Making Sense of the Mehserle Verdict

How'd we get to involuntary manslaughter?

By Kai Wright Jul 09, 2010

Emotions will be running high over the next several days in Oakland–and hopefully nationally, frankly. It’s tough to stomach the idea that [Johannes Mehserle will get no more than four years](/archives/2010/07/oscar_grant_verdict_merhserle_guilty_of_involuntary_manslaughter.html) and potentially parole alone for shooting an unarmed Oscar Grant in the back. But having followed Julianne Hing’s [wonderfully detailed courtroom coverage](/oscar-grant-trial/) of the trial, I can’t say I’m surprised. If you’re looking for answers to why and how the jury got to involuntary manslaughter, Julianne’s [pre-verdict analysis](/archives/2010/07/oscar_grant_trial_what_the_jury_will_consider.html) goes a long way toward explaining. She’ll have more analysis tomorrow. Of course, that’s just the specifics of this trial. The verdict raises many broader questions about police accountability, and we’ll be parsing those over the next few days here at ColorLines as well. In the meantime, I’m stuck on our commenter Micheal Blev’s succinct, sobering statement about how absurd the whole thing seems from a commonsense, if not legal perspective:

As a former defense attorney, I respect the jury system–it’s better than any alternatives. But jury trials can and do commit injustices. The jury captures both the wisdom and the folly of the community it comes from. This result shocks me from an evidentiary point of view (but certainly not from a socio-economic one). A trained police officer simple cannot be allowed, as a matter of law, to base his defense solely on a patently unbelievable claim that he mistook a yellow, unholstered, differently shaped and weighted Taser device for a holstered black firearm. A person of color would be laughed out of the Courtroom and given a Go Directly to Jail for Life card. You put on the badge, you’ve got the highest set of standards that will judge your conduct, not the lowest!

*Photo: AP/Cathleen Allison*