Oakland's streets erupted in outraged reaction last night after a jury convicted Johannes Mehserle, of involuntary manslaughter rather than murder. The white Oakland police officer fatally shot Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man on a crowded train platform on News Years Day in 2009. The Department of Justice's civil rights division will investigate the case.
In Oakland, police said about 1000 people protested the verdict on Thursday. Some angry protesters rioted, destroying property, breaking into stores and setting fires in dumpsters. Small, spontaeous protests also erupted in Portland and other cities.
Watch The Skanner News Video to see the protest and Watch The Skanner video here for a news report and a reaction.
The jury had a choice between a verdict of second-degree murder and lesser charges of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
During the three-week trial, prosecutors said the 28-year-old Mehserle became angry at the 22-year-old Grant for resisting arrest. He was shot in the back while he lay face-down. Mehserle claims he mistakenly drew his gun instead of his Taser.
Mehserle testified that he struggled with Grant and saw him digging in his pocket as officers responded to reports of a fight at a train station. Fearing Grant may have a weapon, Mehserle said he decided to shock Grant with his Taser but pulled his .40-caliber handgun instead.
Victim's Mother and Lawyer Speak Out.
Oscar Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson, sat most days in the second row of a Los Angeles courtroom less than 30 feet from the man who killed her son. She hoped and prayed the justice system wouldn't fail her.
After the jury's finding, Johnson denounced the verdict outside the courthouse.
"Though the system has failed us, though we fight continually, but you know what, one thing I know, that the race is not given to the swift nor to the strong but to the one who endures till the end. And as a family and as a nation of African-American people, we will continue to fight for our equal rights in this society," she told reporters and large crowd of disappointed supporters.
"I believe that one day as a nation of people, that you guys will not look at us according to the color or content of our skin, but that we will be treated right as a people. And my son was murdered. He was murdered. He was murdered. He was murdered.
"My son was murdered. And the law has not held the officer accountable the way that he should have been held accountable. And I look at this, and I just say like my brother said to any other family who goes through this, do not give up. Do not give up."
Cephus Johnson, Grant's uncle also spoke."As we have come to notice, and we as a family has been slapped in the face by a system that has denied us a right to true justice," he said. "We truly do not blame the jury, but we blame the system."
The family's attorney John Burris also spoke after the verdict. He told the crowd: "the involuntary manslaughter conviction is better than no conviction at all. We do recognize and appreciate that there are that there probably is some historical significance in that.
"I, in my long history being involved in police matters since 1979 and well over 30 homicides involving the police, have never had a case where an officer was convicted of any crime against an African-American male. So in that sense, it is a small victory. But it does not in and of itself fairly and accurately represent that the system works. But it cannot work in a situation where a person is killed with his hands behind his back, with an officer over him, claiming that he has seen something come and that becomes an involuntary manslaughter."
Videos of Incident Influence Outcome.
The case was a rare instance in which a police officer stood trial for an on-duty killing and that was captured on video from so many different angles. At least five bystanders videotaped the deadly encounter.
But just as in the Rodney King beating different people came to different conclusions about what the video and the testimony showed. The trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles because of racial polarization and extensive media coverage.
The jury included eight women and four men. None listed their race as black. Seven said they were white, three were Latino, and one was Asian-Pacific. One declined to state their race. They left the courthouse under tight security.
Legal experts said the verdict shows the jury sympathized with Mehserle's version of events.
"It is legally as low as they could go without acquitting him," University of California, Berkeley, law school professor Erin Murphy said. Prosecutors had a "huge hurdle" to overcome in convincing a jury that an officer with a spotless record meant to kill, even with video of the killing, she said.
The jury found that Mehserle didn't mean to kill Grant, but that his behavior was still so negligent that it was criminal. The charge carries a sentence of two to four years, although the judge could add 10 more years because a gun was used in the killing.
As Mehserle was placed in handcuffs and taken away, he turned to his family and mouthed, "I love you guys."
The justice department's civil rights division will conduct a review along with the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco and the FBI, said spokesman Alejandro Miyar, who declined further comment. The investigation will determine if the case warrants federal prosecution. Federal officials planned to begin their review at the conclusion of the state's case against Mehserle, who still faces sentencing. The next hearing was set for Aug. 6.
Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein said in his closing argument that Mehserle let his emotions get the better of him and intended to shoot Grant with the handgun without justification.
Defense attorney Michael Rains contended the shooting was a tragic accident. Mehserle had no motive to shoot Grant, even though he was resisting arrest, the lawyer argued.
Fury Ignites Mob Violence.
The verdict raised concerns of a repeat of the rioting that followed the shooting on New Year's Day in 2009 on an Oakland train platform. The trial was moved to Los Angeles following the riots. But the protesting appeared to be much less severe than the rioting that hit Oakland after Grant was shot, although police did not immediately release a damage estimate.
At least a dozen businesses were damaged, including a Foot Locker store and a ransacked jewelry store, police said. Protesters also smashed the windows of a bank, set fires in several trash bins, and detonated a small incendiary device near a police station that caused no damage.
Oakland police told The Associated said they made 83 arrests throughout the night for violations that included failure to disperse, vandalism and assaulting a police officer.
Cleaning crews began sweeping up broken glass and debris from the sidewalks early Friday morning. Graffiti on one building declared, "Oakland is our amusement park tonight!"
"This city is not the wild, wild West," said Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts. "This city will not tolerate this sort of activity."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement urging Californians to remain calm and not resort to violence. Schwarzenegger said he had informed Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums the state was well prepared to assist in maintaining order.
In Portland, protesters marched along North Ainsworth Street. Police said garbage cans were overturned and protesters threw rocks breaking a window at the Bank of America on Martin Luther King Boulevard and three windows of the security office at Portland Community College on North Killingsworth. Police arrested three people in Portland for disorderly conduct, criminal mischief and obstruction. They were identified as: 23-year-old Bryan Wiedeman, 19-year-old Sara Kasper, and one unnamed woman.
In Tacoma, Wash., vandals smashed the windows of a patrol car parked outside a police officer's home at about 2:30 a.m. Friday, spray-painting the words "Oscar Grant was here" on the car.
PHOTOS: Top Johannes Mehserle mugshot. Middle Oscar Grant, courtesy of Wanda Johnson and family.