In the first years my husband and I were married, we went to a family barbecue--my family's barbecue. My father-in-law was a small-town/rural family doctor, who also was the medical director at the local hospital, and the chief medical officer for the local small-town retirement home. My husband was in his first year of medical school. Previous to that, he had worked in many mental health clinics and hospitals.
I warned my husband that my dad would probably pigeon-hole him somewhere down the line. "My dad has a lot of definite opinions," I warned. "He frequently likes to yell about them when he gets going."
"Okay," my husband said, calm as always. "Thanks for the warning."
True to form, my father leaned over my husband (both of them the same height, over six feet--it was done by body language) on the back porch for hours.
"What did you guys talk about?" I asked, on the ride home.
"Your dad has never been a doctor, he never had a dad that was a doctor, and he's never worked in the hospital industry. He was in sales, right? Did he ever sell medical products?"
"Well, he told me all about the medical industry, how it was conducted and organized, and what its likely future was."
I nodded my head. "Yup, that sounds about right."
Sometimes I think the public shares this quality of my Dad's, especially when it comes to police work: two minutes of video, and they're freaking experts. I am not an expert either, but I have spent more than two minutes on it. So I'm going to give it a go.
II. The Videos.
Here is a short one. It makes us feel sick, of course it does. No decent person wants to see another person killed. So you'll have to watch it more than once if you want to see what happens. And even then, you can't see everything. All of the video records are incomplete witnesses.
Most of the videos have a lot of coverage of the ceiling. They all record the casual feeling and also a gotcha attitude in the crowd--both laughing but also recording, heckling. We civilians who access YouTube watched these with little or no prior knowledge of the terrain, the procedures, or any idea of what it's like to be stuck in a crowd that automatically hates you, surrounds you, and may bully forward at any moment. Many of us don't know how to handle weapons or the adrenaline that accumulates in such a situation. It's not the same as getting mobbed leaving a stadium after a baseball game.
Oscar Grant was resisting arrest in an enclosed space with limited exits and a huge crowd. He reached for a pocket. A full search of his person had not yet occurred, so it was more than possible he had a weapon. Officer Mehserle wanted to Tase him so that they could follow safe procedures and get control of a disintegrating situation. If Mr. Grant had pulled a gun, there is no telling how much more blood there would have been. Police killed, but also innocent bystanders. All of whom were screaming their support to Mr. Grant. They were not helping Mr. Grant, and Mr. Grant was not helping himself.
You can also see how upset the police officers are. How unprepared for the outcome of a gunshot. It was an accident. Compare and contrast it to Video # 1 in the footnotes, where successive attempts to kill (this time a police officer) mean the violence drags out, more and more and more.
But many of us felt free to judge without walking that mile in the shoes, or even, Lord help us, thinking it through. Would you choose to kill someone in that arena? I think not, unless you had a death wish for yourself and all your colleagues. Officer Mehserle had no such intention. It truly was an accident brought on by the conflict at hand.
I read that the prosecutors noted that the weight of a Taser is different than the weight of a gun, and Officer Mehserle should have known as he pulled it. I don't think the weight in his hand was anywhere near top of the list of things to consider when Mr. Grant might be pulling a gun out of an unsearched pocket. He also wasn't holding it very long.
III. A Quote.
From the sidebar of the blog: The Johnny Law Chronicles, a quote from Otto Bismarck:
"People who love sausage and people who believe in justice should never watch either of them being made."
I don't believe that. I just know that it's hard to watch the videos where crime is committed and apprehensions are made. And that's in an armchair, with a cup of coffee. I don't have to live it, smell it, taste it. I don't have to face the gun or wash off the lice or the vomit or the sweat.
Every day, police officers face the unknown from a routine traffic stop (Video #1 below) to the fall of a skyscraper in New York City. They get run over by people who want to resist capture or questioning. They get mauled by the neighbors of someone who stops them for a traffic ticket (Video #3). They got shot in their agency's parking lot or in their parents' front yard, at subway exits, when they're talking on their cell phones, or reviewing procedures with a new officer in their police car. They get shot in coffee shops as they try to catch up work.
Therefore, they have procedures. Procedures alone will not save them, but it minimizes their risk somewhat. If Oscar Grant had followed procedures, he would be alive today.
IV. The Verdict.
So I am not all the way up on the law. At first I thought that the verdict of involuntary manslaughter was a good sign: not murder one. Not murder two. Then I read that the sentencing guidelines might add an extra ten years to the two to four for involuntary manslaughter. Mr. Mehserle shouldn't even go in for two. Not two days, two months, or two years.
The truth is, this was a regrettable accident. Police officers have a risk of accident like everyone else. Mr. Grant was resisting, and he was reaching for a pocket.
There should have been a not guilty verdict for any charge.
Furthermore, it should never have gone to court at all. There should have been an agency-driven, administrative hearing, as exhaustive as hell and conducted by perhaps a non-involved agency.
There are so many cowards in this account, that I will make a list.
If I've missed any, just write on in.
1. The onlookers, for not acknowledging their part in driving this situation to the brink.
2. The family of Oscar Grant, for not acknowledging their part in Mr. Grant's regrettable choices during his life.
3. The armchair pundits who trade in outrage and make rules for a profession they have no experience in, and who do not seek to learn.
4. The city officials who deemed it necessary to change procedure in the face of contention they did not avoid anyway.
5. The city attorneys, who washed their hands and left their own best partners (the police) to hang in the wind while they garnered publicity and votes.
6. Law enforcement officials, high in the BART agency, who did not speak up about ordinary procedures that they have for shooting situations.
7. The community leaders who enable demonstrations that sock all the responsibility on one party, and who,
b. allow violent elements to take advantage of their group, knowing they will show up; and
c. yet disclaim responsibility for that unofficial alliance, and
d. fail to see that incendiary language adds to the possibility of violence.
8. So-called moderates who invoke or continue to emphasize racial distinctions, such as in the jury composition, without mentioning any other quality of the jury because they are too lazy or afraid to look;
9. News accounts that emphasize race above any other distinction or action of any other party, because they are afraid to say anything else.
Mr. Mehserle had to resign from BART law enforcement in order to capture proper legal counsel and defend himself. His reputation is trashed, he faces up to 15 years in prison. His sentencing hearing is on August 6th.
If any of you have any standing with the Almighty whatsoever, pray that Johannes Mehserle is sentenced with time served. Because he is in huge danger otherwise, for something that was an honest mistake, involuntary, brought about by pressured events. He was brave enough to be in harm's way. A bunch of cowards have put him where he is today. They all forced Johannes Mehserle under the magnifying glass so that they did not have to look at themselves--or face scrutiny by others.
VI. Final Note.
Perhaps I am like my father, blathering on past my expertise. If I have something wrong here about law, police procedure, or the trial, somebody write in. I wrote two letters to police officers I sort of know, reaching out for information. Then I realized: they are too besieged, too stoic, and too disappointed to write me back. So I just went ahead on.
And though I am angry on behalf of Johannes Mehserle, and think Mr. Grant's parents didn't help him enough, I realize that's also armchair talk. Perhaps the family of Oscar Grant won't believe this, but I am sorry for their loss. It can not be easy. It is perhaps natural to look for someone to blame.
Johannes Mehserle apologized, and of course that is not enough to assuage the grief. But Johannes Mehserle did not want to kill your son. Allowing him to be a cause, and then the cause of a riot, is dangerous to the other sons still living, of all colors, races, creeds, and financial conditions. It sacrifices another life today, and it sends countless others down a bad road.
This was hard to write.
References, besides those above, are below the jump, including videos mentioned above.
BART Officer charged, the LA Times blog
A "moderate" pundit with no basis to speak.
Officer Smith on the Oakland riots.
The Philosophical Cop with an accurate prediction.
The San Francisco Chronicle on the verdict.
Motorcop on the charges in California state law. An important read.
Motorcop with Mehserle's written apology
Footnote 1: Video of Law Enforcement Officer Shot at Routine Traffic Stop.
Footnote 2: Oakland's mayor suggest "we take a look at our community" but he defines it as police taking a look at their policies.
Video # 3: Assault of Police officer in a neighborhood. H/T Things Worth Believing in.