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9 Jul, 2010 20:59

Involuntary police manslaughter caused riots in Oakland

Nearly 1,000 people took part in angry protests in the US city of Oakland after a ruling against a white policeman who killed an unarmed black man.

A Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer in Oakland, Johannes Mehserle, escaped a murder conviction, instead being found guilty of manslaughter – the softest sentence available, which caused the uproar.

The policeman claimed he mistakenly drew his gun instead of a taser, and shot 22-year-old Oscar Grant III in the back on a crowded train platform.

Alessandro Tinonga, a contributor to Socialistworker.org, says there are a number of reasons why this case is so controversial. First of all the shooting itself was registered on five different surveillance cameras, as well as a number of passengers who eyewitnessed the incident, and also because of the racial context of the killing and the fact that Grant was unarmed.

“The trial itself was very controversial – there were no blacks in the jury, the trial itself was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles,” Tinonga pointed out. “And the defense attorney used the argument that because of the history of racial violence and police brutality, Mehserle cannot actually receive a fair trial.”