BART case verdict triggers opposition

November 23, 2010 — by Deborah Soung and Ashwini Velchamy

During the early hours of New Year’s day 2009, Johannes Mehserle, a white police officer, mistook his gun for a Taser and fatally shot Oscar J. Grant III, a black man, at a BART station in Oakland.

This shooting sparked riots among the hundreds of outraged citizens of Oakland even before Mehserle’s trial in July and has sparked even more protest after his sentence was recently announced. On Nov. 5, Judge Robert Perry gave Mehserle the shortest possible sentence: two years for involuntary manslaughter and credit for the time he has already served, meaning Mehserle could be out of prison in less than a year.

Most of the anger directed at Mehserle is the result of the belief that the justice system goes lightly on cases concerning the abuse of power by white officers against minorities. Some minorites believe that when a white man shoots a black man, it must have something to do with race. However, it is absurd to suggest that Mehserle would not have made the mistake he did if the man he was trying to detain was white, since the unfortunate incident could not have been predicted and therefore stopped.

Even though the opposing parties come from different races, it does not mean that the issue at hand must be treated as one where one race feeling threatened by the other. This belief, though at times accurate, is not always so and escalates in cases such as this one to a point where city leaders and police fear violence from their people with the announcement of the verdict.

Regardless of race, Mehserle still made a horrible mistake for which he should be more seriously punished. As a police officer, Mehserle should have known that the safety of citizens lay in his hands, and he should have taken more precautions in differentiating between his gun and his Taser. Just holstering his Taser for his left hand instead of his right could have saved a man’s life.

In California, involuntary manslaughter can result in a sentence from two to four years; however, the maximum sentence for Mehserle, begged for by Grant’s family, would have been 14 years, the four-year maximum for manslaughter with an extra 10 years for firearm enhancements.

The judge was fair in disregarding the firearm enhancement, since Mehserle had meant to use his Taser instead of his gun. Because Mehserle had not meant to use the gun, he had not meant to use the enhancement to hurt anybody, so the enhancement should not be taken into account.

However, even though the incident was an accident, Mehserle still deserves to be held accountable for his negligence. Mehserle’s sentence is far too light since it includes the time he had already served during the trial. Though Mehserle was trying to detain Grant, who was violently resisting, Mehserle should still hold responsibility for his inability to tell the difference between the two weapons.

Moreover, sentencing Mehserle to the lightest term possible was wrong and insensitive, a slap in the face to the black community of Oakland. Mehserle should be treated in the same way anyone else who had committed involuntary manslaughter would be treated and thus receive the same punishment. Presenting him with the minimum sentence, plus taking more time off by doubling what he already served, remains unjust.