Hundreds flooded the streets of downtown Oakland on the evening of July 8 after a verdict in the trial of Oscar Grant’s shooting death.
Johannes Mehserle, a former White transit officer, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter which could land him in jail for up to four years.
However, many in Oakland believe justice had not been served and expected a harsher sentence for the former officer, who shot Grant – a 22-year-old unarmed African American on a BART train New Year’s Day 2009.
According to Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts, at least 50 people were arrested in the hours after the verdict for breaking storefront windows and throwing items onto local streets. According to The Associated Press, rioting peaked around 8 p.m. (11 p.m. EST) with an estimated 800 people protesting in the streets.
Early that day, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums released a statement expressing his personal support for Grant’s family.
“My hope is that justice will be served. I want to reiterate that the journey to justice does not have to end here,” said Dellums, the city’s third Black mayor. “If young Oscar Grant’s parents, who out of respect should make this decision, determine that justice has not been served, then I will commit myself to work with the family and their attorney to continue this journey to justice.”
Dellums continued by urging Oakland residents to “react in a manner that respects” Grant’s life and to “show the nation that we can be a model city as a total community.”
In a more overt statement, Batts said city police “anticipate protests following the reading of the verdict and have heard of possible outside agitation in an attempt to turn the peaceful movement into acts of civil unrest.”
Grant’s shooting, which was caught on a cell phone camera and later went viral on YouTube, spurred national outrage and protests in Oakland. The victim’s family had hoped the jury would find Mehserle guilty of murder, said attorney John Burris in a press conference.
“As you can imagine we are extremely disappointed with this verdict. The verdict is not a true representative of what happened to Oscar Grant and what the officer did to him that night. This is not an involuntary man case,” said Burris. “This was a truly compromised verdict that does not truly and accurately reflect the facts and we are extraordinarily disappointed in that. We do believe this was a murder case…We are surprised that the jury came back as quickly as they did and seemed to be very dismissive of the murder charge and involuntary manslaughter.”
The jury, which did not include any African Americans, found Mehserle to be criminally negligent and did not believe he intentionally killed Grant. The former officer has repeatedly said he intended to shoot Grant with a taser gun, not his firearm.
Mehserle is set for sentencing on Aug. 6.