No Black Jurors In Oscar Grant Trial, But It Might Not Matter Anyway

By Julianne Hing Jun 09, 2010

The 18 jurors in the Oscar Grant trial–six are alternates–have been selected, and none of them are Black. News of the jury’s racial composition has angered community members and the Grant family. "It feels like we already have lost," Traci Cooper, a friend of the Grant family, told KTVU.

The jury’s made up of eight women and four men. Of the 12, seven are white, four are Latino, and one is of South Asian descent. Among the alternates, there are two Latinas, two Asian American women, one white woman and another white man.

There is frustration among people who say the lack of Black representation on the jury will weaken chances that no justice will come in the murder trial of Johannes Mehserle, the BART cop who shot the unarmed Oscar Grant in the back on New Year’s Day. But in the history of high-profile cop shooting cases, racial composition of the jury doesn’t always mean much.

The jury that acquitted the four New York police officers who killed Amadou Diallo was made up of four Blacks and eight whites. The three detectives who killed Sean Bell were all acquitted by a judge, after they waived their rights to a jury trial. The 1992 jury that acquitted the police officers who beat Rodney King was predominantly white. The family of Patrick Dorismond, the Black man who was shot and killed by an undercover New York police officer in 2000, didn’t even get to see that cop brought to trial. A grand jury declined to indict the officer.

What seems to be far more important is the race of the defendant; the defining strain in these cases is that the defendants were all white cops–though the cop who killed Dorismond was Latino–whose violent assaults on men of color were deemed aberrations among law enforcement.

How much the racial composition of the jury will impact their ability to make a fair and just decision is uncertain. And regardless of that fact, the track record for convicting police officers of their violent acts of brutality is poor.

Much of the pre-trial momentum had given the defense other advantages. Superior Court Judge Robert Perry ruled that the defense could raise the fact that Grant had been detained by San Leandro cops before and had resisted arrest. Today, Perry ruled on three other motions the defense made that will likely strengthen the prosecution against Mehserle. Perry said that Sophina Mesa, Grant’s partner and the mother of their daughter, will be allowed to testify. Mehserle’s attorney wanted to keep a racially charged exchange between another BART cop and Oscar Grant from being raised during court, but Perry also denied that motion.