Oakland residents erect memorial in front of City Hall for man shot by BART officer [Updated]
As sentencing was announced in Los Angeles for former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, a small shrine to the unarmed man he was convicted of shooting was being erected in front of Oakland City Hall.
Flowers and candles were arrayed in front of an outsize drawing of a smiling Oscar J. Grant III. A long white banner that read "Justice for Oscar Grant" stretched across the plaza, strewn with marking pens. Passersby left messages: "All my love & hope for change." "The fight is not over." "Love to Oscar Grant We Will Love and Honor You Forever."
On Broadway, Footlocker, whose windows were smashed and merchandise looted when the verdict came down, was closed, its plate glass covered with protective plywood. The same with Broadway Beauty and a nearby T-Mobile store. But restaurants and coffee shops stayed open, pedestrians strolled and traffic buzzed by. There was, however, a heavy police presence downtown.
Mehserle, who was convicted in July of involuntary manslaughter in the case, was sentenced by a Los Angeles judge Friday to two years in prison for the shooting of Grant on an Oakland train station platform on New Year’s Day 2009.
[Updated, 2:15 p.m.: A coalition of civil rights organizations, including the California branch of the NAACP and The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, issued the following statement Friday, condemning the “lenient” sentencing of Mehserle:
“The sentence of two years minus time served is far more lenient than would normally be handed down in similar cases not involving law enforcement as the defendant. Combined with an already lenient conviction for involuntary manslaughter, the sentencing, which is a slap on the wrist for the murder of Oscar Grant, is a snapshot of everything wrong with the criminal justice system.... Police must be accountable to the communities in which they work.”
The groups urged the U.S. Justice Department to prosecute Mehserle in federal court. “These actions are necessary if California is to have safer, healthier communities, and if shootings like Oscar Grant’s are to be prevented in the future,” the release said.]
Mehserle, 28, contended that he mistakenly used his firearm instead of a Taser weapon when he shot Grant. But prosecutors argued at his trial that Mehserle meant to reach for his handgun as he tried to handcuff an unresisting Grant, who was laying face-down on the platform floor.
Grainy video footage captured by several witnesses shows Mehserle, who is white, firing one round into the back of Grant, who was black.
The racially charged case sparked rioting in Oakland soon after the shooting and again in July, when a Los Angeles jury acquitted Mehserle of murder but found him guilty of a lesser crime.
-- Maria L. La Ganga and Lee Romney in Oakland