Jury Selection “Blackout” in Oscar Grant Murder Case Troubling: LA Has Seen This Before

Oscar Grant

The trial of ex-Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority Officer, Johannes Mehserle, started last week after the use of the controversial venue change tactic that shifted the case from Alameda County 300 miles down to Los Angeles County. Mehserle is on trial for murder after allegedly shooting BART passenger, Oscar Grant, in the back on a train platform.

Grant and several passengers were pulled off a BART train after reports of fighting caused BART police to be called. Mehserle and his partner showed up. Grant was handcuffed and taken off the train. Grant was laid down on the ground. Moments later, Grant was dead from shots in his back by Mehserle’s gun. Witnesses taped the event on their cell phones.

The city of Oakland, one that is a historically majority African American population, was outraged. Racial tensions surfaced that have been present in this community for 50 years. Oakland is the birthplace of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, born out of a community response to protect itself against police abuse and misconduct.

Community/police tension is always just beneath the surface of community harmony. Grant was black. Mehserle is white. Mehserle’s attorneys felt that their defendant would not be able to receive a fair trial in Oakland. So, the trial was moved to L.A. Now the question becomes, is this about fairness in justice or about trickery in the court system. We in L.A. have seen it before.

The bigger issue here is one that plagues black communities nationwide when suspicious officer-involved shootings take place: the convoluted stories, the cover-ups, the justifications (imagined or real), the non-justifications, but most critically, the presence or absence of justice. Justice has become such a relative engagement. Everybody wants justice, but nobody ever seems to get it to their satisfaction.

In police shootings, the relativity of “who gets justice” is even more magnified. The community often feels victimized and demands justice. But, police unions now advocate justice for police officers and demand the opportunity for the “fairest trial” possible. So trials are moved under the guise of highly publicized cases tainting the local jury pools where suspects on trial purportedly cannot receive fair trials because of the heightened publicity. What also has become a factor in venue change cases involving police officers is that demography of communities come into play as largely white communities have  greater compassion for police than communities of color (Black and Latino) that tend to have experienced generations of abuse from police.

What does that translate to? All-white juries that tend to convict or exonerate based on the race of the defendant: What was once a rarely used tactic, requesting venue change has now become common. Particularly for police and celebrities. L.A.’s most famous venue change was in 1992 when the trial of four police officers who beat Rodney King with videotaped footage was shifted from downtown Los Angeles to the suburban community of Simi Valley.

When the four officers were exonerated (found not guilty—but two were later convicted on federal civil rights charges), Los Angeles experienced the nation’s most costly civil disturbance in the history of the nation. White people called it a riot. Black people called it a revolt against injustice. Now L.A. is in the middle of Oakland’s most controversial shooting in years, though it’s still healing from wounds of officer-involved shootings, including ones since Rodney King (namely the Devon Brown killing).

There were a lot of counties that could’ve heard this case between Oakland and L.A. But few could have provided the spotlight on the justice system that L.A. could and provide the diversity in jury pool selection that Los Angeles could. Well, guess what?

Despite fighting its own “police demons,” a Los Angeles court is now hearing the Oscar Brown case admits hardly any news coverage from the mainstream press. And in the first week of the case, all five black juror prospects were dismissed in the jury selection process — a rocky start to a case that’s likely to rock Oakland should an unjust outcome result. And one is anticipated as the state president of the California NAACP recently sent out a letter asking communities to “trust the courts.” A highly peculiar request, given many of these communities have no real reason to do so. This is not a case the community should sleep on under any circumstance. This is a case we should watch closely.

Los Angeles has been put in the eye of Oakland’s brewing storm.

Anthony Asadullah Samad

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Politics. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com.

UPDATE

Join Dr. Anthony A. Samad at the next breakfast forum to discuss the trial of the most controversial police shooting of the decade. On the panel will be members of Oscar Grant’s family.

Come out and hear the trial analysis by those in the courtroom most familiar with the case.

FRIDAY, June 25th, 2010

7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.

This forum will be held at:

Regency West, 3339 W.43rd St., Los Angeles, CA 90008

RSVP via e-mail to: urbanissuesforum@aol.com

or by calling (323)789-6224

The forum is FREE to the public. A FREE full breakfast will be served.

The Urban Issues Breakfast Forum is hosted by Author/Syndicated Columnist/Professor,

Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad

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Comments

  1. marie says

    Not adding a comment, does not mean the article was not read.
    Personally I did read all the articles on this case and was very disappointed with the “involuntary” manslaughter verdict. Nobody forced this cob to shoot than his own out-of-control emotions.
    Since we live in a country with race-problems, the jury should have been a mixed-racial group.
    I did not put in a comment, because I had nothing new to say. If someone comes up with a plan or suggestion what we can do to end this injustice, let me know.
    I don’t know what his punishment will be for involuntary manslaughter. I like to know. Just some jail-time seems to me not enough.

    • says

      thank you Marie – you are right, lack of comments isn’t necessarily an indication that the article isn’t being read. thank you for posting one this time. It is really appreciated.

  2. Altadena Alt Mom says

    Sharon expressed concern that D&S progressives did not click to this article enough. I admit I didn’t click to read it and did read the NAACP Marijuana article. Why? Because I’ve been reading and reading and reading and posting etc about Oscar Grant, but have gotten very little insight into the NAACP story anywhere in the media. So at least by my own clicking history, Sharon, know that this is the top of our concerns in the community. I lived only blocks away from the Bart station where the shooting occurred for over 15 years, and it sickens me what happened. I relied on D&S for information that wasn’t getting covered anywhere else.

    • says

      thank you for this comment — at least one other person has written to us directly giving a similar reason. These comments are very appreciated.

  3. Marshall says

    This is going to be a complex case as I remember some of the claims of each person there. I note you did not say who was holding the gun, just that the officer’s gun shot the victum. That is the most interesting claim I have heard, something else happened and you did not say what. Perhaps you are to be given credit for not saying the officer shot Grant. If the whole city is up to speed on this case, perhaps it needs to be moved, they already think they know what happened.

  4. twirling fartknocer says

    At least two inaccuracies in this piece. 1) Mehserle did not “alledgedly” shoot Oscar Grant — he did shoot him and that is not in question at all by either side in the trial (it’s about Mehserle’s “intention”), and 2) Mehserle was not nearly the first officer on the scene, and was not partners with Pirone — Mehserle was only on the platform about two minutes before he shot Oscar Grant in the back (Pirone and his partner Domenici are the ones first at the scene who physically and verbally abused Oscar Grant and his friends).

    Please, double-check what you know and think you know and sort the two out before you spread disinformation that is likely to stick in people’s minds. This is a serious case and the truth about the matter is important.

  5. jubilee shine says

    actually mehserle did not respond. officers pirone & domenici showed up & already had escalated conflict.

    mehserle came as backup and was only on the platform for two minutes before firing his pistol.

    grant was already detained and seated back to the wall when mehserle enters.

    mehserle made decisions.

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