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The BART shooting trial, and race relations in modern America

Updated on September 6, 2011

Mehserle/Grant Shooting Summary

This is a summary, and a lot of details will be glossed over. See Wikipedia entry for details

New Years Day 2009, at the Fruitvale BART transit station in Oakland, Oscar Grant and some friends were detained by BART police officers, after responding to a report of fighting on the train platform. Several officers were on scene, but the situation is chaotic, and the train was full of revelers (numbered in the hundreds), many of them probably stoned and drunk, jeered at the handful of officers. Some were also filming the arrest with their camera phones. While attempting to cuff Grant (who was alleged to be resisting), officer Mehserle pulled his service pistol and shot Grant once in the back. Witnesses claimed Mehserle looked surprised, and covered his face with his hand. Grant died at the hospital 7 hours later.

On July 9th, 2010, a jury in Los Angeles (trial was moved due to publicity in Oakland) found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter.  They had choices of: 2nd degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary man slaughter, or acquittal (not guilty).

Manslaughter = unfair verdict? unfair for whom?

For those who had not kept up with the news... the ex-BART police Johanes Mehserle, got involuntary manslaughter for shooting unarmed Oscar Grant in the back New Year's Day 2009 in Oakland. The circumstances were quite messy, and will be explained in the sidebar. However, the point is the modern race relations in America is not as calm as people think it is.

Is this a racially motivated shooting? I personally don't think so. But the fact that some people seem to think it is means the racial tension is simply under the surface, remains unresolved.

Mehserle is white. Grant is black. White cop shoots black dude, and immediately somebody scream "gotta be the race issue!"

As I write this, every law enforcement officer in the Bay Area planning for the worst. All emergency response personnel are preparing as well. Oakland already suffered riots before due to this case. On January 7th 2010, a mob of hundreds tore through downtown Oakland, causing 200000+ worth of damages.

Even now, I can already hear the sirens rushing left and right. I plan to stay indoors for the next several hours, and I'm across the bay from Oakland. This can get ugly.

BART logo
BART logo

When is it really a race issue?

While the Mehserle trial gripped the headlines, a different case, also in Oakland, and far less publicized, illustrated another problem... the death of Tian Shen Yu, 59.

Mr. Yu, and his son, were walking on the streets of downtown Oakland. They had separated to buy things. His son then was attacked, without provocation, by two young black men. The son got a black eye, but got away. The father, upon encountering the son, insist on finding the two black men. They found the two... who then proceed to punch the father as well. The older Mr. Yu collapsed to the ground, head first and suffered a major concussion, and slipped into a coma. He was taken off life support a week later, and the one perp was arrested after police found video surveillance footage and shown it on TV. The other turned himself in. 

Two black guys punched two Asian guys without provocation, killed one by accident. Is it race? Hard to say. Are they just angry about life and ready to punch any one? Doubt it. They sure didn't punch no white guy, women, or another black guy. Yet they claim it was not murder because they had not "intended to kill" anyone (their attorney did).

If there's no race issue when two black men deliberately attacked two Asian men, why would a white cop shooting a black guy (witnesses say the cop looked surprised) be a race issue?

Is the race card overplayed?

Even now, spokesmen for the Grant family claim they will plead to the UN to investigate the "civil rights violations" in Oakland regarding Grant's death. They want President Obama to disband BART police organization altogether (based on press conference in Los Angeles just moments ago). It sounds so ridiculous, I turned off the TV and started writing.

I understand that the blacks have been oppressed for centuries. But why is it that any time it's cross race, it's automatically a "race issue"?

You don't see Chinese or other Asians automatically invoke the "race card", do you? (Okay, some do, but not to the degree that Black Americans seem to, and I emphasize "seem to")

Or is it that we cannot frame the relations any other way EXCEPT as a race issue?

It's not a celebrity issue. You don't see Jessie Jackson, or Al Sharpton in Oakland rallying for Grant (though they may now).

It's not really a degree or persecution. Chinese have been treated as the bottom of the heap for over a hundred years. Remember, Chinese is the only nationality specifically EXCLUDED from immigration by the US. Congress (Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882), LEGALLY and specifically tax by the coolie tax of California, among other discriminatory laws.

So what is it really? Do a lot of black Americans still have huge chips on their shoulders?

More food for thought

Is "racial tension" just simmering under the surface?

Are some elements exploiting the situation for their own agenda?

Just how much 'race' factor is there in this trial?

Will there be a riot tonight? Who are behind the riots?


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    • kschang profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from San Francisco, CA, USA

      Well, some questions were answered.

      Police was onhand, and it was a HUGE response. Hundreds of cops surrounded the area, probably thousands.

      There was some SMALL-scale looting... Bands of about a dozen kids roam the streets looking for empty shops to loot. Foot Locker, Cell phone store, even a beauty supply store. However, volunteers with cellphones and such kept damage to a minimum.

      The rioters are instigated by anarchists from out of town. The looters may either be out-of-towners or locals. Police said most arrested ARE from out of town.

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 

      8 years ago

      Along with the riot was looting. The rioters were supposedly out on the street to protest the verdict, so how does that lead to them feeling justified to steal? And it's not as though the shooter was found not guilty. The jury brought in a verdict of involuntary manslaughter. He'll do jail time. Yet reports today state the Attorney General might charge him Federally. Is that decision race-based? Most likely. As for Chinese being targeted, I've seen awful tweets about Chinese, I've seen Chinese high school kids insulted, I've seen the dignified owner of the local Chinese restaurant verbally assaulted. His son is in graduate school. I'd say he has his priorities right.


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