Remembering the Johannes Merserle Verdict in the Murder of Oscar Grant

>> Friday, July 8, 2011

One year ago today, former BART police officer Johannes Merserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter by a Los Angeles jury that excluded all African Americans.

Oakland found Mehserle guilty of murder.

Graphic: Colorlines Magazine

I was one of the first reporters to arrive at 14th and Broadway that afternoon as we awaited the news from the the courtroom.

Youth Radio captured my initial sentiments on the Johannes Mehserle Verdict as such:
Reginald James, a teacher at the Oakland Freedom School, said of the scene after the verdict, "It's a media circus--they're trying to capitalize off others' pain. See someone crying, go take their photo."

He said when the verdict came down, "People were paralyzed. Some people didn't know what to expect, some were surprised, for some people it kinda confirmed what's already been implied in the mainstream press. I cant even get a sandwich downtown right now because people expected acquittal or involuntary manslaughter, which would lead people to revert to property damage or violence."

I first heard the verdict from an elderly Black woman. She walked past me saying, "Involuntary Manslaughter," and called it "some bullshit." Because she didn't look "official," there was a delayed reaction. But right then, I knew. Soon after, another person yelled, "Involuntary Manslaughter, that's some bullshit. *&*#!!!!" Photographers and reporters were just as stunned as activists and community members who gathered.

I came to 14th and Broadway to document the people's gathering as a photojournalist. Instead of shooting however, I ended up consoling two friends and Laney College classmates. I'm one of those "sensitive" photographers. I'm sure there are some shots of missed. Even though some friends call me "Black Paparazzi," I find myself apprehensive about invading people's space.

While warding off an annoying Associated Press photographer, another photographer managed to get the shot above. Justin Warren ( captured one of the images that I remember most about that day: Me being there for two friends in the shadow of the Amerikkkan flag.

"Is this America?" asked one man, who had hopes for justice in the U.S. criminal legal system. "This can't be happening!" screamed one of the young women I was with. Her cries, her screams, her wail woke many of us out of post-verdict paralysis. Her raw emotion, captured, wound up on the front page of the Oakland Tribune the next day.

Nonetheless, as I reflect on July 8, 2010. I remember the death of my play-grandpa Dr. David Blackwell, and I recall the recurrent death of my faith that justice can be found in Amerikkkan courtrooms.
Written 5/29/2011

Images: (1) Casa Cabrones, (2) Justin Warren photography



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