Shoot a man in the back and walk… if he’s Black

By Michael Vass | November 8, 2010

We have followed the shooting, trial, and verdict in the murder of Oscar Grant by former BART officer Johannes Mehserle since January 2008. Throughout that time we have said and believed that justice would not be done. Though we hoped that we would be proven wrong.

We have presented video, 5 of the 7 we were aware of, that recorded every second of the murder from differnt angles. Mysteriously today almost none of those videos remain on Youtube. Almost as mysteriously the prosecution couldn’t find 1 of the Youtube videos, using only the worst angle and least helpful on the BART video system.

We covered how the Oakland officers came up with story after story about immenent danger and various reasons why Oscar Grant was murdered. Each one a lie that video proved to be false.

We covered why there were riots in Oakland as the rest of the national media just said riots were happening. We chided the media for reporting half the case and hiding from the fact that a police officer shot a Black father in the back while he was laying on the ground as another police officer held him inplace with his knee on his neck.

We shouted as Johannes Mehserle was treated with kid gloves. He roared as the trial was moved to L.A. and delayed a year. At each step it was becoming more apparent that this was a complete cover-up. The murder was to be whitewashed. Expunged from memory or coverage.

Still the unthinkable did happen. Johannes Mehserle did get convicted of commiting murder. Not the deliberate cold-blooded act he committed, but murder nonetheless. Justice looked like it might just eek out. A message that uberviolince against people of color by police will not be tolerated almost was made.

But then the sentencing came. Johannes Mehserle faced up to 14 years in prison. Not nearly enough for an act that cowards since the days of Jesse James and Abraham Lincoln have been reviled for. What do you think was the sentence? For a White cop caught on video, shooting an unarmed, defenseless, cooperative Black man in the back as he lay on the ground?

2 years.

The average state prison sentence is 4 years 11 months in 2006.

Felony murder is defined as the killing of a human being by another human being with malice aforethought. The key is aforethought. That is further defined as: Intent to kill, Intent to inflict grievous bodily harm short of death, Reckless indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to human life (sometimes described as an “abandoned and malignant heart”), or Intent to commit a dangerous felony (the “felony-murder” doctrine).

A man face down on the ground, surrounded by 5 police officers, not resisting, unarmed is NOT a danger to anyone. It is reckless and indifferent to shoot such a man. The only result is grievous bodily harm. But notice the law does not discuss race. Because in America, even post-Obama, race is important.

In New York State, a B Class Violent Crime for a first-time offender REQIRES no less than 5 years and a maximum of 25. Johannes Mehserle got the equivalent of a D Class Felony. Which is comparable to: falsely reporting and incident, prohibited use of a weapon, unlawful surveillance, criminal possession of weapon, criminal sale of a weapon in the third degree, and manufacture, transport, disposition and defacement of weapons and dangerous instruments and appliances.

So, according to California, the equivalent worth of a Black father that is not resisting arrest, defenseless, unarmed, and lying on the ground when they are murdered is the same as using a 4 inch knife to cut bread in public. Better yet, it’s the same as saying you were mugged when actually you just lost your paycheck in Atlantic City.

Let’s just reverse this. IF a Black man killed a White man who was laying on the ground, defenseless and unarmed, do you think that it would be possible for him to NOT be in jail for life? Why and how is this different? Because the police officer who is trained in the use of deadly force and is expected to abide the law to an even higher degree than the public committed the murder? Because the police officer is White?

Justice is blind, when it comes to police brutality against people of color. The legal system is broken when it comes time to hold White officers accountable for extreme acts of violence. And people wonder why people of color do not trust police.

This is just sickening.

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