It should have never happened.
On New Year’s Day, 22-year-old Oscar Grant, a supermarket worker from Hayward, was shot and killed by a police officer. He wasn’t threatening the cops with a weapon and he wasn’t trying to run away either. He was lying face-down on a BART station platform in Fruitvale when he was shot in the back by BART officer Johannes Mehserle, 27, who was one of the many officers called in to break up a fight between two groups on the train.
Multiple videos have since been released by BART passengers and each has spiraled into a whirlwind of public outcry from citizens enraged over the murder of the young man, who leaves behind a 4-year-old daughter.
These videos have been viewed on the Internet thousands of times and have all been reviewed by officers, use-of-force experts and lawyers trying to come to some conclusions about what actions were taking place that could have possibly prompted the officer to draw his gun and shoot. And in trying to write this piece, after watching the videos and reading the facts and speculations, it seems impossible to try to piece together any kind of logical explanation or conclusion as to how something like this could possibly happen.
But there’s nothing, absolutely nothing that could justify this officer shooting this young man, or even drawing his gun for that matter. The officers were able to get all the men involved in the fight up against wall or on the floor of the station. So what would prompt Mehserle, a two-year veteran of the BART police force, to at that point then bypass verbal communication and all non-lethal weapons and reach for his pistol?
There has been some question as to whether or not the officer was actually trying to reach for his Taser when the gun was pulled. We firmly believe that if an officer is unable to distinguish between a gun and a Taser, he should not be allowed to carry either. But that’s only the beginning of the problems with this case. And for all of the negligence that led to the loss of Grant, lawyer John Burris has filed a $25 million claim against BART on behalf of Grant’s mother and daughter.
What we really want out of all this is simply for justice to play itself out. The fact of the matter is, there’s a long history of officers getting off easy when it comes to questionable use of force.
An obvious instance is the Rodney King case in which the four officers involved were acquitted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, despite the incident being caught on tape.
But in this case, had there not been cameras and phones recording the incident, it would have ended up being the word of multiple officers on duty against BART passengers, many of whom were probably intoxicated after a night of partying and celebrating the new year. That would have counted out many witnesses, making the BART cops the most “credible” sources.
And according to a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, there doesn’t seem to be a case in which an on-duty officer in Alameda County has been charged with a fatal shooting in the last 20 years.
We want to see Mehserle, who has now resigned from the force, treated like any other citizen who has been witnessed shooting another citizen, accidentally or otherwise. Being an officer does not mean being above the law. And these days it seems most people already have enough reason to doubt the officers whom we are supposed to trust. Anything less than a jail sentence in this case would be an injustice, weakening our faith in the law to a mere thread.