The Ghost of Oscar Grant

Supporters rally for justice  for Oscar Grant outside a Los Angeles courtroom. Photo: Dennis J. Freeman
Supporters rally for justice for Oscar Grant outside a Los Angeles courtroom. Photo: Dennis J. Freeman

(Editor’s note: This article and others that follow the next couple of days re-visit the criminal trial of the Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer who shot and killed an unarmed Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day in 2009. All articles,which appeared originally in the California Crusader News and later on this website,  were written by Dennis J. Freeman, who covered the trial of BART officer Johannes Mehserle as a freelance reporter. This is the first in a series.)  

Family Wants Justice for Oscar Grant

By Dennis J. Freeman

Los Angeles-The emotional toll of seeking justice has begun to wear on Wanda Johnson. Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant III, the unarmed black man who was shot to death by a former BART police officer on New Year’s Day, 2009, at a Bay Area BART station, was done in by exhaustion after the morning session of the criminal trial of Johannes Mehserle on Tuesday.

The racially-tinged case, which has triggered high emotions, hinge on whether Mehserle intentionally shot Grant in the back with his gun or mistakenly fired his weapon on the young man, thinking he was pulling out his Taser.  Johnson was emotional as she spoke with reporters after the morning session outside the criminal courts building downtown Los Angeles as she described the hurt of losing her son.

“He was killed for nothing,” Johnson told reporters. “There were more officers there. They could have called other officers. They could have beaten him like they did with Rodney King. But no, he (Mehserle) killed him. I believe it was done on purpose. He was murdered. It was not an accident.”

Johnson’s emotion’s got the best of her before she even went outside to speak with reporters. During the morning session as testimony was given, Johnson began to weep loudly during a portion of Tuesday’s testimony session. Jude Robert Perry called a short recess to get the courtroom back in order.

The criminal trial of Mehserle, the former Bay Area BART police officer accused of murdering Grant, is nearing the end of its run as closing arguments and jury deliberations are expected to begin this week. The family is hoping that Mehserle receive the maximum sentence for Grant’s death. Grant’s uncle, Cephus Johnson, who serves as the family spokesman, is clear on that front.

Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant, is overcome with exhaustion  during the criminal trial. Photo: Dennis J. Freeman
Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant, is overcome with exhaustion during the criminal trial. Photo: Dennis J. Freeman

“He was beat up prior to being murdered on that platform,” Cephus Johnson said. “You didn’t see his face and the injuries he suffered from the abuse that he got from the police officer on that platform. That is what angers us and hurts us so bad, because right now this whole issue is about Mehserle making a mistake, and yet not one time has this man ever cried until he sat on that witness stand…He’s concerned about going to prison.”

The trial of Mehserle was transferred from the Bay area to a Los Angeles courtroom because of its high-profile amid a racially-charged atmosphere. Grant was shot and killed by Mehserle at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, California on New Year’s Day.

At the core of the issue of the trial is whether or not this was an accidental shooting or something along the lines of a wrongful death. On Tuesday, as the defense rested its case, several BART police officers gave testimonies of their version of what they said transpired.

Three of those police officers who testified during Tuesday morning’s wrap up session at the criminal courts building in downtown Los Angeles, offered testimony that would suggest that Mehserle was surprised at the outcome of the altercation on the platform of the Bart station. In earlier testimony during the trial, Mehserle testified that he thought he was reaching for his Taser, not his gun.

One officer testified that when the incident took place the shot fired didn’t sound like one.

“I didn’t know what it was,” the officer told jurors. “At the time, to me it sounded like a firecracker. It appeared he (Mehserle) didn’t know what to do, what to do next. He looked pretty scared; it didn’t seem he knew what to do.”

A second police officer echoed what the first officer said about Mehserle’s action after the shooting.

“He looked shocked,” said the officer.

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