Oakland Waits For Verdict In BART Shooting Trial
Jury deliberations are under way in the trial of a former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer accused of fatally shooting an unarmed man on a train platform in Oakland, Calif. The officer says he mistakenly pulled his gun when he meant to use his Taser to subdue the suspect.
The case of the white officer and the black victim has sparked racial tensions, so the trial was moved to Los Angeles.
Videos shot by passengers show different angles of the same grim scene: Oscar Grant, 22, is being detained by police, suspected of having been in a fight. He is lying face down on a train platform. Former BART officer Johannes Mehserle is above him. And then, there's a gunshot.
On the witness stand, Mehserle broke down in tears and called it a huge mistake. He said he intended to reach for his Taser and was stunned by the sound of a pop. Mehserle said he was even more shocked to see the gun in his hand. He testified that he has no memory of going for his gun or pulling the trigger.
Prosecutors paint a different picture. They say Mehserle and his fellow BART officers were trying to subdue Grant when the defendant lost control of his emotions and used his gun. The district attorney says that amounts to second-degree murder.
Grant's uncle Cephus Johnson agrees: "It is our hope, as a family, again, that the jurors are looking at it from the perspective that I would look at from, and that is, that it leads to second-degree murder."
There has been a series of delays in jury deliberations, leaving Oakland residents and law enforcement on edge. The city hopes to avoid more violent protests like the one that happened soon after the shooting. Storefronts were vandalized and a police car was burned.
Oakland police are on 12-hour shifts and have undergone riot training. A demonstration is planned for the evening of the verdict, but police Chief Anthony Batts is trying to talk down expectations of violence.
"We will deal with the individuals -- we will not deal with the entire crowd," Batts says. "If you have individuals that are doing things that are dysfunctional or illegal, we will take action pretty quickly to resolve with that."
Still, there's a lot of pent-up tension, especially in Oakland's African-American community, where a verdict of less than murder would not be welcomed.
"Police brutality is rampant in our community," says Leslie Phillips, who is with the group New Years Movement for Justice. The group was formed after Grant's death.
"There is hardly a single person in Oakland -- especially a black person in Oakland -- who hasn't been affected by police brutality," Phillips says. "When you add that up, for generation upon generation, you can understand where that anger and that rage and that frustration comes from."
Some downtown merchants have boarded up their storefronts. Others, in a sign of solidarity, have posters of Grant pasted to their windows.
For all the anger, there are many who believe violence would be another setback for the beleaguered city.
"The poor businesses in Oakland -- those people do not deserve to have their businesses vandalized," says resident Kelley Brock. "They haven't done anything. Oakland needs to step up and stop this -- it's been going on for too long."
Grant's family hopes Oakland will remain calm.
"I have stated many times before: The family is of a nonviolent nature," says Johnson, Grant's uncle. "It is our belief that the activists we have come to know, who have supported us and embracing us, will demonstrate in a nonviolent nature. That is our prayer and our wish."
The jury resumes deliberations Thursday.
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