The city of Oakland prepared for widespread riots Thursday as the verdict in a racially charged murder trial came down in Los Angeles.
Former BART officer Johannes Mehserle, 28, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the deadly January 1, 2009, shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant.
Grant’s family hoped the jury would find Mehserle guilty of second degree murder, which carries a stiffer sentence.
Mehserle faces between five and 14 years in prison. But, many who followed the case closely said the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
Hundreds in Oakland gathered in protest just moments after the verdict was announced.
Police draped in riot gear were staged on the streets prepared for violence to break out.
“This is a true compromise verdict that does not truly and accurately reflect the facts,” said John Burris, Grant’s attorney.
The jury took six and a half hours over two days to reach the verdict.
“My son was murdered and the law has not held the officer accountable the way he should be held accountable,” said Wanda Grant, the victim’s mother.
Despite his disapointment, Burris said involuntary manslaughter is better than an acquittal.
“Being involved in police matters since 1979 and well over 30 homicides involving the police,” said Burris. “I’ve never had a case where an officer was convicted of any crime against an African-American.”
In court, Burris insisted that Mehserle lost control and shot Grant intentionally.
Mehserle’s attorney called the shooting a tragic mistake and argued that the ex-BART cop confused his Taser for his gun.
Cell phone video captured the shooting and showed Grant laying face down and unarmed. The images spread quickly, and so did the anger in Oakland’s black community.
Civil unrest followed, and many took to the streets in massive numbers to demonstrate.
The trial moved to Los Angeles because of boiled over tensions in Oakland. With the verdict out, businesses were boarded up in case tensions erupt again.
“I have no power over the people in Oakland or any community that feels they’ve been slapped in the face by the system,” said Cephus Johnson, the victim’s uncle.
Oakland city hall was closed down Thursday, and police officials cautioned people against riding BART for the day.
Police in and around Oakland will be on heavy patrol over the next few days.
“That is our job,” said Chief Anthony Batts, with the Oakland Police Department, “To facilitate first amendment rights”
Mehserle’s sentencing is scheduled for august sixth.