Press Release: National Lawyers Guild Criticizes Mehserle Verdict As Gross Injustice: Calls On Law Enforcement to Respect Civil Liberties As Community Reacts
The San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLGSF) condemns the involuntary manslaughter verdict in the criminal case against former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. The trial judge, Robert Perry, acted inappropriately by allowing irrelevant information about the victim, Oscar Grant, before the jury.
“The verdict is a painful example of what we already know, the criminal justice system treats white, police officers with deference and poor people of color with hostility,” said Carlos Villarreal, NLGSF Executive Director. “It is shameful that irrelevant aspects of Grant’s past were put before the jury and troubling that the jury included no African Americans.”
There has been much attention on the potential for violence in the aftermath of this verdict, and the NLGSF is also concerned with the potential for violence. “We are extremely concerned with the possibility that law enforcement will treat any street actions, with or without vandalism, as an excuse to violate the rights of civilians in potentially violent ways,” said Teague Briscoe, NLGSF President.
Last year, Oakland police made a number of arrests of activists and journalists during uprisings in response to Grant’s killing and the lack of response from the District Attorney and other authorities. Roughly 100 individuals were arrested with fewer than a dozen ultimately prosecuted, mostly for minor offenses. Most of those were ultimately dropped. Despite the claims of the Oakland Police Department, the vast majority of the arrestees were from Oakland and surrounding Bay Area.
The NLGSF has a history of opposing police violence and regularly sends legal observers to political actions and protests throughout the Bay Area. The organization has hundreds of trained legal observers who are on call and prepared to monitor the actions of law enforcement. Criminal defense and civil liberties lawyers are also on call.
The NLGSF is an association of lawyers, legal workers, law students and jailhouse lawyers with hundreds of members in the Bay Area. See www.nlgsf.org for more information.