Mehserle trial verdict draws violence to Oakland, legal scrutiny
Protests erupted in Oakland overnight after the Johannes Mehserle trial ended Thursday with a conviction for the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. But legal experts call the outcome of the transit police officer's trial fair.
(Page 2 of 2)
Local activist group leaders said they tried to keep things peaceful. For weeks, groups such as Youth Uprising and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights held community meetings calling for calm, discussing possible legal alternatives, and producing public service announcements denouncing violence.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“There is going to be initial sadness and disappointment, but for many people that will turn into a sense of outrage,” said Olis Simmons, executive director of Youth Uprising, directly after the verdict.
The case drew national attention. "The most tragic aspect of this case is that the cost of this police misconduct was a 22-year old father, son, and brother – an unarmed man killed because he allegedly scuffled on a train," said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous in a statement. "The lack of accountability in law enforcement undermines the safety of the community and the integrity of law enforcement."
He cites a Department of Justice survey that found African Americans (4.4 percent) and Hispanics (2.3 percent) were more likely than whites (1.2 percent) to have experienced use of force by police.
Academic observers caution about drawing too many quick conclusions from the case. “In tragic cases like this, where there is no doubt that a life was wrongfully taken, there is a strong desire to look for black-and-white resolutions," says Brett Wilmot, Associate Director of The Ethics Program at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. "The public, as opposed to the jury, often seems to want cases like these to be stand-ins for resolving broader social justice complaints," he says.
"It’s kind of a no-win situation: justice in the particular case for a particular defendant demands not looking beyond the facts of the case to broader social issues, while the public interprets the outcome precisely in terms of these broader social issues,” says Mr. Wilmot.
Legal analysts say the verdict may be disappointing, but not surprising. “Anyone who attended the trial other than family members cannot be surprised by this verdict,” says Loyola University’s Levinson. She feels that perhaps the District Attorney overcharged in the case and created too high expectations.
“No one in the courtroom could understand how or why the prosecution called for murder,” she says. “It’s very hard to swallow that an unarmed man was shot in the back and killed.”
- BART case: As Oakland awaits Mehserle verdict, a push for peace
- Racial justice only for the 'well connected'? blacks ask
- In BART murder case, police brutality, video evidence on trial
- In video age, a rush to judgment?