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Trial in videotaped shooting of Oscar Grant begins in Los Angeles

By Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent- | Last updated: Jun 17, 2010 - 4:50:12 PM

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Student Minister Keith Muhammad (left) of Muhammad Mosque No. 26B in Oakland, Calif. speaks during press conference. Photos: Charlene Muhammad
Weeping and sniffling erupted throughout the court's public seating area as Atty. Stein displayed a signature photo of Mr. Grant—broad smile, black hoodie, and black beanie—on two big screen TVs.It continued throughout the morning as he showed different angles of the shooting over and over again.
LOS ANGELES ( - Shortly after opening statements began on June 10 in the trial of the former police officer who killed her son, Oscar Grant, III., Wanda Johnson made an appeal for justice for Black and Brown youth in front of the Clara Foltz Shortridge Criminal Courts Center.

“Our hope is justice.Our hope is justice, and our hope is that this does not continue to happen to the Brown and Black races as it had happened.I hope that police stations all around will change the racial profiling that's taking place,” Ms. Johnson said.

When cell phone video cameras carried the images of Mr. Mehserle shooting Mr. Grant in the back on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Fruitvale platform on January 1, 2009, mass demonstrations ensued, the shooter fled to Nevada, and the case was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles after his attorney claimed that residents, particularly Blacks, and the news media were biased.

During his opening statements, Deputy District Attorney David Stein showed another image taken by Mr. Grant himself, just minutes before he died.In the photo, Mr. Mehserle is standing over him and pointing a taser at him.

Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant, III., answers questions from press.
“What I saw that was heart wrenching to me was my son taking that picture, letting us know, letting me know, ‘Mama.I wasn't doing anything.I wasn't doing anything wrong,'” Ms. Johnson said during a press conference conducted by the Nation of Islam and the L.A. Chapter of the October 22nd Coalition after the morning session.

Flanked by her brother Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson and Student Minister Keith Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 26B in Oakland, the mother described her emotions about her son's death, within hours of her birthday on December 31, 2008.

She encouraged him to take BART into San Francisco on New Year's Eve because she thought the system and the police would be okay and he would be safer.“Never did I expect to get a call in the morning to say that my son had been shot; that he had been killed; that he had been murdered.Never.I wake up every night thinking, what if I wouldn't have instructed my son to get on BART?What would have happened,” she said.

Although she cannot change any of it, Wanda Johnson said police brutality needs to end.“There are senseless killings by officers for no reason.I think about the 7-year-old who was killed.I think about the Mexican guy who was killed.I think about Sean Bell who was killed. Senseless killings and there is no reprimand for these killings and we as a society have accepted the killings saying that our Black and Brown young men are worthless and the totally poor excuse is that they are going for their waist bands.Something has to change,” she said.

The courtroom was very small and heavily guarded by Los Angeles County Sheriffs deputies. More than a dozen media representatives filled the first row of public seating, Mr. Grant's family and supporters the next, and a few community observers and Mr. Mehserle's family in the third.

Many things went wrong that fateful morning, Prosecutor Stein said, and the blame rests with police who believed they had the right to punish, abuse, and mistreat people under the color of authority.

“The result is chaos, distrust, and disorder,” he said.

Weeping and sniffling erupted throughout the court's public seating area as Atty. Stein displayed a signature photo of Mr. Grant—broad smile, black hoodie, and black beanie—on two big screen TVs.It continued throughout the morning as he showed different angles of the shooting over and over again.

Mr. Grant was murdered because police officers substituted aggression and punishment for training and discipline when they went to BART's Fruitvale Station to investigate a fight, he said.

Using training videos to show the differences between removing the type of firearm and taser that he was equipped with that morning, Atty. Stein refuted claims that the former cop meant to taser the victim.

A photo of Mr. Mehserle taken after the incident showed both weapons were situated where they normally were, the bright yellow taser on his left and the black gun on his right.In order to dislodge the gun, Atty. Stein explained, Mr. Mehserle had to cut through three safety mechanisms, unlike with his taser, which had a safety switch and could easily fall out of its holster.

Before he died, Oscar Grant was being held down by Mr. Mehserle (6'4”, 250 lbs.) and former BART officer Anthony Pirone (6', 250 lbs.), Atty. Stein told the jury.“That is how Oscar Grant's life ended, while being held down and at that specific moment in time when the defendant chose to reach for his holster and pull out his gun, Oscar Grant wasn't fighting, kicking, or fighting to get away.There was nowhere to go,” he said.

Defense lawyer Michael Rains claimed that Mr. Grant and some of his friends resisted arrest and specifically that he kneed Mr. Pirone and that his friend, Jackie Bryson, swung at Mr. Mehserle.

He also placed blame for the tragedy on BART for what he said was a lack of taser training provided to his client. He said that the shooting was a tragedy that shouldn't have occurred, but it happened in part because Mr. Grant struggled and refused to give officers his hands to cuff and because his client only received six hours of classroom training on the use of tasers.

He interpreted and re-enacted what happened in the video but instead of replaying it, he used exhibit boards and still photos of the scene and location of platform cameras. “BART met their minimum standards, which was not enough to avoid this ... the training fell short and made it almost predictable for an officer to make a mistake like this,” he said.

Mr. Johnson called the defense attorney's accusations that his nephew and friends assaulted the officers absurd. “We're clear that if that had been true, the young men on that platform would have been arrested and charged with assault on a police officer.That did not occur,” he said.

Mr. Johnson charged the attorney with trying to paint a picture in the minds of jurors that Black men are disruptive and unruly in order to let Mr. Mehserle go free.As Atty. Raines prepares to put his nephew's history on display, the jury should understand his client's history, Mr. Johnson added.

“It is a fact that Mehserle has complaints filed against him for his own actions as a BART Police Officer. It is a fact that Mehserle has actually slapped a Hispanic woman and was sued for that action. It is a fact that Mehserle has beat up an African American male 45 days before he killed Oscar and that is in litigation right now,” he added.

Min. Keith Muhammad thanked the D.A.'s office for pointing out that the actions of BART police led to the confusion, chaos, distrust, and disorder on the platform that night.“Thirty-five percent of the justifiable homicides in America find Black men as their victims, so we're very clear that while we're in court, we want to see the jury that's here do the best job possible,” he said.