The following statement was released by the Black Elected Officials and Faith Based Leaders of the East Bay a few hours after the sentencing of former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle.
The organizations and individuals listed below condemn today’s sentencing of former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle. The sentence of two years minus time served is far more lenient than would normally be handed down in similar cases not involving law enforcement defendants. Combined with an already lenient conviction for involuntary manslaughter, the slap on the wrist for the murder of Oscar Grant is a snapshot of everything wrong with the criminal justice system.
Were the roles reversed and a white police officer had been killed by an African American civilian, the chances are high that the defendant would be facing life in prison if not capital punishment. In this case, Mehserle could have faced only as many as 14 years in prison for an involuntary manslaughter conviction with a gun enhancement. Instead, he will spend as little as seven months in prison.
Police officers across the country shoot and kill an average of one person a day and people of color are an overrepresented proportion of the dead. These victims are often unarmed, yet the perpetrators are rarely prosecuted much less disciplined. Civil lawsuits brought by family members are occasionally successful, but because of the nature of law enforcement shootings, much of the evidence in such cases is collected by law enforcement and therefore suspect.
The undersigned call for greater transparency regarding police misconduct. This includes, among other things, greater access to previous complaints against officers and agency-wide information about shootings.
The undersigned call for genuine civilian oversight of law enforcement. Police must be accountable to the communities in which they work. Although BART is creating a civilian oversight board for its police force, like many other California police oversight structures, this new board will not have real power to take necessary action against officers.
Finally, the undersigned urge the Justice Department, which is already looking into the matter of Oscar Grant’s killing, to take action and prosecute Mehserle since the state proceeding has lacked the due process and thoroughness necessary to reach a just outcome.
These actions are necessary if California is to have safer, healthier communities, and if shootings like Oscar Grant’s are to be prevented in the future.
The Black Elected Officials and Faith Based Leaders
The California Branch of the NAACP
The Oakland Branch of the NAACP
The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, San Francisco Chapter
Black Women Organized for Political Action, California Chapter
Minister Keith Muhammad, Nation of Islam
Rabbi David Copper of the Kehilla Community Synagogue
Updated: Added You Tube video. Courtesy of Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson