Preliminary BART Hearing from the Hall
on May 21, 2009
Oakland North and others failed to get into the courtroom where Mehserle’s partner Officer Jon Woffinden testified for the 27- year-old officer charged with murder in the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant early New Year’s day, but there’s an awful lot that happens outside the Alameda County Superior Court room.
The hall was filled with reporters, a handful of citizens, and three security guards who made sure no one got through the doors once the trial started. Even a woman alleging to be Grant’s aunt, who left the courtroom to stretch, was denied re-entry on her return.
Otis Duckett, a massage therapist studying reflexology sat at a bench nearby, keeping and eye on the action and clacking away on his laptop.
“I’ve been watching this since it started,” he said. “I researched and read everything. This [kind of shooting] is nothing new. It was caught on camera.”
Duckett lives close to the courthouse, but failed to arrive early enough to get inside. Those who want inside start lining up at 7:30 a.m., he said.
“If I do that’s cool. If I don’t I can support the hallway,” he said. “ I’m doing this because I’m concerned about my people.”
Half-way through the hearing legal analyst Steven Clark offered those in the hallway an assessment of the defense and prosecution strategies.
Clark, who is a former Santa Clara County District Attorney and and a legal analyst for multiple Bay Area TV stations, said the defense will continue to describe Mehserle as a young inexperienced officer in a combat situation who made a terrible mistake. The prosecution, however, will argue that this was the kind of situation where a trained officer would not panic and use excessive force. Clark predicts the defense will ask for a change of venue should the case go to trial.
While the hallway gaggle continued talking, outside on the corner of Oak and 12th a coalition of activists gathered, brandishing posters and shouting chants through a bullhorn to pump up a crowd of about twenty people. A few there performed poems or freestyle raps. Occasionally motorists would honk or roll down windows to wave their support.
Around noon, Minister LaVonne McIntosh returned to the curb after waving her sign at a bus full of people stopped at a red light.
“I hate injustice,” she said. “ It’s amazing to see people who are fighting with you. I’ve seen people from all walks of life, white, black and all creeds you can think of.”
Shane, a volunteer with the Community Council for Justice, who declined to give his last name, offered his thoughts on the trial.
“If Oscar lived he wouldn’t have been charged with anything, like his friends who were with him that night,” said Shane, his fiery red hair piled into a tam. “Mehserle is the fall guy. Tony Pirone is the main instigator.”
It wasn’t the first time Officer Pirone’s name came up. Several people outside the court room alleged that Pirone pulled Grant and his friends off the train in an agressive way that was bound for trouble. Officer Pirone remains on paid administrative leave.
The shooting transcends Oscar Grant and offers a way to bring attention to the larger issue of police attacks against civilians in the Bay Area, said Hannibal Shakur, a volunteer with Black Colony, a group established by former members of the Black Panthers, who was canvassing the crowd.
“We are out here fighting for justice for Oscar Grant, but he is gone. We have people walking around who need help,” Shakur said.
Shakur hopes that the Grant shooting will make it easier for those who have police misconduct grievances to be heard.
“Every day we’re out here people tell us about raids, violence or assault from the BART police, Oakland police and other police agencies,” he said.
Back in the courthouse around 2:00p.m. prosecuting attorney John Burris fielded questions from the press while flanked by Grant’s family.
Burris seemed perturbed by the multiple questions about the fight on the train and made it clear they did not dispute that something happened that night.
“Whatever happened on the train didn’t justify what took place,” he said. “It was over by the time it arrived [at the Fruitvale station]. The police have a right to conduct an investigation. They don’t have the right to rough them up or use excessive force. That doesn’t mean you get to kick, punch or shoot them in the back.”
Grant’s mother made a brief statement after the trial ended for the day. “I’m sad BART has not taken responsibility for what has happened to my son.”
Back outside, the protestors packed up. Shakur and others said they will return next Tuesday May 26th at 9 a.m. when the hearing will reconvene.
“Some see people protesting and they think we want revenge,” he said. “We don’t. It’s not about the law. It’s about love. We want him held accountable to the community.”
Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: email@example.com.