Oakland residents react to Mehserle verdict, urge peace
on July 8, 2010
After hearing that former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter Thursday afternoon for the 2009 killing of Oakland resident Oscar Grant, Bay Area residents at the Rockridge BART station said they hoped the Oakland community would react to the verdict peacefully.
“I hope people keep the peace and nobody starts any trouble,” said Mel Scott, a West Oakland resident. “The family of Oscar Grant wants peace. Out of respect for Oscar Grant and the family, we need to keep the peace.”
Overall, people in the BART station late Thursday afternoon said they still hadn’t processed the verdict. Many knew that Mehersle had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter shortly after 4 p.m., and those who hadn’t heard the verdict were at least familiar with the case.
“I’m not shocked,” said San Francisco resident Ian Slattery. “The whole case has been really troubling. I think communities of color in the East Bay in particular, and understandably, are upset. Not because of this one instance but because of how the police interact with communities as a whole.”
“This [verdict] makes it difficult to have any trust between the community and the police,” Slattery continued. “This matters to all Californians. Not just in our communities here but around the state.”
San Francisco resident Ryan Worf said he was disappointed in the verdict, but was “happy” Mehserle received some sort of sentence for the crime. “I don’t think a police officer in this state has ever gone to prison for wrongly killing a person before,” he said. “It’s not exactly justice, but at least [the crime] was on camera and he was punished. This will follow him around for the rest of his life.”
Worf, who was raised in Oakland, also expressed his hopes for peace in Oakland following the verdict announcement. “I hope there aren’t riots,” he said. “There’s no point in that.”
“I hope that people don’t use this [verdict] as an excuse for civil unrest,” said Montclair resident Tom C., who said he has noticed that several businesses in the downtown Oakland area have boarded their windows in the last few days in case there are riots. “This is what the jurors deliberated, and I hope people will respect their decision.”
Many residents said that, while they felt the verdict was unfair, they felt the jury process had worked. “We have to believe in the system,” said Thien Truong of Piedmont. “And I hope things are peaceful now.”
Scott said he was disappointed in the verdict, and anticipated that Mehserle would have a difficult time in prison because he is a former police officer. “Maybe he should have gotten second degree murder, but a cop being in jail is bad enough anyway,” he said. “There’s nothing like having your freedom taken away.”
While people did not express sympathy for Mehserle Thursday afternoon, some did say they felt that the incident was probably nothing more than a horrible mistake—one for which they said Mehserle should be held responsible.
“I think it’s an important verdict, and I think a lot of people see it as injustice,” said Heidi, a Rockridge resident who declined to give her last name. “From what I’ve seen of the case, I think he made a mistake, I think he thought he was doing something else. But I’m not on the jury.”
“I’ve seen the Twitter feeds today,” she continued. “There’s a lot of anger [at the verdict]. I think for people who were close to Oscar Grant, it is unjust—I can imagine they would feel that someone should pay just as much as they did. But I can also see how it could have been an awful mistake.”
In a plea for peace, Scott said Oakland residents should honor Grant’s memory by volunteering for the causes he loved. “Maybe people should find out Oscar’s twenty favorite things about Oakland—burger joints, libraries,” said Scott. “And then they can help out at a place he liked instead of breaking stuff or causing mayhem. Or maybe they can give some money to help out his daughter.”
Read our past coverage of the Johannes Mehserle trial on Oakland North here.
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