In video age, a rush to judgment?
Cellphone videos of a police killing in Oakland, Calif., spark outrage.
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Still, police often act oblivious to the cameras and their superiors have been slow to recognize the public relations urgency they create.Skip to next paragraph
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Most attending the public hearings and street demonstrations in Oakland feel the videos in the Grant case show his killing to be unjustified. "Two of the four videos are conclusive as far as what took place," says local pastor Dion Evans.
The videos show Mr. Grant prone on the station platform being restrained by two white officers. Pastor Evans says Grant appears to be "squirming" because he's on someone else's legs. He describes how Officer Johannes Mehserle stands up, grabs his gun, "points in a way [Mehserle] can see the weapon," and then shoots.
However, others see the squirming as resisting arrest, and see in Mr. Mehserle's face a look of surprise after the gun fires – prompting speculation of an accidental discharge or taser mix-up. "I don't see anything in this video that's condemning enough to warrant charging this officer until an investigation has been completed," says Tom Aveni, an expert on questionable police shootings with the Police Policy Studies Council.
Mehserle resigned to avoid making a statement.
Mr. Aveni says he's hesitant to draw much from the videos because he can't make out where Grant's hands are. "That's a focal issue as to whether or not the officer thought the suspect was trying to access a weapon."
For George Holland, head of the Oakland chapter of the NAACP, the videos are "overwhelming compelling evidence." They leave less up for interpretation than the video of police beating Rodney King in 1991, he says, because they are augmented by audio and many independent witnesses.
"When there's a cop involved, [investigators] always go slow, we know that. But this is so outrageous ... the evidence is so overwhelming," says Mr. Holland.
Bay Area Rapid Transit police chief Gary Gee says the investigation is wrapping up. "We are going to finish this thing as quickly as we can," he says, adding, "The videos are one piece of evidence and you can't draw a conclusion on it alone."
Concern over delays
There are many reasons why the community here wants a quicker investigation and arrest. Delays tend to benefit the defendant, Holland says. And "thugs and vandals," he adds, can exploit delays to stir up trouble like last week's violence.
More than 100 rioters smashed storefront windows and parked cars last Wednesday night, after an evening of peaceful protest. "What happened to the guy that got shot is clearly wrong, but I just don't agree with how people are handling it" with violence, said Oakland resident Mike Sikoyak.
But he also expressed a common refrain: "If it was any of us that had shot anybody else, we would have been arrested and locked up."