A WHITE former transit police officer was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in a videotaped shooting death of an unarmed black man last year in Oakland, California, sparking a wave of looting and destruction in the city on Thursday night.
The verdict prompted a peaceful protest by up to 1,000 people in downtown Oakland, which gave way after nightfall to some people looting stores, smashing car windows, throwing powerful fireworks at police and lighting fires in trash cans.
The police, numbering in the hundreds, made more than 50 arrests, but Oakland police expected that figure could double.
“This city is not the wild, wild West,” Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts told a televised news conference. “This city will not tolerate this activity.”
A Los Angeles jury deliberated for about six hours over two days before reaching their decision about the shooting on a train platform in Oakland, indicating they deemed it a tragic accident rather than the intentional act of a rogue cop.
The defendant in the racially charged trial, Johannes Mehserle, 28, testified that he mistakenly drew his gun instead of his electric Taser and shot Oscar Grant, 22, while trying to subdue him during a confrontation on New Year’s Day 2009.
But prosecutors, who sought a conviction for second-degree murder, said Mehserle had “lost all control” and shot Grant on purpose because he thought Grant was resisting arrest.
“We are outraged that the jury did not find guilty of murder in a case that is so egregiously excessive and mishandled,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Mehserle, who had been free on $3 million (€2.37m) bond, showed no reaction as the verdict was read and was immediately taken into custody. The former police officer for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail system faces sentencing on August 6.
Relatives of Grant, a young father who worked as a grocery store butcher, reacted with outrage. “My son was murdered, and the law hasn’t held the officer accountable the way he should be,” Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, shouted outside the courthouse.
Video footage of Grant lying face down as Mehserle shot him in the back was taken by onlookers and shown over the internet and television.
Mehserle was seen holstering his gun immediately afterward and putting his hands on his head as in disbelief.
The judge in the case, which was moved to Los Angeles, held there was too little evidence to show the killing was premeditated, ruling out a first-degree murder conviction.
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