Protesters rioted in Oakland late Nov. 5 and early Nov. 6 in the wake of the two-year minimum prison sentence given to an ex-transit officer who killed an unarmed African-American man.
Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant while trying to arrest him on an Oakland train platform two years ago. Since then, the case has sparked occasional racial strife in Oakland. Hours after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry handed down the sentence Nov. 5, people took to the streets in anger over what they saw as a lenient sentence.
A rally billed as a tribute to Grant turned into a march through downtown before turning violent. Angry demonstrators broke car and bus windows as they began “tearing up the city” according to Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts.
Batts told CNN that people were throwing rocks, bottles and trash, and ripped up fences.
“I want to be clear that people have a right to assemble, a right to protest and a right to free speech,” the police chief said. “But people do not have a right to tear this city up. Oakland already has a lot of pain, and it’s not fair. This city has been torn up too many times.”
Many local business owners in the area sympathized with the protesters, but didn’t think they were doing themselves a service by rioting.
“They have a right to be angry to an extent, but don’t break other people’s stuff,” Mohammed Mofeed, owner of a liquor store near the area where a large group of people were arrested, told the Associated Press. “If you’re going to protest, protest right. Don’t vandalize other people’s property.”
More than 150 people have been arrested in connection with the riot, compounding the grief of the shooting victim‘s family. Bobby Cephus Johnson, Grant’s uncle, told the AP that his nephew’s death is linked to a “racist criminal justice system.”
Mehserle was convicted in July of involuntary manslaughter in the Jan. 1, 2009 shooting death of Grant. During the trial, the former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer said Grant was resisting arrest while face down on a train platform, and Mehserle attempted to pull his Taser to subdue Grant but instead pulled his gun, and shot him.
The jury acquitted Mehserle of the more serious charges of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, a verdict that sparked unruly protests and disorderly conduct arrests in July.
According to CNN, in sentencing Mehserle, Perry declined to add an “enhancement” to the sentence due to the use of a firearm in commission of the crime, which would have added 14 years to the prison term. According to sentencing documents provided by the prosecution, Mehserle could be released from prison in as little as seven months, CNN reported.
Mehserle, was apologetic following his sentencing, and wanted Grant’s family to know that he takes full responsibility for killing Grant.
“I shot a man,” he said. “I killed a man. It should not have happened.”
“I want to say how deeply sorry I am,” Mehserle said in the courtroom. “Nothing I ever say or do will heal the wound. I will always be sorry for taking Mr. Grant from them.”