I could say I'm shocked, outraged, saddened, or disappointed by the verdict given to former police officer Johannes Mehserle, but honestly I'd be lying. Not because I'm not all of those things, but because anybody surprised by the fact that a white police officer can get sentenced to two years for killing an unarmed black man that he had lying face down on the floor of a public transit station, is delusional. Ask Rodney King, or the family of Sean Bell, or more recently the family of Oscar Grant how much you should believe in the criminal justice system when police are the criminals.
Grant was killed January 1, 2009 after officers responding to reports of a fight on a BART train determined he was one of the perpetrators. After being removed from the train along with several friends, officers detained Grant, and had him face down on the ground in an attempt to handcuff him. According to police, Grant resisted arrest and in an attempt to taze him, Mehserle mistakenly grabbed his gun and fatally shot 22 year old, father of one, Oscar Grant in the back. The account was caught on a camera phone and viewed by millions through various media outlets.
In July, Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, but acquitted of the more serious second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter charges. Yesterday Mehserle was sentenced to two years, with credit for time served, even though the judge had an option to add a gun enhancement charge that could have added 10 years to the sentence.
Naturally, black residents in Oakland are furious, and according to authorities, protestors are "tearing up the city." Those who believe situations like this are not as simple as black and white are as naive as they are hopeful. The world has come a long way in race relations, but there is no way that a black officer kills a young, well-to-do white man, and gets two years for it; people have gotten as much time for being caught with unregistered guns, and killing dogs.
Black people will never believe in a criminal justice system that continues to fail us. How many unarmed men have to be wrongfully beaten and or killed before police officers learn that black does not automatically equal dangerous?
Oscar Grant's family deserved better from our justice system. In a letter written after the verdict, Mehserle wrote, "For now, and forever, I will live, breathe, sleep, and not sleep with the memory of Mr. Grant screaming 'you shot me'...but I recall how sick I felt when Mr. Grant stopped talking."
As much as those last words from Oscar Grant may haunt Mehserle, he got to hear them. Oscar Grant's family got no such luxury.
R.I.P. Oscar Grant...