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Outrage in Oakland

By Charlene Muhammad -Western Region Correspondent- | Last updated: Oct 29, 2009 - 1:52:23 PM

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Transit cop who killed unarmed man gets a change of venue

Oscar Grant
( - The family of Oscar Grant, III, residents, community activists, religious and civic leaders have expressed disappointment that an Alameda County, Calif., judge granted a change of venue in the trial of a former transit officer who shot and killed the 22-year-old unarmed passenger in Oakland.

The new location for the Nov. 2 trial is yet unknown, and many doubt it will actually move forward on that day.

Judge Morris Jacobson ruled Oct. 16 that there is a reasonable probability that Johannes Mehserle could not get a fair trial in Alameda County due in part to intense media attention and violent protests that erupted shortly after he shot Mr. Grant in the back on New Year's Day and video surfaced on the Internet.

Mr. Grant was lying face down on the Bay Area Rapid Transit District's Fruitvale Station platform. He was handcuffed with his hands behind his back.

“This has a significant negative impact from the Grant family's perspective because now the case is leaving Alameda County, where you have a higher chance—not a total chance—but certainly a higher chance of having a diverse jury pool and one that has African Americans, Hispanics, and people from all over on the jury, that have some sensitivity to these police issues and were not necessarily pro-police,” said Grant family Attorney John Burris to The Final Call.

There is a tremendous loss in moving the trial to another county with less diversity, and with more police advocates and supporters because that decreases the likelihood of a verdict that will support a murder conviction, Atty. Burris said.

Despite Judge Jacobson's statement that his decision was also due in part to constant, vocal activism during the preliminary hearings, a diverse coalition of Bay Area activists have vowed to continue monitoring the trial wherever it may occur.

“We are certainly disappointed because it seems rogue law enforcement officers are afforded rights few others may never know.We are watching to see if the courts repeat the Rodney King example; that is, to move a trial affecting the poor, the Black, the voiceless to a community that favors law enforcement and holds a negative view of Blacks from the inner cities,” said Student Minister Keith Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque 26B in Oakland.

Min. Muhammad charged that there appears to have been a concerted effort by the defense attorney and local media to drive a wedge between the activist community, elected officials, clergy, and all concerned for justice.

He believes that Judge Jacobson's ruling was a slap in the face of those who exercised their right responsibly, and expressed thanks that Mayor Dellums, other political representatives, and youth and adult activists and organizers spoke out for justice for Oscar Grant. If they had not, he said, charges might never have been brought against Mr. Mehserle. They would have also been condemned for their inactivity, he said.

“The irony of all of this is the very thing that you ask people to do—that is to petition the government, to have community organizations and to protest wrongful conduct, all of which was done for most part in a proper way, in the same time has also contributed largely to this change of venue. On the one hand, people exercised their First Amendment rights and at the same time, that trumped their Sixth Amendment right,” Mr. Burris said.

Related news:

Leaders accuse officers of lying in Oscar Grant shooting case (FCN, 07-02-2009)

Fatal shooting of unarmed man sparks outrage (FCN, 01-19-2009)

Web Video of police shooting in Oakland (KTVU Report)