Public Comment

The Mehserle Verdict Illustrates Institutionalized Racism

By Maris Arnold
Tuesday July 13, 2010 - 09:55:00 AM

Now that the Mehserle verdict is in, the entire panorama of the case looks rotten to the core. It’s another crystal clear example of how institutionalized racism is perpetuated. It’s also a crystal clear example of the hidden (not so hidden) rule of government that the police mustn’t be held accountable for the grossest violations of human rights. The trial was tailored to fit this rule. 

Imagine the powers that be getting together in the aftermath of the myriad video clips and the subsequent uprising. Those clips made it impossible for the usual excuses, e.g. resisting arrest, failing to obey a lawful command, etc. to be offered up as justification for the shooting that was a murder. 

They tried to let the murder just slip by, from the stalling by then BART top cop Gary Gee to the failure to indict by then Alameda County District Attorney. That didn’t work because of too much persistent public outcry. 

But the uprising in Oakland really scared them. Kill an unarmed, handcuffed, on his belly black man, that’s ok. Break a window, can’t have that. It was obvious something had to be offered up to assuage the righteous rage before downtown business life came to a halt. 

Ok, give ‘em a trial. But it cannot, must not, be held in Oakland. San Diego would have been too blatant a cover-up. Simi(an) Valley had been used up for acquitting the Rodney King bashers. So it was moved to LA. 

Odor #1: The jury was selected with not one African American on it. That this was permitted is not an accident. The judge allowed an exclusionary jury.  

Selecting a majority white jury means cynically counting on its racism. More offensively, among the 7 majority white jurors, several had relatives who were cops. This also isn’t an accident. The smell’s getting really bad now. 

While Oscar Grant’s minor infraction of the law when he was just 16 was allowed in court, Mehserle’s past violent behavior as a cop was not. This also didn’t just happen. The presiding judge made this decision. It constitutes judicial prejudice. 

After deliberating less than 7 hours which is very disrespectful to Oscar Grant, his family, and the law, the jury came back with a verdict of involuntary manslaughter. This is the lowest possible sentencing charge short of acquittal. With time off for “good behavior” and time served, Mehserle could do maybe 3 months. He was whisked off to jail immediately after the verdict to start racking up time. Justice served! 

The weapons enhancement, if it stands, might mean that Mehserle will do some real time. But with the judge who presided being the same one who pronounces sentencing, guess what the chances are. BTW: if Mehserle’s that sorry, let him offer to serve 14 years. 

So there it is in all its ugly injustice. But what could be a next constructive step? For one thing, as Willie Brown suggested in his July 11 Chron column, BART cops should be disarmed for the safety of the riding public. In other words, gun carrying BART cops threaten the safety of the riding public no matter what their ethnicity. 100,000 or more signers to petitions demanding such disarmament would be too powerful to ignore. 


P.S. The Chronicle stories and local tv bites trying to prove that Oakland is safe for business are headlining statistics showing that among those arrested, the largest number were from out of town. In fact, Berkeley, although not specifically named, was obliquely referred to by Oakland police brass mentioning a nearby town growing and nourishing free-lance anarchists. This is a throwback to the cries of “outside agitators” from the Southern white power structure during the Civil Rights Movement as if the desire for justice should obey borders.