Centuries of rage: The murder of Oscar Grant III

by Malaika Kambon

Six years ago, on Jan. 1, 2009, Oscar Grant III, 22, was shot and later died of bullet wounds received when Johannes Mehserle, then a BART police officer, fired his gun at point blank range into Grant’s back – after Grant and his friends had been taunted with racial epithets and assaulted by Mehserle and other BART officers on the scene, while Mehserle’s partner, Tony Pirone, held Grant down with both hands and a knee on his head and neck.

Mehserle-bail-hearing-Oscar-Grant-Black-girl-protesters-w-signs-013009-by-Malaika-300x200, Centuries of rage: The murder of Oscar Grant III, Local News & Views
The Oscar Grant rebellions were Black and young, and protesters knew and loudly proclaimed exactly why they risked arrest or worse in their quest for justice. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Both Pirone and BART Officer Marysol Domenici assaulted, hurled racial epithets and threatened to taser and/or kill Oscar Grant’s five friends who were on the BART platform with him at the time of his murder.

Johannes Mehserle and the other officers fled the scene of the crime and, soon after, fled the state of California.

Videos of Oscar Grant’s murder went viral, and Oakland – and the world – erupted in countless rebellions and protests that continued for years.

Mehserle was forced to return to California to stand trial only by the weight of global community outrage. Pirone and Domenici were fired, but Domenici was re-instated, despite numerous instances of perjury under oath when questioned about events surrounding Oscar Grant’s death.

Mehserle-bail-hearing-Oscar-Grant-protesters-target-Wells-Fargo-013009-by-Malaika-300x200, Centuries of rage: The murder of Oscar Grant III, Local News & Views
Wells Fargo’s thefts of Afrikan homes made it a target during all the Oscar Grant rebellions. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

BART Police Chief Gary Gee hurriedly resigned under the weight of public pressure and the outcome of the independent investigation conducted by the Meyers Nave law firm, which concluded: “Officers did not follow recommended procedures” on the Fruitvale BART station platform. “The summary of the report describes the tactics of officers on the scene as ‘seriously deficient,’” in direct contradiction of the Gee whitewash of his internal affairs investigation of Jan. 12, 2009.

The trial – moved to Los Angeles because it was alleged that Mehserle couldn’t get a fair trial in the Bay Area he supposedly “protected and served” – began on June 14, 2010, after Mehserle, a $65,000- a-year ex-cop posted a $3 million bail.

Mehserle-bail-hearing-Oscar-Grant-flier-BART-police-wanted-for-murder-013009-by-Malaika-214x300, Centuries of rage: The murder of Oscar Grant III, Local News & Views
In the years it took to convict Oscar Grant’s killer cop, Oscar’s name and other phrases related to his case literally plastered Oakland, on walls, billboards, signs and fliers. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

On June 16, 2010, a jury composed of eight women – five Latina, three European – and four men – two Latino, two European – and zero Afrikans returned a verdict of involuntary manslaughter, not second degree murder, not voluntary manslaughter, but involuntary manslaughter enhanced by the use of the gun. And mysteriously, the gun enhancement charge disappeared as well.

All jurors had ties to law enforcement through friendship, past service or relatives.

According to a recent Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) report, jury selection in which Afrikan people are banished deliberately due to racial discrimination continues to be a widespread practice.

Nearly 135 years after Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to eliminate racial discrimination in jury selection, people of color continue to be excluded from jury service because of their race, especially in serious criminal trials and death penalty cases. EJI on June 1, 2010, released a new report, “Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy,” which is the most comprehensive study of racial bias in jury selection since the United States Supreme Court tried to limit the practice in Batson v. Kentucky in 1986.

“The underrepresentation and exclusion of people of color from juries has seriously undermined the credibility and reliability of the criminal justice system, and there is an urgent need to end this practice,” said Bryan Stevenson, EJI’s executive director. “While courts sometimes have attempted to remedy the problem of discriminatory jury selection, in too many cases today we continue to see indifference to racial bias.”

Mehserle-bail-hearing-Oscar-Grant-cops-brutally-arrest-young-Black-man-2-013009-by-Malaika-300x98, Centuries of rage: The murder of Oscar Grant III, Local News & Views
Seven cops – and more arriving – determined to arrest a young Black protester, no matter how brutally, are having a hard time holding on to him as other protesters move in to help free him. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Be that as it may, clearly the “accidental” shooting story saved the day for Johannes Mehserle. It was the East Bay’s Double Jeopardy response to the West Bay’s infamous Dan White “Twinkie defense” of 1979. Both cases successfully returned verdicts of manslaughter instead of murder against villainous, white, racist, homophobic officials – a BART cop murdered Oscar Grant and an ex-cop, ex-fireman turned ex-San Francisco supervisor, Dan White, murdered Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk – despite multiple witnesses.

Oscar-Grant-Mehserle-verdict-rebellion-heavily-armed-police-out-in-force-070810-2-by-Malaika-300x200, Centuries of rage: The murder of Oscar Grant III, Local News & Views
Rage erupted at the news of Mehserle’s slap-on-the-wrist verdict July 8, 2010 – protesters filling the streets of downtown Oakland and cops pouring in from around the Bay. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Dan White had the sense to rid the universe of his useless waste of flesh. Mehserle, unfortunately, is still around and has had the bad taste to attempt an appeal of his conviction on the grounds that it negatively impacts his ability to work in law enforcement. Given the criminal history of police in America, that is a highly questionable assessment. Bah humbug, Mehserle. And what irony that Dan White’s mortal remains were prepared for their final rest by a gay mortician.

Despite the fact that the Oscar Grant case was the first in the history of California where a white cop was forced to stand trial for the murder of a Black man, Mehserle claimed he accidentally pulled his gun instead of his taser, even though Oscar Grant III photographed Mehserle with his taser in his hands pointed at Grant moments before Grant photographed him with his gun drawn and shooting him.

Oscar-Grant-Mehserle-verdict-rebellion-Black-man-arrested-070810-by-Malaika-238x300, Centuries of rage: The murder of Oscar Grant III, Local News & Views
Another Black man is arrested – his mere presence a good enough excuse to deny him his most fundamental constitutional rights. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Mehserle was believed. He got credit for time served, served half of a two-year sentence and was out on the streets a free man not a month later.

Shades of the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857! This was the decision in which Maryland Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, himself an enslaver, stated that a Black person had no rights that a White person was bound to respect. Taney’s precise words in Scott v. Sanford were:

“It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in regard to that unfortunate race which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted; but the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken. They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Demonstrators by the millions were labeled “outside agitators,” and several police departments joined in pulling out all of their favorite toys – from tanks and automatic weapons to the infamous sonic cannon – to criminalize global public outrage of unarmed citizens over what was obviously the state and federally sanctioned lynching of a young Afrikan man.

Mehserle-bail-hearing-Oscar-Grant-rebellion-brutal-arrest-013009-by-Malaika-300x200, Centuries of rage: The murder of Oscar Grant III, Local News & Views
Beat downs, harassment, arrests and other forms of terrorism in the streets were the norm rather than the exception from heavily armed and militarized police. But this did not stop the rebellions. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Then, on Friday, June 11, 2011, paramedic Sean Gillis, an instructor and supervisor in the Oakland Fire Department, filed suit against the OFD in Alameda County Superior Court, Case No. RG-11-581209, alleging that:

“The OFD mistreated Oscar Grant in its response to Grant’s 911 calls on Jan. 1, 2009, destroyed all evidence related to the mistreatment, ordered Gillis to stop his investigation of the call response, refused to comply with an order for a call review by former OFD Medical Director Dr. Michael Howard, M.D., forced Dr. Howard to quit by withholding his paychecks and is currently retaliating against Gillis.”

Several civil lawsuits were filed.

Johntue Caldwell, Oscar Grant’s best friend and godfather to his daughter, filed a $5 million federal civil rights lawsuit on the basis of the mistreatment he suffered at the hands of Mehserle, Tony Pirone and Marysol Domenici. Mysteriously, Caldwell was murdered on July 15, 2011, when someone walked up to his car at a gas station and fired several shots into his body at point blank range. He leaves behind two sons. The murder has not ever been properly investigated or solved.

Mehserle-bail-hearing-Oscar-Grant-Black-man-Does-Dellums-support-murder-013009-by-Malaika-300x200, Centuries of rage: The murder of Oscar Grant III, Local News & Views
Congressman-turned-Oakland-Mayor Ron Dellums, renowned as the consummate progressive, refused for far too long to confront the issue of the police murder of Oscar Grant, even though he more than anyone had the power to craft a progressive and just response. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Despite the $1.5 million that BART will pay to Oscar Grant’s daughter and his daughter’s mother as a result of a civil lawsuit filed by attorney John Burris, which ultimately will pay his daughter Tatiana over $5.1 million throughout her life, Oscar Grant III, 22, was murdered in cold blood. The money will not bring him back.

Neither the family of Oscar Grant III nor the world will forget.

These photographs chronicle an enraged community’s protests on Jan. 30-31, 2009, of the $3 million bailout of a killer cop and his subsequent release from jail in the aftermath of the state sanctioned murder of Oscar Grant III and the July 8, 2010, rebellion when Oakland learned that killer cop Mehserle had not been convicted of murder.

Malaika H Kambon is a freelance, multi-award winning photojournalist and owner of People’s Eye Photography. She is also an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) state and national champion in Tae Kwon Do from 2007-2012. She can be reached at kambonrb@pacbell.net.