Jury set in historic trial of cop who killed Oscar Grant – no Black jurors

Following this news story is a very moving essay by Thandi that caught fire on Facebook.

by Thandisizwe Chimurenga

What began as a two-day selection process ended Tuesday, June 8, with eight women and four men being sworn in as jurors in the murder trial of Johannes Mehserle. The former transit officer is charged with the New Year’s Day 2009 killing of Oscar Grant III, 22, at an Oakland BART station.

The jury, composed of eight women – five Latina, three white – and four men – two Latino and two white – will hear opening statements in the case on Thursday, June 10.

During the selection process, which began at 8:30 a.m. and ran until approximately 4 p.m., three African-Americans were excused by the court and the remaining two African-Americans in today’s juror pool were struck by the defense.

Many of Tuesday’s potential jurors had ties to law enforcement either through friendship, past service or through relatives.

Both the prosecution and the defense were allowed a total of 20 peremptory challenges each for the jurors and six each for the alternates.

Some in the courtroom said they were stunned by the lack of Black jurors in the case.

Phyllis Jackson thought “it was a chilling day” for Los Angeles. “Jury selection here banishes all Black people like the recent Equal Justice Initiative report found that Southern courts do, while allowing the jury to be stacked with people who have friends, family and businesses involved with law enforcement,” she said.

The Southern California college professor came to court to observe the proceedings, which are open to the public.

Jury selection here banishes all Black people like the recent Equal Justice Initiative report found that Southern courts do, while allowing the jury to be stacked with people who have friends, family and businesses involved with law enforcement. – Phyllis Jackson

Tracy Cooper, who came from Oakland to observe the proceedings, agreed. “Out of the five intelligent Black people they had in that jury pool, I can’t believe that not one of them was selected to serve on the jury,” she said. “Some of the people they decided to keep, there were too many who favored police officers.”

Jack Bryson Sr. said that the judge was giving Michael Rains the trial on a platter. “If tomorrow’s motions go (Rains’) way, there’s no hope for justice,” he said.

Court resumed at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday to hear three motions by Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains.

Two motions that were filed last week seek to either exclude Sophina Mesa, girlfriend of Oscar Grant and mother of their 4-year-old daughter, from testifying or allow Rains to cross-examine her about Oscar Grant’s probation and parole status. The other motion seeks to exclude former transit officer Tony Pirone’s utterance of a racial slur at Oscar Grant.

A motion filed yesterday with the court seeks to exclude the synchronized video of the events of Jan. 1, 2009, submitted by the District Attorney and requests an evidentiary hearing.

Mehserle’s defense has also prepared and submitted a synchronized video to the court.

Opening statements in the trial are set for Thursday, June 10.

Thandisizwe Chimurenga, a veteran Los Angeles-based journalist and a programmer on LA Pacifica station KPFK, is covering the People v. Mehserle trial. Follow her coverage on Twitter @OscarGrantTrial or twitter.com/cybergrrr. She can be reached at tchimurenga@gmail.com.

To introduce you to Thandi’s heart as well as her journalistic skills, here is some commentary she posted to Facebook on Sunday, June 6, after attending the screenings of “Operation Small Axe” on June 4 and 5 in Los Angeles.

I had a good cry last night

by Thandisizwe Chimurenga

“Sometimes, you can see farther through a tear than you can through a microscope.”

These words from an elder sistah of mine came back to me last night.

I was at the showing of “Operation Small Axe” at the Afiba Center. The film, made by Adimu Madyun and JR Valrey of Oakland, looks at the reality of police terror of Black people in Oakland but, more importantly, Black folks’ response to it, specifically using the cases of Oscar Grant and Lovelle Mixon.

In the film, “Axe” shows the video recording of Oscar Grant being shot by BART officer Johannes Mehserle. I have seen the video several times and now that I am covering the trial here in Los Angeles, I am sure I will see it a few more times.

The film also shows the video of the murder of Deandre Brunston by L.A. County Sherriff’s Deputies in 2003. I vaguely remember hearing about Deandre’s case when it happened but I never saw the video until last year.

The video shows Deandre being shot at 80 times. The sherriff’s K-9 dog was also let loose on him and gets shot. Then, we see the deputies come and pick up the dog and carry it away, while Deandre is left on the porch to die.


Back in the 90s, I went into the Shrine of the Black Madonna Bookstore and Cultural Center in Atlanta and in the back was an exhibit on lynching. Hanging from the ceiling was a life-sized mannequin: a Black man, hands tied behind his back, barefoot, clothing torn, face beaten and bloody, hanging from a rope.

I had never seen anything like this before in my life. It sickened me; the queasy feeling in my stomach, the lump in my throat. I felt like I wanted to vomit – but not.

I found it hard to look at, but I had to look at it. I wanted to move but I couldn’t.

I had never felt anything like that in my life. And I haven’t felt that way since.

Switch back

When I first saw the video of Oscar Grant being shot it shocked me and it angered me. I said, “It’s like that? OK!” I used the anger to fuel my passion to fight for justice.

When I first saw the murder of Deandre Brunston it shocked me and it angered me. I saw cops have the concern to take a dog to get it medical treatment but leave a young Black man to die, and I was like, “Oh, it’s like that, huh? OK!” I used the anger to fuel my passion to fight for justice.

But I didn’t feel anything … until last night.

Seeing these two atrocities in the film reminded me that I hadn’t felt anything.

And it bothered me.

Was I becoming numb to the murder of Black people?


I mean, I was angry and I wanted to fight and I have been and I will continue to do what I can as an individual – go to meetings, write, speak, text, tweet, pass on the info to others.

I was and still am angry, and I was and still am part of a movement to secure justice. So I can’t be numb.

But I didn’t feel anything. And it bothered me.

Why didn’t I feel something?

I went home and continued to think and ponder and wonder and question out loud, why didn’t I feel something?!

And then I realized what the problem was.

I was angry, and I was intellectual, and I was hyped, and I was ready fight, and I was ready to write, and I was ready to write as my fight.

But I hadn’t mourned.

And just at that moment, when I realized what the problem was, the tears came.

I cried last night for Oscar Grant, who was murdered one year and four months ago.

I cried last night for Deandre Brunston, who was murdered six years and 10 months ago.

I cried last night for Aiyana Jones, who was murdered three weeks ago.

I cried last night for Mertilla Jones, whose grandbaby was murdered by Detroit police as she lay sleeping next to her on a couch.

I cried last night for Jackie Bryson, handcuffed and kneeling on the platform next to Oscar Grant when he was shot; Jackie Bryson, who jumped up and stared at his friend who would be dead in a few hours from a cop’s bullet; Jackie Bryson, handcuffed and screaming at the officer who has just shot his friend, standing over him to try to protect him even though he is handcuffed.

I cried for Jackie Bryson, screaming with handcuffs on.

I cried last night for Jackie Bryson and those other young Black and Brown men who have yet to be offered any counseling for the trauma they witnessed by seeing their friend shot before their very eyes – shot by one who was supposed to protect and serve.

I had a good cry last night.

And today the tears flow intermittently.

I cry as I type, and I wipe, and I continue to type.

And it’s OK because I can see clearly now.

“Justice for Oscar Grant” from Thandisizwe Chimurenga on Vimeo.

A report on the 2nd pre-trial hearing for Johannes Mehserle, killer of Oscar Grant, held Feb. 19, 2010 in Los Angeles, CA.