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Grant supporters fear Mehserle acquittal on eve of trial start date

Oscar Grant's uncle Cephus Johnson looks on as Keith Muhammad of the Nation of Islam addresses community members and the media at a vigil for the slain Hayward man. (Jennifer Courtney/California Beat)

(6/2) — 0100 PDT — OAKLAND — At a candlelight vigil in Downtown Oakland on the eve of jury selection in the second-degree murder trial of former BART Police officer Johannes Mehserle, supporters of shooting victim Oscar Grant said they were not happy about the direction the trial has taken so far.

Cephus Johnson addresses Oscar Grant supporters and the media at a vigil for his nephew. (Jennifer Courtney/California Beat)

Those gathered announced they would demonstrate at the corner of Broadway and 14th Street when the decision in the trial is announced, and many said if Mehserle walks violence may ensue.

“I think that people will be outraged. I think it will be very similar to the kind of thing we saw in January 2009 before Mehserle was even charged. People were so angry and so upset. I think it will enrage people all over again,” said community activist Leslie Payne.

Payne works with Oakland-based coalition New Year’s Movement for Justice.

Grant’s uncle Cephus Johnson, who flew back to Oakland from Los Angeles to attend the evening vigil in front of the Alameda County Courthouse on 12th Street, expressed concern about how the case was unfolding.

The best outcome would be for Mehersle to go behind bars, Johnson said. He suggested such a verdict would send a message to “police officers all over the United States” that “if they commit murder, they will go to jail.”

Activist Cat Brooks reads a poem at the June 1 vigil. (Jennifer Courtney/California Beat)

But given the low number of police officers to serve jail time for killing civilians — Mehserle is the first law enforcement officer in the state of California to be tried for a murder committed while on duty — Johnson said he is not optimistic.

“The stage is being set for Mehserle to get off,” he said. “I’m not confident that Mehserle will be held accountable. The defense attorney is doing everything he can to create distractions in this case.”

Johnson referred to a hearing he attended Tuesday morning in Los Angeles, where Judge Robert Perry decided to permit defense expert witness Michael Schott to testify regarding his interpretation of videos which could be crucial to the case.

Many community members present echoed Johnson’s fear of an acquittal.

Payne said moving the trial to Los Angeles, which authorities said was done due to concerns over whether Mehserle could get a fair trial in Alameda County, was a first step in Mehserle walking free.

She also said the focus on Grant’s character is inapplicable to the real issue at hand. “That’s totally irrelevant,” she said. “It doesn’t warrant murder.”

Oakland resident Cat Brooks, who performed a spoken word piece for the crowd, said, “If Cephus comes back disappointed then I’m disappointed.”

Jadyn poses for photographers behind a photo of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, the 8-year-old shot to death by a police officer In Detroit. (Jennifer Courtney/California Beat)

Brooks said the widely-viewed videotapes of the Grant shooting might have provided false hope for a conviction.

“We have it on tape and so I think there’s an expectation from the community that we’re finally going to get justice; that no longer are you going to kill black and brown and poor people and get away with it. But it may not turn out that way,” she said.

Brooks, who said she watched police brutally beat her father when she was only six years old, said she brought her 4-year-old daughter Jadyn with her to the vigil to teach her to stand up to such injustices.

She also said she feared what would happen in Mehserle is acquitted.

“I don’t think it’s going to pretty in Oakland and I don’t think it’s going to be pretty in L.A. I’m not advocating that, but what do you do with all that anger? What do you do with one more time when they tell you that your life isn’t worth anything and the lives of your babies and you brothers and your sisters don’t matter?”

The Coalition Against Police Executions hosted the event. Opening arguments in the case are scheduled for June 10 in Los Angeles.

Beat reporters Tashina Manyak and Jennifer Courtney reported from Oakland. Steven Luo and James Keith contributed reporting from Los Angeles. Contact Tashina Manyak at

See more photos of the vigil on our Facebook page.