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LA activists prepare for trial of ex-cop who killed Oscar Grant

January 11, 2010

Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant meets Sunday, Jan. 17, 5 p.m., at Chuco’s Justice Center, 1137 E. Redondo Blvd, Inglewood

by Thandisizwe Chimurenga, Assistant Editor, LA Watts Times

These UCLA students at the Jan. 8 hearing are typical of activists in Los Angeles who are as determined to win justice for Oscar Grant as if he had been one of their own. – Photo: The South Los Angeles Report, http://tiny.cc/VNukY
More than 40 people representing a diverse cross section of Los Angeles communities met at Chuco’s Justice Center Jan. 3 to plan for the press conference and protest on Jan. 8 at the Criminal Justice Center on Temple Street, where Johannes Mehserle, the former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer indicted for the murder of Oscar Grant last year, appeared before L.A. County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry. It was the first hearing in the case in Southern California since an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled last November that Mehserle’s murder trial be moved to Los Angeles.

The activists and citizens, who came together under the banner Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant, were united by at least two common threads: outrage at the slaying of Grant and a belief that Mehserle should be convicted of murder.

Grant was shot in the back as he lay on his stomach by Mehserle on New Year’s Day 2009 on an Oakland subway platform. An attorney for Mehserle says the former transit officer had intended to use his stun gun to subdue Grant and grabbed his service revolver by mistake.

The incident was caught on numerous cell phone cameras and widely distributed. According to media reports, Alameda Superior Court Judge C. Don Clay, who presided over Mehserle’s preliminary hearing in June last year, stated, “There’s no doubt in my mind that Mr. Mehserle intended to shoot Oscar Grant with a gun and not a Taser.”

A call to Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains of Pleasanton, Calif., was not returned by press time.

Aidge Patterson, one of the organizers of the Jan. 3 meeting, said the goal was to begin the process of creating a unified movement for Grant in Los Angeles.

“We definitely wanted to get the ball rolling early to show from the minute they touched down in L.A. that this isn’t the place they’re going to come to and get away with murder,” he said. “Los Angeles is not going to stand for it. This is a city and a community that knows police brutality like no other place and because of that, there are literally thousands of people in this city who share the same story as Oscar Grant or similar to Oscar Grant.”

Keishia Brunston might be one of those people.

The 38-year-old Compton resident said she came to the meeting “because it’s for Oscar Grant and his family … We’re all Oscar Grant! Deandre Brunston, same thing. Everybody knows the situation with my nephew Deandre … And it’s just been happening ever since, back to back. So I’m here to support all the families and Oscar Grant’s family when they come to L.A.”

Deandre Brunston was a 24-year-old man whose shooting by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies on Aug. 24, 2003, was caught on video and also widely distributed. Brunston, who had been sought for questioning in a domestic dispute, was cornered in a doorway by deputies and repeatedly stated he had a gun, which turned out to be false. He said he would fire on deputies if they released a police canine on him.

Deputies released the canine, and when Brunston made a sudden move, fired more than 80 shots at him and shot the dog in the process. The canine was then airlifted to a hospital while Brunston was allowed to bleed to death.

Michelle Lolles came to the Jan. 3 meeting from Orange County because she said she was highly disturbed about what happened to Grant just like so many other people. Police brutality is something that concerns her as much as having her son shot on the street by a youth, she said.

“And that shouldn’t happen. It’s ridiculous. We don’t feel protected. We feel chased, hunted,” she said, adding police brutality “has just begun to be an epidemic and it needs to be addressed.”

Brothers Joshua and Jedi Jimenez, along with Kayla De Los Reyes, said they traveled from Long Beach to attend the meeting out of concern and to show solidarity.

The three are members of Anakbayan L.A., a Filipino youth and student organization. “Anakbayan stands in solidarity with all struggling peoples all over the world, but especially in this area,” De Los Reyes said. “Now that they’ve moved the trial down to Los Angeles, we want to show our support.

“It doesn’t matter where the court case happens; there will always be people to stand up for the brothers this is happening to.”

A final preparation meeting for the Jan. 8 press conference and protest was also held by the coalition Jan. 6.

The group has set up a Facebook page and listserve for people who want to be kept abreast of the case’s developments and upcoming actions.

Organizers say one of their needs in the future will be donations for Bay Area activists and family members of Grant who want to travel to Los Angeles for the trial.

Another thing organizers say they will need are volunteers who can attend the trial to monitor it.

John Burris, the attorney representing Grant’s family in its $50 million wrongful death civil lawsuit against BART, said that it was important to have people present at the trial to observe what is going on at all times.

“It lets the judge and everyone know that this case is important … and in order to ensure that justice is done, it is important that the jurors see that there are people out here who care about this case, and hopefully it will cause them to not allow police bias to enter into their verdict or decision-making process,” he said.

Regardless of how quickly or slowly the legal process unfolds, Patterson said that police brutality activists and concerned citizens will continue to have a visible presence at the courthouse.

“The central idea that we want to send is that we are united for justice for Oscar, we demand that this killer cop be jailed, and we understand that this case is not an isolated case,” he said. “It’s one piece within a worldwide epidemic of police brutality.”

The next meeting of the Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant is Sunday, Jan. 17, 5 p.m., at Chuco’s Justice Center, 1137 E. Redondo Blvd, Inglewood. Call (323) 235-4243 for more information.

Thandisizwe Chimurenga can be reached at tchimurenga@gmail.com.

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