Depending on whom you believe, BART police officer Johannes Mehserle was either a raging, murdering racist or a well-intentioned, but accident prone officer who only wanted to torture Oscar Grant, not kill him.
The problem is, there is no evidence to support either scenario.
All we know for sure is that Mehserle pulled out his gun and shot a man in cold blood. Shot him in the back at point blank range. Shot him dead while the man was restrained.
The act was so blatant and so implausible that it is not surprising that people fall into one of the two above categories. Even the news headlines seem to fall into either category, ranging from a “Legal lynching”, as if Ice Cube suddenly became a copy editor, to “Oakland murder mystery”, as if Colonel Mustard somehow killed Grant in the library with the candlestick.
The only other explanation, some suggest, is that Mehserle was predestined to kill because he happened to be born on Jan. 5, 1981, which means he has an “overbearing streak and an authoritative attitude.” You just can’t trust those trigger-happy Capricorns.
But seriously, just because Mehserle gave off an “oh shit” expression after he shot Grant and quickly placed his hands on his head does not prove he meant to grab his Taser gun instead of his gun.
And just because he shot and killed an unarmed man in front of a large group of people is not justification to say that he would have known better, so surely he must have meant to reach for his Taser gun. Besides, it is still not fully confirmed whether he even had a Taser gun in the first place.
For all we know, he lost his temper and flew into an uncontrollable rage, fired his gun, then realized he had made a grave mistake. No different than a driver who flicks somebody off in traffic, only to realize how stupid and dangerous this is. Or than a parent who slaps her child in frustration, only to instantly regret it. Sound familiar?
As long as we’re speculating, we might even theorize that he has some anger management issues that he inherited from his father, who thanks to a reaching expose by SFist, we now know more about Todd Mehserle than about Johannes Mehserle. Yes, this might be a stretch, but it’s no secret that short tempers are hereditary. Take it from me because I get it from both sides of the family.
And while it is true that police brutality against black men in this country has long been rampant, the evidence of murder in this case strongly outweigh any evidence of racism, so that should be the focus. And who is to say that Mehserle would have refrained from shooting Grant had he been white? After all, when somebody loses their temper, all they see is red.
But still, it’s hard to ignore the racial aspect when Grant was one of three black male victims of questionable police shootings in the country within that same 24 hour period.
The other shootings include Adolph Grimes, a 22-year-old black man with no criminal record who was shot 14 times by New Orleans police, including 12 times in the back; and Robbie Tolan, a 23-year-old minor league baseball player who was shot in his parents’ driveway in Houston after police mistakenly thought he was driving a stolen vehicle.
Grimes had a gun on him when he was killed but he also had a permit for it, according to his lawyer. And the seven officers who shot him were in plainclothes and had stormed out of an unmarked police car. Even the police chief has acknowledged that perhaps Grimes didn’t know they were cops.
Police claim Grimes shot at them first, which is why they had to unload on him. A total of 48 shells were found at the scene. The FBI is now investigating.
Tolan, the son of a former major league baseball player and World Series champion, was sober and unarmed when he pulled up to his parents’ house in Bellaire, Texas, a suburb of Houston, a predominantly white neighborhood.
Bellaire police ran Tolan’s license plate number through the database and learned that the car was stolen. Only it wasn’t stolen and police are now claiming that the officer misread one of the numbers on Tolan’s license plate and it came back to a stolen Nissan, the same make of car Nolan was driving.
That should be easy to prove but police have not provided any evidence that there is even a stolen Nissan out there with similar license plate numbers.
Police did not even pull up behind Tolan, but snuck up on them on foot, according to Tolan’s cousin, Anthony Cooper, who was a passenger in the car.
“We did not know it was a police officer,” said Cooper. “He said, ‘Stop. Stop.’ And we were like, ‘Why? Who are you?’”
The officers ordered both men to lie down on the ground. Tolan’s parents heard the commotion and came outside. Police will only say an “altercation” took place. Tolan’s family say it involved his mother.
“The cop pushed her against the wall,” said Tolan’s uncle, Mike Morris.
Relatives say Tolan started to lean up from the ground to ask the officer what he was doing to his mother. That’s when the family says Tolan was shot in the chest, the bullet piercing his lung and then lodging in his liver.
Now Tolan is recovering in a hospital with a bullet lodged in his liver.
While the last two stories suggest that police acted recklessly and impulsively, and possibly even criminally and racially, we have no video evidence proving that Grimes never pulled his gun or that Tolan never lunged at police, as they claimed.
But we have plenty of video evidence that Mehserle shot Grant in cold blood. But many people are still making excuses in order to justify Mehserle’s actions. Had there been no video, you can be sure this would have been written off as another officer “feared for his life” justification.
But because of the video, the incident has sparked an outrage that has transcended all ethnic, cultural, economic and political classes. This is not a white vs black incident. This is a blue vs non-blue incident. This is a police vs civilian incident. In fact, there are many police officers who are appalled at this incident. This was a murder incident. Clear and simple.
Also, by making this a racial issue, there is a danger of marginalizing the rest of us who have not been harassed and threatened and arrested for our skin color (although we have for other things); the thousands of us who are equally as appalled by this shooting.
And this is especially true when some members of Oakland’s black community turn violent during peaceful protests. Some of the protesters even attacked a news videographer, which is a sure way to marginalize this appalled, non-black journalist.
By attacking journalists and burning police cars and vandalizing businesses in their own neighborhoods, this handful of criminals end up marginalizing the entire black community, which wants what most of us want: Justice.
Besides, as Oakland’s black community has already learned, police and media will not hesitate to exaggerate what actually took place in the protest, by claiming that more than 300 businesses were vandalized when it was actually about 50 businesses.
The protests must continue but not a single other business needs to be vandalized nor another videographer attacked. I’m dead serious about that one. And for that matter, not a single cop car torched as tempting as it may seem. It’s time to rise above all that.
The one lesson that we should all have learned from this incident is that every citizen should arm themselves. With cameras, that is. Preferably video cameras.
Because unlike guns, the only regrets you will ever have with a camera is when you don’t shoot.