Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Oscar Grant Verdict: So Where Exactly is the Injustice?

 Look, it's no secret that the involuntary manslaughter conviction and potential 2-4 year sentence of Johanness Merhsele in the Oscar Grant trial presents itself to be yet another injustice face by African Americans. I suppose that anything short of a public flogging and subsequent beheading as punishment in this case isn't justice in the minds of many, who just so happen to be black. Well I say, though understandable, it's a misguided and ill-formed opinion. Moreover, much of it lies in the assumption that justice wasn't served because the victim in this case died at the hands of a white man, who happened to be a police officer.

NOTE: Black folks kill each other senselessly everyday and nobody riots.

Now I understand quite clearly the historical context of "justice" as it applies to minorities here in the US of A. But the automatic assumption that justice wasn't served in this case, I find to be be sadly shrouded in tribal knee-jerked reactions. Sure I know this is hard to accept coming from me the ever present and always on the job racism ambulance chaser that I am. But, being a habitual line stepper and free thinker, I would be remiss if I didn't call bullshit, or keep it real as I do on this site as I do.

Over the last few days I've communicated with people on and offline on the subject of this verdict. The one thing that remains consistent is that people are of the opinion that an "involuntary manslaughter" conviction wasn't good enough, because the cop in this case deliberately shot and killed an unarmed black man. A black man who at the time was laying face down on the pavement. Yes, like you I saw the video clip; but what amazes me, is the absolute deafening silence when I ask people to prove that officer Merhsele intentionally, willfully, and deliberately pulled the trigger to execute Oscar Grant.

Even more troubling, is the lack of understanding of involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, or second-degree murder as legally defined in California; or the choices the jury had to make in this case. With that said, let's take a look at the breakdown of said definitions as it applied to a conviction of Merhsele:

SECOND-DEGREE MURDER: An intentional killing that was neither planned or premeditated. The jury had to be convinced that Merhsele fired his gun deliberately.

VOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER: Oscar Grant was killed in the "heat of passion" without intent. The jury had to believe that Merhsele's fear of danger from Grant and his friends was unreasonable

INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER: Killing of another person with "criminal negligence". The jury had to believe that Merhsele's deviations from training were so profound that it was criminal.

ACQUITTAL: Accused not found guilty. The jury would conclude and accept  that Merhsele used appropriate level of force for the level of threat he perceived.

So now I ask, after reading the four choices they were given above, just which outcome or verdict is acceptable. Better yet, if you were on the jury, which one would you argue or vote for? Further, just exactly what evidence or testimony would you use to press your argument? Yep, make your case; I'm listening...

Now, before you do, assuming that you're one of those second-degree murder advocates. It is important to understand that the jury was instructed on the legal definition of second-degree murder as it applied to the defendant. Their instructions stipulated that second-degree murder occurred if, "When the defendant acted, he had a state of mind called malice aforethought." Which is a state of mind that was clearly defined for jurors as "a mental state that must be formed before the act that causes death is committed."

Now, if you can prove to me just what was in Merhsele's head right before he pulled the trigger, I'd love to see you do just that; if you can I'd kiss your ass on Main Street with a camera crew in tow. You see, that's just it; the prosecution was unable to convince the jury that he had said mental state. In layman's terms, there was not sufficient evidence presented to substantiate that claim, hence their inability to find consensus on the decision of second-degree murder.

Yeah I know it's clear on tape what happened, but it wasn't enough. And fortunately, serving on a jury requires individuals to think, rather than react when one's life hangs in the balance; in the court of public opinion, there's no such requirement, and that's the difference. See in court, unlike out in the streets, it's not about what you know, it's what you can prove. And fortunately for the defendant in this case, his "taser defense" created enough reasonable doubt for the jury to buy into; enough so to toss out a second-degree murder conviction.

I know in your mind you're probably of the opinion that if there were black people on the jury that the outcome would have been different. As for me, I don't buy into that; irrespective of race and the racial subtext  of this case, given the presentation by both sides, I think the outcome would be the same (my wife thinks it would have been a mistrial). Hell, if the jury were majority black and they ruled in favor against a white cop with a second-degree murder conviction based on emotion and nothing else like the idiots who were rioting Oakland, would that be justice?

In closing, I wanna say that I'm glad that Merhsele was not acquitted; and I believe it was due in large part to the collective activism (on and offline) of concerned individuals who champion for justice. Sure it might not seem right that a cop can kill an unarmed black man and only serve a 2-4 year sentence. And yes you may be of the opinion that this is yet another example of just how black bodies are valued in America. If that's what you wanna do then by all means do so. However, at least know the facts of this specific case before doing so. I say that because it sure would be nice to hear just who dropped the ball and how, rather than age old empty rhetoric. If you think this is an injustice? There's a family with the last name Bell who would say differently.


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