Updated 11:40 pm
After a tense wait in the trial of Johannes Mehserle, a Los Angeles jury has found the former BART police officer guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the January, 2009, death of Oscar Grant. Mehserle was accused of having shot the 22-year-old Grant in the back as he lay face-down on the platform of Oakland’s Fruitvale BART station after an altercation broke out on a train. Mehserle pleaded not guilty, claiming that he mistook his gun for his Taser stun gun.
According to reports from the courthouse in Los Angeles, the involuntary manslaughter verdict, along with Meshlere’s additional conviction for the use of a gun in Grant’s death, could carry a sentence of 5 to 14 years.
The other options before the jury included acquittal, voluntary manslaughter, which would have carried a penalty of 3 to 11 years, and second-degree murder, which would have carried a penalty of 40 years to life.
Last week, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry ruled that Mehserle could not be convicted of first-degree murder, saying that evidence in the trial proved that Mehserle did not plan to kill Grant by shooting him once in the back.
As of 4:30 pm, a small crowd of 50 to 100 people had gathered in Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland. As word of the verdict spread via cell phone, Oakland resident Amber Royal, who said she lives in Grant’s neighborhood, burst into tears. “A man is killed in our city and he gets off with 6 years or whatever, that’s bullshit to me,” she said.
Nearby, another protester yelled “How involuntary is the pull of a trigger?”
By 6:30 pm, the crowd had grown larger, and riot police were present throughout the downtown, but the crowd at Frank Ogawa Plaza remained peaceful. Protesters filled Broadway from 15th to 12th, the majority of them simply chatting and taking pictures, although several people standing on crates delivered speeches to the crowd.
Several members of the crowd carried signs with slogans like “Oakland says guilty,” “Jail killer cops,” and “Justice for Oscar Grant.”
By 9:00 pm things had taken a turn for the less peaceful. There were reports of several dozen people breaking into and looting a Foot Locker at 14th and Broadway.
A few protesters set off smoke bombs, threw bottles and set trashcans on fire.
The Oakland Police Department ordered a crowd of approximately 300 people at the corner of 14th and Broadway to disperse around 9:15 pm.
By 10 pm police offers had begun to make arrests and to marshall the protesters towards 17th Street.
The 19th Street BART station was temporarily shut down due to civil unrest, and there were additional reports of protesters lighting fires and smashing windows.
At a 10:40 pm press conference Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts announced that the OPD had made approximately 50 arrests and that he expected that number to double by the end of the night. He estimated that 75-100 protesters remained on the streets, and that approximately 800 people had gathered in downtown Oakland throughout the day.
Batts said that Oakland police officers had been instructed to allow peaceful protest and expressed disappointment with the few people who caused violence. “This city is not the wild wild west. We will not tolerate this activity,” he said.
Batts said that officers had used smoke — not teargas — to disperse a crowd earlier in the evening at 20th Street and Broadway after protesters threw bottles at officers’ heads.
Reports of damages stretched as far north on Broadway as the Whole Foods at 27th Street and the 7-11 at Harrison and Vernon.
A window was broken and a display case of sake bottles had been dragged out into the street at the Japanese restaurant Ozumo at Broadway and Grand Avenue. “It’s a damn shame. I was at the earlier peaceful protest and I was proud of Oakland for maintaining peace,” said Essie Tesfahun, who lives nearby. “This doesn’t feel like Oakland.”
Protesters set off M-80s, leading to loud concussive sounds that echoed throughout the downtown, and set trash bins and the contents of dumpsters on fire, creating a chaotic scene and filling the air with the smell of burning plastic.
At one point, as the police surrounded the protesters on Broadway near 16th Street, attempting to squeeze protesters together in order to arrest them, all the lights went out for several minutes. The power returned and went off again several times that night.
In the downtown area, protesters painted messages in black spraypaint on several buildings. “Say no to work, yes to looting” was painted on wall of the Bank of the West on Broadway where its glass doors had been shattered and glass window broken in. On a boarded-up building across the street, someone had painted “Oakland is our amusement park tonight!”
Law enforcement and city officials had sought to prevent a repeat of the riots that erupted in the wake of the killing in January, 2009, when a protest march became violent. Demonstrators burned cars and trashcans and broke shop windows. Over 100 people were arrested. Several smaller riots erupted throughout the month of January, while Grant’s family pleaded for the violence to end. In November, 2009, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson granted a change of venue for Mehserle’s trial to move to Los Angeles, ruling that the violent protests and media attention in Oakland would not allow Mehserle a fair trial here.
Last week Mayor Ron Dellums and Police Chief Anthony Batts sent out community and merchant information bulletins to help people prepare, recommending that merchants secure their buildings and that people park their cars in secure locations.
In a joint statement issued Thursday, Batts, Dellums and the members of the city council urged peace: “We are united as a city and a community, and we are dedicated to ensuring the safe expressions of emotions during this difficult time. We understand that the community is grieving, and we are in this together. We will get through this together. There are many people ready to help begin the healing process and they have opened their doors to allow us to express our grief in a healthy manner that will not endanger our safety, livelihood or reputation as a city. We are asking for the community to come together, look out for one another and stay safe. We will not tolerate destruction or violence. We live here, and we love Oakland.”
City officials coordinated a peaceful citywide gathering at Frank Ogawa Plaza at 6 pm today that featured youth speakers, music, poetry and other ways for community members to express their feelings. More information is available at OaklandNet.com.
The groups Youth UpRising and the Urban Peace Movement held a 5 pm non-violent community event at the Youth Uprising office at 8711 MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland.
Other locations where youth are encouraged to gather to peacefully express their thoughts about the verdict include:
* East Bay Asian Youth Center 2025 East 12th St 533-1092
* Arroyo Viejo Recreation Center 7701 Krause Avenue 615-5755
* Mosswood Recreation Center 3612 Webster Street 597-5038
* Attitudinal Healing Connection 3278 West St. @ 33rd Street, 652-5530
Additional reporting by Dara Kerr. The 11:40 pm update concludes Oakland North’s coverage for Thursday, July 8. Stay tuned to Oakland North for more breaking news updates tomorrow as well as more detailed coverage of the protests and community forums that took place on Thursday.
Read our past coverage of the Johannes Mehserle trial on Oakland North here.