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California transit cop verdict sparks looting

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A demonstrator is arrested during a protest against the verdict in the case of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California July 8, 2010. Mehserle, a white police officer, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter on Thursday in the videotaped shooting death of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man, that triggered riots in Oakland, California last year.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

LOS ANGELES/OAKLAND | Fri Jul 9, 2010 4:52am EDT

LOS ANGELES/OAKLAND California (Reuters) - A white former transit police officer was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in a videotaped shooting death of an unarmed black man last year in Oakland, California, sparking a wave of looting and destruction in the city on Thursday.

The verdict prompted a peaceful protest by up to 1,000 people in downtown Oakland, which gave way after nightfall to some people looting stores, smashing car windows, throwing powerful fireworks at police and lighting fires in trash cans.

The police, numbering in the hundreds, made more than 50 arrests, but Oakland police expected that figure could double.

"This city is not the wild, wild West," Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts told a televised news conference. "This city will not tolerate this activity."

A Los Angeles jury deliberated for about six hours over two days before reaching their decision about the shooting on a train platform in Oakland, indicating they deemed it a tragic accident rather than the intentional act of a rogue cop.

The defendant in the racially charged trial, Johannes Mehserle, 28, testified that he mistakenly drew his gun instead of his electric Taser and shot Oscar Grant, 22, while trying to subdue him during a confrontation on New Year's Day 2009.

But prosecutors, who sought a conviction for second-degree murder, said Mehserle had "lost all control" and shot Grant on purpose because he thought Grant was resisting arrest.

Jurors can render an involuntary manslaughter conviction if they believe the defendant lacked an intent to kill but engaged in conduct so grossly negligent that it amounts to a crime.

It generally carries a sentence of two to four years in prison, but the jury also accepted a sentencing "enhancement" for Mehserle's use of a handgun.

"We are outraged that the jury did not find guilty of murder in a case that is so egregiously excessive and mishandled," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Mehserle, who had been free on $3 million bond, showed no reaction as the verdict was read and was immediately taken into custody. The former police officer for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail system faces sentencing on August 6.


Relatives of Grant, a young father who worked as a grocery store butcher, reacted with outrage.

"My son was murdered, and the law hasn't held the officer accountable the way he should be," Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson, shouted outside the courthouse.

About 1,000 people gathered in a peaceful protest in downtown Oakland on early Thursday evening. Many expressed anger, with a huge banner strung over an intersection on a traffic light pole reading "Oakland says Guilty."

"It's unbelievable this guy is getting less jail time than someone who wrote a bad check," said Barbara Plantiko, a 41-year-old immigration lawyer at the protest. "I just don't buy he got confused. I don't think that it was an accident."

Some protesters wore masks depicting Grant's face.

Looters targeted stores selling jewelry and beauty supplies and grabbed shoes from a Foot Locker store in downtown Oakland, while the phrase "Riot for Oscar" was spray-painted on a bank building, according to a Reuters eyewitness.

"It's definitely chaotic," said Sgt. J.D. Nelson, an Alameda County Sheriff spokesman, adding that Oakland's police were being helped by officers from other municipalities.

The killing had unleashed charges of police brutality and unrest in Oakland in January 2009, when people smashed windows and set cars on fire, leading to about 100 arrests then.

Video footage of Grant lying face down as Mehserle shot him in the back was taken by onlookers and shown over the Web and television. Mehserle was seen holstering his gun immediately afterward and putting his hands on his head as in disbelief.

The judge in the case, which was moved to Los Angeles due to heavy pretrial publicity in the Bay Area, held there was too little evidence to show the killing was premeditated, ruling out a first-degree murder conviction.

Had he been convicted of second-degree murder, Mehserle would have faced 15 years to life in prison. The jury could alternatively have found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter or acquitted him entirely.

(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Carolina Madrid in Los Angeles, Peter Henderson in Oakland, and Alexandria Sage and Jim Christie in San Francisco; Writing by Steve Gorman and Braden Reddall; Editing by Eric Walsh)


Jul 08, 2010 9:23pm EDT

They’re bringing in a few police and fire from other counties/departments.

The atmosphere of the reporters and some community leaders are all about calming the mob down. They know once it gets dark a riot will happen.

connie27usa Report As Abusive
Jul 08, 2010 9:55pm EDT

heaven help the people who are hurt not to react in violence which is what started the issue to begin with.

sunkissedmom Report As Abusive
Jul 08, 2010 10:17pm EDT

This really inspires me or anyone to join law enforcement! Where else can a criminal get mire rights than a COP?

Ermie Report As Abusive
Jul 08, 2010 10:19pm EDT

I hate to disappoint all the cynics with their predjudicial predictions, but there will be no rioting tonight.

(There are some on other message-boards who have voiced their hope that there would be. I wonder how long it will be before I see some of those on here.);)

Morgan26 Report As Abusive
Jul 08, 2010 10:20pm EDT

who cares???? the only reason they found him guilty of anything was because he was white and he shot a black person.. and now they are gonna there their own city apart and blame it on whitey

2316 Report As Abusive
Jul 08, 2010 10:29pm EDT

here’s a thought: if you don’t to get shot by cops, don’t get into illegal activities that would draw their attention. and let’s be honest about this. oscar grant wasn’t some innocent bystander walking home when this happened. in fact, he’s an ex-con who’s served time in prison. does the crime fit the punishment? absolutely not. but let’s not lose our minds and portray oscar grant as a martyr of american racism. where were his parents’ cry for justice when oscar meted out criminal acts against his victims? i guess it’s more advantageous to wait for a soap box and a potential windfall from a potential civil suit.

samgonistes Report As Abusive
Jul 08, 2010 10:36pm EDT

Yeah, right. A man was completely immobilized face down on the ground, could not resist; and he was shot in the back.

no reason to be found guilty of anything?


Some of you people astound me

Morgan26 Report As Abusive
Jul 08, 2010 10:43pm EDT

I surely hope that rioting doesn’t start up. Respect is NOT gained by acting out with violent demonstration. Burning your own town down and setting back all the businesses shows a complete lack of education and respectability. I am quite sure that if a Black Officer Accidentally killed a white person their would be no plans for riot. It is only on account of the chip on the shoulder attitudes shared by many Blacks and Hispanics that result in violence to start with. I am of Hispanic/black heritage and I can’t stand the way so many blacks and Hispanics behave. I feel we as a proud people need to get a grip and grow up.

Jtruth Report As Abusive
Jul 08, 2010 10:50pm EDT

Vandalism is not the answer! Here is my suggestion. Since the verdict has already been set for what I consider a fixed jury, it is time for the African American People to organize a boycott of the transit system, since this was a former transit police officer. The community has a right to be angry, but their anger needs to be controlled and organized. The community needs to arm themselves, not with guns, but with the power of economic withdrawal.Do not ride the transit until a reasonable social contract is made between the people and law enforcement. Only the community can determine what should be done to this officer, since the officer has taken the life of one of their love ones. Violence is NOT the answer; economic withdrawal is! Organize a boycott today or lose another love one on tomorrow.
Harry Abrams

habrams2008 Report As Abusive


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