OAKLAND (NNPA) - A judge has granted $3 million bail to the former BART officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant, III, on a station platform on New Year's Day. However, at press time Johannes Mehserle had not yet posted the $300,000 bail and was still in custody.
Dozens of Grant supporters packed the hallways of the Alameda County Superior Court, trying to gain entrance to the Jan. 30 hearing while others demonstrated outside. Some of them wore t-shirts displaying Mr. Grant's photograph and they also chanted, "We are Oscar Grant!" and waved signs that read, "No bail! Keep him in jail!"
During the hearing, sources told The Final Call, Judge Morris Jacobson cited at least 15 points of action for denying bail. Among points cited by the judge against Mehserle were that the former officer is a flight risk with relatives outside of the country; lied about the incident; used lethal force under the color of authority when it wasn't necessary; demonstrated a propensity to violence; quit his job and ran away from the situation by leaving California.
"He still gave him a bail of $3 million," said Pastor Dion Evans of the Chosen Vessels Christian Church in Alameda. "If he's a danger, he's a danger. If the judge can spell out so many potential reasons why Mehserle would flee and then give him bail for the opportunity to flee, I just feel that's irresponsible," he said.
Pastor Evans read an official statement on behalf of the family: "Our family is extremely appreciative to the community and this country for the enormous amount of support and its strong involvement with us in this time of crisis with the BART police department … We believe that Oscar Grant did not die in vain. This is the beginning of a new day in our communities."
In his motion for bail, Atty. Michael Rains argued that witness testimony supported claims that his client was reaching for his Taser, instead of his gun, and that he did not intend to shoot Grant.
Legal analysts have predicted that the case will be moved out of Alameda County due to widespread publicity.
Attorney John Burris, who represents Grant's family, said that an important factor in the case is the former officer's claim that Grant was reaching for a gun. "That's the statement that ultimately gives understanding he was not going for a Taser, which was consistent with his movements. His movements were not that of going for a Taser. He went for his weapon and he used his gun. Whatever he saw, that is going to be a factual dispute, but if he goes back and forth on this issue he's going to have more trouble in this trial," Burris said.
Student Minister Christopher Muhammad of Mosque No. 26 in San Francisco, who witnessed the bail hearing, believes that there is a level of collusion between the District Attorney, Judge Jacobson and Mehserle. "The DA never challenged the request for bail and he did not make that request. Even after the judge enumerated and articulated all of these things in the courtroom, to proceed to give him $3 million bail, just doesn't make sense," he said.
Muhammad said that this has heightened the community's intent to recall District Attorney Tom Orloff.
After learning that BART Police Chief Gary Gee has been helping to raise money and other resources for Mehserle, the community demanded his resignation as well.
"I have in my hand a letter bearing his signature and a message from Chief of Police Gary Gee. He's facilitating ease for former Officer Mehserle while he is incarcerated, even though he quit. He should have been fired, had a meeting and questioned while the chief had authority over Mehserle," said Student Minister Keith Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque 26B in Oakland.
"We can't trust his investigation. He is demonstrating support for an officer whom he should be disciplining and he should have paved the way for his arrest and prosecution for the unjust shooting of Oscar Grant, but Chief Gee has failed to seek justice," he said.
In other police controversy, Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker tendered his resignation, effective Feb. 28. According to reports, Chief Tucker's Jan. 27 announcement came just as the city council was contemplating voting on a lack of confidence in his leadership.
The Oakland Police Department has come under consistent criticism for allegations of police brutality and misconduct, excessive force and harassment of Black and Brown communities and most recently, investigations over its mishandling of the 2007 murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey. Chief Tucker countered that he's lost faith in the council's ability to manage the city and its police force.
Since the Grant shooting, the Community Council, a coalition of activists, clergy, politicians, hip hop artists and youth, have met every Saturday afternoon at the Olivet Institutional Missionary Baptist Church to seek justice for Oscar Grant.
The meetings also help to raise awareness about the criminalization of young urban males, Student Min. Christopher Muhammad said. "Nobody is treating this as a crisis. It's not even on the radar as an issue, so we have to put this issue at the forefront of the minds of the legislators who make and pass these laws. Why is the condition of the Black and Brown young male not producing a state of emergency response? Where are the hearings? Where are the special sessions? Where are the actions that reflect this as being serious?"
The Grant family has established a trust fund to provide an opportunity for his daughter to go to college, despite Grant's death. Donations may be sent to the Tatiana Grant Trust Fund, Account #3879027641, Wells Fargo Bank, 950 Southland Drive, Hayward, CA 94545.
Story by Charlene Muhammad and Victor Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call