the evidence presented I think he was an incompetent police officer who made a really bad mistake and he is probably guilty of manslaughter.
There are two options for manslaughter; either voluntary or involuntary.
Voluntary manslaughter: Mehserle acted in the heat of passion or Mehserle believed his life was in danger but used too much force in defending himself.
Involuntary manslaughter: Mehserle committed an act that posed a high risk of death or great injury because of the way the act was committed. Or, Mehserle's actions could be found by a reasonable person to be reckless.
I guess which one the jury chooses would depend on if they believe Mehserle or not. If they believe him when he says he meant to pull his taser, it’s involuntary manslaughter. If they do not believe him, and they think he meant to pull his gun because he thought Grant was going for a gun, then they would give him voluntary manslaughter.
Of course if they think Mehserle shot him in self-defense they could let him walk with an acquittal. But that’s only if they think it was justified use of force.. which I don’t think you can reasonably argue in this case since Grant was on the ground with one officer’s knees already on him.
So.. I can’t be sure what way the jury will go with this one. I happen to think myself that he was trying to pull his taser and accidently pulled his gun based on the evidence. I would give him a guilty verdict on involuntary manslaughter. I would not let him walk because it is obvious to me there was recklessness in this case. And for that Mehserle must face the consequences.
If he is found guilty of manslaughter that is a guilty verdict and will carry a jail sentence. He will have to atone for what he did. I think that is a fair verdict in this case. But going forward we must work to change things systemically because putting Meserhle behind bars won’t change things fundamentally. Hopefully it will send a message that police officers cannot get away with killing people. But if the law, procedures, etc. are not changed, we’ll continue to see tragic things like this happen and that would be a shame.
Nothing will bring Grant back... and real justice? Who knows what that would look like... I imagine it would be we have a different world..A different way for people to relate to one another.. A way that respects the true dignity of each person regardless of what they have done. If we don't change the way things are done from now on... there will be no true justice for Oscar Grant.