Oscar Grant Trial: Officer Convicted of Involuntary Manslaughter

I had a post all about the basics of the Oscar Grant trial, but the jury beat me to the punch: former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle – the (white) officer fired one round into the back of Oscar Grant (who is black) as Oscar was lying face-down on the floor of a BART platform – just was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.  The incident took place in Oakland, but the trial was here in Los Angeles.

For those without a legal dictionary on hand, involuntary manslaughter is essentially, “Whoops, I accidentally killed someone.”  You killed someone, but it was either a careless accident or it occurred during the commission of a non-felonious (but still dangerous) act.  Think the outcome of a Russian roulette game horribly gone right.   To convict Officer Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter, the jury had to find that Officer Mehserle’s fatal actions were essentially a result of one giant accident: he made a mistake, and it was one that arose to the level of criminal negligence.  As we will see, Officer Mehserle’s defense is that he mistakenly shot Oscar Grant with his gun when he meant to shoot him with his Taser.  The jury did not find him guilty of second-degree murder, the maximum charge, which essentially is homicide without deliberation or malice.

For those just tuning in and who may be wondering why Oakland may be on fire tonight, the plethora YouTube videos of the incident explain it all (mostly):


As you can see, Oscar Grant is pinned to the floor, face down, his hands behind his back.  Officer Mehserle shoots Oscar in the back.  With his gun.

As mentioned above, Mehserle’s defense was that Oscar was resisting arrest, and he thought Oscar was going for a gun.  In an effort to get a handle on the situation, he reached for his gun when he meant to grab his Taser.  He fired his weapon when he meant to fire his Taser.  It was all a big accident.  As we just learned, the jury agreed, and thus his conviction for involuntary manslaughter.

While most trials involving police brutality are noteworthy for their own reasons, this trial marks one of a very few times when an on-duty officer stood trial for homicide (the four Rodney King officers -Koon, Powell, Briseno, and Wind – all were charged with use of excessive force).  For a jury to characterize an on-duty officer’s incredibly horrific and brutal actions as actual murder and not excuse it as part of the job – well, that would have sent a clear message that, finally, we can have a check on unchecked police power.

The message was not sent today.  Guess we will have to wait until the next brutal killing captured on a dozen phone videos.

11 thoughts on “Oscar Grant Trial: Officer Convicted of Involuntary Manslaughter”

  1. This only shows how little police respect minority communities. How do you trust the police to make a community safe, when it’s the police that kill without being held accountable. There will be plenty of ignorant,narrow-minded, racist poorly educated individuals that are just happy to see that you can still do horrible things to people of different backgrounds and get away with it. For it to be so simple as to say “I thought it was my taser” is juvenile and irresponsible. If justice doesn’t apply to law enforcement…you cannot expect that it will apply to the people.

  2. But does it do anyone justice if you make someone a message for the sake of sending a message?

    I see a man surprised at the incident and people paying attention to his skin color.

  3. justice has not been served. the value of black life means nothing to the justice system. mike vict got more of a sentence for dog fighting. smh..

  4. I will do my best to not respond to these rude, racist comments. However, I am going to be quite honest about my opinion. I am quite liberal and progressive politically, but I feel that my opinion on this conviction differs from my community’s around me. I believe that because of the weighty racial situation in Oakland, that the people are refusing to accept the possibility that anything less than 2nd degree manslaughter is representative of that racism. My gut feeling is that race was surely a factor in the escalation of intense energy, fear included, on that platform, but that it truly was an accident. Accidents do not mean “oh well, we’ll just move on then.” They are an opportunity for us to look at where we have been negligent, where we can make adjustments in our attitudes and behaviors, so we can avoid the same kind of tragedies in the future. In this case, there could be so many things to look at and learn from, for the police force, ourselves as individuals, and on the community level. Let’s look at our own biases against the police, for example. And let’s look at our own racial biases, perhaps. What do you feel when you think about white people. Black? Red? Yellow?

    In closing, I ask everyone to take some moments to pray for Oscar’s family, for Mehserle and his family, for the black people of Oakland, that they feel safe in their home and that they BE protected, for the police of Oakland, that they feel safe, that they may know they are helping care for the community.; let’s pray for good relations between the cops and the community, let’s pray for world peace while we’re at it. Peace begins at home, and we make peace in our hearts and watch it spread outward.

    Thank you.

  5. To be reading this after someone lost their life. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. Besides, Hell? It’s 2010, leave that religion back in the dark ages where they need it. We have technology that proved a man was murdered in public by a public SERVANT. When you are ready to take this country back from the warlords, let me know, maybe I’ll actually get some work done finally.

  6. @fukpalefaces you REALLY expect ANYONE to believe you graduated from college?! I’ll bet you haven’t graduated HIGHSCHOOL! What person who had a quality degree and who’s headed to lawshcool would be STUPID enough to throw a chance at a successful life by threatening to kill someone on the EFFIN WEB where your communication can be tracked very easily! Dumbass!!

    @Oscar you are just an ignorant fool who WILL find out Hell IS real and YOU can’t get out. You are so damn ignorant and stupid. You are no doubt a bastard child who DOESN’T EVEN KNOW
    his daddy. There is NO WAY you are even old enough to drive. You certainly don’t have the courage to give your REAL address. You are a 13 year old bitter little COWARD. And to the COMPLETE FOOL who stated his goal in “this life” was to shake Hitler’s hand, a) Hitler is EFFIN DEAD you ignorant fool and b) HITLER WAS WHITE you uneducated bastard fool!!

    You are all a bunch of bitter mommaVs boys who are hurt inside cause NO ONE KNOWS who your daddy is. You are FATHERLESS BASTARDS!! (ou are hating others simply because of their skin pigment. Pitiful


  7. Oh so now you are playing God huh?? You just assume he’s going to hell? Please!!! And while you are at it, bring up this KILLER COPS excessive force history, & yes he has one…..He is the one on trial u Idiot! Not Oscar Grant!

  8. I have deleted all comments that seemed, to me, to be full of hate speech or excessive levels of vitriol. Comments will now be closed on this piece. The hate speech in these comments, irrespective of which ethnicity it is aimed at, has ruined this comment thread for all of us who might like to say their piece.

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