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Mehserle trial spurs protests and riots in Oakland

A protestor sits on top of a bus stop across from Oakland City Hall just before a peaceful crowd turns violent after Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter on July 8, 2010 (Heather McDaniel).

After a three-week long trial and two days of deliberations in a Los Angeles court earlier this summer, a jury found Johannes Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The former BART officer had been tried for murdering Oscar Grant early on New Year’s Day in 2009.

Shortly after the July 8 verdict was read, crowds gathered outside of Oakland City Hall to protest the jury’s decision.

Dante Jones wore a cardboard mask stenciled with Oscar Grant’s face. He said he was there to express his rage over black men being killed by law enforcement.

Oakland police create a blockade in Downtown Oakland during the July 8 protest of Mehserle's senetence (Heather McDaniel).

“We been protesting for years,” Jones said. “Ain’t no change we can do, but somebody’s gotta hear it.”

Others who were present at the protest shared a similar feeling of defeat.

“Is the protest gonna do anything?,” asked Karen Williams, a young woman living in downtown Oakland. “It can’t do nothing because they already did the verdict.”

What began as a peaceful demonstration at City Hall quickly descended into violence as the sun set.

A riot broke out when members of the crowd began throwing plastic water bottles at a police officer blockade near Broadway and 13th Street before breaking into a Foot Locker store two blocks away. Looters stole shoes and clothing from the store, most of which was thrown into the crowd. Several other businesses along Broadway and on streets nearby suffered from graffiti and broken windows.

According to, police reported an estimated 78 arrests that night, with about 75 percent of those arrested coming from outside of Oakland.

Two months later, Oakland businesses still have not fully recovered. Sears still has several windows boarded up.

Sentencing for Mehserle is slated for Nov. 5. He faces from five to 14 years in prison.

Oscar Grant supporters hold signs in Downtown Oakland in protest of the recent sentence announcement (Heather McDaniel).