Johannes Mehserle, the former BART policeman convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Oscar Grant, will be released from Los Angeles County jail on Monday after having served 11 months. Some community groups are planning to protest.
Yesterday, KQED’s Mina Kim spoke to Cephus Johnson, Oscar Grant’s uncle, and Bill Dodd, a Napa County Supervisor who is also Mehserle’s former sports coach and a long-time friend of his family. Each audio clip is followed by an edited transcript.
What is your reaction to Mehserle’s scheduled release?
The criminal justice system let us down. As we sat there in the courtroom and heard Judge Perry open his mouth and say that he was troubled and he didn’t agree with the jury’s decision, that allowed us to see just how racist some judges can make this criminal justice system.
What would you say to Mehserle upon his release?
I have said over and over that we expect an apology. Rita Williams on KTVU did an exclusive with Mehserle to share an expression of what he did. At no time did he even volunteer to say to apologize to the family for his so-called egregious mistake.
Once he’s held accountable and serves 14 yrs or more for the murder he committed, only then can the family say we have some forgiveness in our hearts.
This man is not remorseful for what he did nor has he attempted in the past two years-plus to apologize. No one has contacted us verbally or in letter form expressing their concern and sorrow for the pain we’re experiencing.
And yet people expect we should just go about our business as if this never occurred. We’ve got young men being killed every day in Oakland by police officers. How can we forget it? This is not going to end at this point.
On the public letter of apology Mehserle released:
It’s basically come to our knowledge that he didn’t even write the letter. Because if he did he would have stood behind the letter. This was all a ploy, all by design. It was right before the jury was going to make a decision on the case. And then he puts out a letter supposedly that asks for some forgiveness from the family and the community. The letter wasn’t addressed to any member in the family; it was addressed to the public. It said ‘to the public.’ That was a slap in the face itself, because even the public didn’t believe the letter. We are the victims, and yet there has been no open apology from him or anybody in his camp who have said to the family that he was sorry for what he did.
How do you hope Mehserle will spend the rest of his life?
What we have to do, is not be concerned about what Mehserle does now, but be concerned about what he did. And that is to continue to advocate for the true justice that Oscar deserves, and that is for (Mesherle) to be held accountable. That entails much conversation with the Department of Justice. And ultimately, allowing our God to bring closure with us within our own family.
What does Mehserle’s impending release feel like for Oscar Grant’s family?
It’s painful and it actually is recharging me. Because it allows me to see that we have no justice or we haven’t received any justice. And that I need to look at the rest of my life in this pursuit of seeking justice not just for Oscar, but the fact that police brutality needs to be addressed in such a way that we begin to pay attention to the injustice that especially men of color are suffering at the hands of police officers.
What we need to remember: We have a mother who has lost a loving son that she loved dearly. And that she on her birthday instructed him, Oscar Grant, to catch the BART train and then she had to experience this tragedy. We have a daughter, my niece, Oscar’s daughter, who right now pains for her daddy and shares this emotion; being in a car and seeing a police officer she will say to the other young cousins of hers, ‘Duck, policeman.’ It shows just how heinous and egregious this murder has afflicted the children.
How is Oscar Grant’s mother feeling?
My sister, Oscar’s mother, wants to know, ‘Where’s the accountability?’ When do people of color, simple families, receive justice? And there’s many across the U.S., we’re not the only family that’s experienced this. She’s hurt. She’s pained, and the thought of him being released is hurtful. And it happens at a time when my father’s hospitalized. So we have to suffer his pain and then reflect on what happened to Oscar. It’s not healthy. It’s painful.
What’s your reaction to Mehserle’s scheduled release?
Well I’m obviously very happy for Johannes and his family. Without a doubt he’s done his time and this is what the justice system has put forth. And I just hope that he can somehow have some sort of quality life when he gets out of jail.
I coached Johannes when he was a young man in sports and I see his parents every once in awhile. I’ve written to him. Have not received anything in return. So I really don’t have any peronsal knowldge about how he’s doing. I know he’s a very resilient young man and I imagine that life was tough when he was in and my guess is that it’ll be tough when he gets out. Certainly, my opinion is that he’s lost his career in law enforcement; he’s got a young child, and I worry that he won’t be able to have a quality life when he gets out.
Do you see a life for him in the Bay Area?
That’s in doubt as well. I’ve not spoken directly with his parents about those specifics.
Have you spoken to his parents about his release?
I’ve not spoken to them. But knowing them the way I do I can imagine they’re elated at having their son back.
What did you write in the letter to Mehserle?
I told him to be strong, just trying to put a human touch to it. He’s acknowledged, Johannes’ parents have acknowledged, there are no winners in this thing. I’m sure Oscar Grant’s family says Oscar doesn’t get to come back and that’s a tragedy in itself. Once again there are no winners, and people who are upset about this think Johannes is a big winner in this; I’ve got news for them: I don’t think he’s going to be a big winner in this.
What do you think about the planned protests?
Frankly, if you take the history of policemen having these types of things, you can also say that it was an injustice that he ever spent a day in jail. But, this is what our court system has said, and that’s what happened, and I think as people in American society, we have to sometimes understand that our system, albeit imperfect, is the best in the world, and I would hope and pray and ask for restraint on everybody’s part. I just think that it’s certainly a time for family and friends and supporters to remember Oscar Grant, but I would hope that it wouldn’t result in widespread violence and those types of things that have happened in the past.
What would you say to Mehserle if you saw him if he came home?
I just know Johannes, the way I know him, my guess is that there isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t think about Oscar Grant. He’s never told me that, but just the way I know him and how thoughtful a human being he really is, I would just try to lend support as opposed to giving him advice.
Are you in the camp that thinks he should not have spent a day in jail?
It’s hard. When you take a look at the law and special circumstances for a gun in the commission of a crime, well he’s a policeman so he carried a gun. I think that whole thing was equally confusing for both sides. There’s people in the middle that are confused too.
It’s not that I don’t have any empathy for Oscar Grant’s family. There’s no winners in this. He doesn’t get to come home. I feel so bad that there’s been so much pain in the Mehserle family and the Grant family. I just pray that it doesn’t result in property and people getting arrested and huge negativity.
What would you like people to remember about Mehserle?
He’s an excellent human being. I have never ever known him to be angry and aggressive. And I just think it was an unfortunate horrible circumstance that put him and Oscar Grant in this situation. There’s some awfully angry people out there. When I spoke up for Johannes at the very beginning of this, I got threats as well. I worry for him and just hope that people will remember that he is a human being, he’s a good human being, and he’s spent his time. They may not like how much time he’s spent, but he did what’s required under the law, and let him live his life.