Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Verdict's In--Let's Riot

Two things happened this past Thursday that were absolutely predictable. A not-too-bright and poorly-trained Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of career lawbreaker Oscar Grant. And Grant's supporters rioted (allegedly because they thought the white cop, Johannes Mehserle, should have been convicted of murder in the shooting of black arrestee Grant).

I discussed the shooting multiple times in my San Francisco Diary. Mehserle's supporters argued that the shooting was an understandable and forgivable error committed during the heat of a racially-charged and obscenity-laced arrest. They further argued that Mehserle mistook his gun for his taser. Grant's supporters claim the shooting was cold-blooded murder by a racist cop. Mehserle's supporters wanted him to get a free pass in an avoidable death. Grant's supporters wanted nothing less than the death penalty. The jury quite reasonably found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter. First degree murder with special circumstances was never on the table, so there was never the possibility of the death penalty. But a riot is rarely very logical, and most often an excuse for further lawbreaking.

The options for the jury ranged from second degree murder to involuntary manslaughter, with voluntary manslaughter as another option. I won't plague you with esoteric discussions of the various degrees of homicide, but I will remind you that one of the options not specifically included in the charges was acquittal (complete exoneration). The jury was smart enough to figure out that "oops, I made a mistake" is not a sufficient defense in matters where a deadly weapon was used, even if by accident, by a police officer to kill a defendant who was in custody, fully-restrained, and unable to do any serious harm to the arresting officers. Negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter are essentially indistinguishable, and after hearing all the evidence, the jury made its decision.

In my earlier posts, I pointed out that Mehserle was the perfect example of why glorified security guards should not suddenly be raised to the level of police officers just to make the security guards feel better about themselves. BART only recently had gotten the legislature to raise the status of their security forces to full-blown police officers. Well--you can call them the Supreme Judiciars for all I care, and it doesn't change the fact that those security guards have neither the training nor the experience of real police officers. Mehserle was a horrific situation waiting to happen.

Let's not forget that criminal matters require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury found reasonable doubt that Mehserle intended to kill Grant, and that meant they could no longer consider second degree murder--a specific intent crime. That left them only with involuntary manslaughter or acquittal. However stupid, negligent or incomprehensible Mehserle's action was, the testimony, including videos from both sides, showed a mystified Mehserle recoiling in horror and confusion after the shooting.

Let's look at another issue. The defense was successful in arguing change of venue based on pretrial publicity. For those who don't know it, the case was removed to Los Angeles. The defense was looking for a fair and impartial jury in a neutral court, not for an acquittal-minded jury. If they had been looking for the latter, they could have found a better venue than the one that found four police officers guilty of violating Rodney King's civil rights after a state jury had cleared them of all criminal charges. The verdict of involuntary manslaughter was not the result of a jury composed largely of white law and order types who were looking to let one of their own get away with the killing of a black man.

And that allows me to segue into the comparisons being made by both sides between this case and the Rodney King case. Yes, there are some similarities. Black arrestee, white cops. But that's about it for the comparisons. Rodney King was not in custody, but was being placed under arrest and violently resisted. Oscar Grant also objected to being arrested, loudly and physically, but he was on the ground in full restraint when the shooting occurred. King was tased and billy-clubbed multiple times (and amazingly kept getting up and advancing on the police officers after being told "stay down, we don't want to hurt you)." Grant was shot in the back.

Under the rules of engagement at the time of the Rodney King arrest, after the police officers ordered him to put his hands in the air and come slowly toward them, the officers were justified in using deadly force when King instead advanced quickly toward them while reaching into the waist band of his pants. Still, the police did not use deadly force, restraining themselves from doing so under orders from their commander who was later one of the officers sent to prison for violating King's civil rights.

Police officers have been much restricted in their rules of engagement with persons who physically resist a lawful arrest since the King case. It isn't based so much on good police work or any kind of solid logic as it is on political correctness and fear of bad press. Oh, and fear of riots. But there's a big difference between tasing a very large man with a violent criminal record who had only recently been released from prison and who is advancing menacingly on the police, and the shooting death of a low-level, rather smallish career lawbreaker who was already fully restrained. The jury was able to figure that out, even if Mehserle's supporters couldn't.

The people who stirred up the crowds in Oakland after the verdict repeatedly used the word "murder" to describe the killing. A jury found otherwise. And it wasn't a Ku Klux Klan jury from the 60s. Among the speakers at the daytime rally claiming murder were the gussied-up and cleaned-up parents of the thug that was killed. They managed to raise a lowlife who was constantly in trouble with the law, but now blame white society for their son's death. Well, a white man did it, not white society. And a racially-mixed jury found him culpable. Justice was served. But the parents need expiation for their own failures, so they wanted revenge, not justice. And a huge portion of the crowd wanted something even simpler. They wanted an excuse to riot.

It was a lame excuse for rioting (I might even have understood a riot, if not approving of it, if the jury had acquitted Mehserle). But after the parents cleaned up their own history as parents, and the white leftists finished making their fine speeches about racial oppression and police brutality, they went home, idiotically sure that the protest had made its point and nothing further would occur.

The rioters fooled them again. As soon as dark began to fall, and the police presence lessened, the thugs and gangsters took over the night. Once again, the political principle of "no justice, no peace" was demonstrated by a romp through the business district resulting in smashed windows, small fires, and the disappearance of wide-screen TVs, jewelry, clothing, along with the entire inventory of expensive running-shoes from the local Foot Locker store.

I predicted the verdict months ago, even before the trial was moved to Los Angeles. I predicted that anything short of a murder conviction would result in riots in Oakland. Now let me give you one more prediction (I'm not as sure of this one, but I'm fairly comfortable with the logic). This riot was nothing like the mayhem that followed the Rodney King case, and not even as bad as the riots that followed the actual shooting of Oscar Grant. But now the case will return to Oakland for the sentencing phase. This will no longer be a long-distance pronouncement from the court. The judge must weigh facts in aggravation and facts in mitigation to come up with a sentence. And no matter how much he may find all aggravation and no mitigation (a very unlikely result), the California provision for involuntary manslaughter with no prior record is two to four years in state prison.

If the judge imposes the maximum penalty, it will still not be nearly enough for the rioters-in-waiting. By nightfall on the day of the sentencing, Oakland (and probably a few other Bay Area communities) will be under siege. And that won't be the end of it. Lawlessness doesn't exist solely on the mean streets of Oakland. It exists at the very highest levels of government.

If the Rodney King case proved nothing else, it proved that rioting is an effective way of nullifying jury verdicts and spurring the cowards and race-baiters into high gear. In the Grant case, the mere threat of riots has spurred the Justice Department into "looking into the matter." Mehserle hasn't even been sentenced yet, and still the same Department that dismissed all the New Black Panther voter-intimidation cases is considering how it can slap both the jury and the judge in the face for not drawing and quartering Mehserle. State verdicts be damned. The feds are on the case!

As so often happens, what seems to be perfectly legitimate legislation can be perverted into another excuse for the national government to usurp the power of the states. The law under which the Rodney King police officers were convicted, and which Mehserle is likely to face, was designed for very different times and very different situations. The civil rights concurrent federal jurisdiction laws were written originally and justifiably to overcome the effects of Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist murders in the South that went unpunished by all-white local juries. In order to avoid the double-jeopardy provisions of the Constitution, the prosecutions were for an entirely different class of crimes. You got away with murder, boys, but you're not going to escape serious federal prison time for the ultimate method of violating a black person's civil rights. You didn't get the death penalty that you so richly deserved, but we're going to send you to prison for most of the rest of your lives as a substitute.

On the plus side, racial relations were improving dramatically over the decades since the Ku Klux Klan cases. Southern juries are no longer all-white, and murderers are routinely convicted by local juries regardless of race. So in order to justify their existence, Justice Department political lawyers have taken those statutes and turned them into a bludgeon to beat down the police no matter how egregious the behavior of the black defendant. Eric Holder's Justice Department is now likely to carry the King case one step further by finding that a conviction is not enough, we need a really tough sentence as well. Racial relations have gone backwards under Barack Obama's stewardship, and this pandering to the lawless will set relations back even more.

The Ku Klux Klan cases, and the subsequent Rodney King case proved the old legal adage: Hard cases make bad law. It also proved that there's nothing like a good healthy riot to motivate the fearful and cowardly into perverting the rule of law to obtain a result more in keeping with the wishes of the mob.

13 comments:

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

Pandering to the mob.... Stupid. All this does is make it popular for riots. The last time a country was engulfed in riots was France and Bonaparte solved that problem with grapeshot.

It also resulted in an emperor for France. I don't know the particulars and I come in right now with no knowledge of the inciting episode. I do know that mobs don't rule, they can't. All they can do is destroy. Giving in or pandering is tatamount to abdicating power to the barbarians at the gate.

Scharzennegger should call out the National Guard prior to the sentence being read. Since he is a girly-man, I don't expect anything.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: Paris is enjoying a regular outbreak of riots in the banlieues with their large Muslim minorities (which are majorities in some of those "suburbs"), so they have their own problems. And the fun of rioting has been spreading to places as far away from Paris as Calais and Marseilles. Most of the time it's just broken store fronts, a little looting, beating up an occasional Jew, and a lot of setting fire to cars. But the fad is catching on.

The background on the Mehserle/Grant debacle is that Grant and his thug buddies had been pushing people around (especially old white people) on a BART train. The incidents were called in to the BART police, who were waiting for the train at the next (Oakland) exit. The BART police detained then arrested Grant for disorderly conduct and possible assault and battery. He was very physical and vocal about not wanting to be arrested. Most cops not only expect that, but they prepare for it. Mehserle had neither the experience nor the training to handle the situation, and after Grant was put into restraints and put face down on the platform, he continued to shout obscenities and make threats he couldn't possibly carry out. As irritating as that would be, most cops, particularly Oakland cops, would simply chalk it up to routine and ignore it. Mehserle didn't, and (here's where the testimony diverges) in an overreaction to Grant's behavior, decided to tase him to shut him up. Mehserle claimed he mistook his gun for his taser, and intended only to quiet Grant. Instead, he put a shot into his back, which resulted in Grant's death.

I didn't buy Mehserle's explanation, nor did the jury. But there was enough doubt about what his actual intent was to convince the jury that the intent was to shut Grant up, not to kill him (by use of the taser or the gun).

All of that said, the process worked, a conviction was obtained, the law was imposed, and the rioters-in-waiting weren't satisfied. So, let's toss out the system and the rule of law and impose "justice" by threat and riot. It worked in the Rodney King case, and there are already signs at the Holder Justice Department that it's going to work this time as well. This is another wound in the body of ordered liberty. Past DOJ's have caved in to the mob. This one appears to be in cahoots with it.

LawHawkRFD said...

I should probably add that the picture accompanying the article was passed around by the family and the attorneys for Grant's "estate." It shows Grant holding his baby by one of his girlfriends. It's also one of the few photos of Grant that wasn't a mug shot or an arrest scene photo.

CalFederalist said...

LawHawk. Since Jerry Brown was the mayor of Oakland, now the California Attorney General and the Democratic nominee for Governor, how long will it be before he jumps into this case and starts playing Holder-Lite?

LawHawkRFD said...

CalFed: That's a tough one to answer. Brown is a pie-in-the-sky liberal who lives in a dream world that has never actually existed. But he's also a cold and calculating politician. He'll wait to see which way the wind blows before deciding whether to comment on the case and/or the riots. My best guess at the moment is that unlike Holder, Brown will decide that supporting the rioters is a losing position, but not wanting to lose his black constituency, he'll cluck-cluck about the horrible events, make some Zen type of press release, then drop the issue like a hot potato. He may make noises about conducting an Attorney General's investigation, but I doubt that anything real will be done.

StanH said...

I always find it interesting how the racist, shoe stores, electronic stores, and liquor stores, are the favorite target of the righteous rioters, while sticking it to the man…power to the people!

The entire episode is tragic, however it doesn’t justify riots.

LawHawkRFD said...

Stan: When the rioters broke in an looted stores back in the 60s during the Watts riots, there was a certain amount of crazy logic to it. There was a truly oppressed black populace in South Central Los Angeles that was poverty-stricken and targeted regularly by bigoted white cops. Those times and those financial conditions have changed immensely. Then it was about taking things that had been denied them. Now it's about, well, just taking things that don't belong to them. If this were truly about oppression this time, why go after the merchants? It would be much more logical to burn down city hall or a court building. But of course, in Oakland at least, that's where the liberals and radicals do their business, and that would mean no more cooperation and complicity in rioting from the government.

AndrewPrice said...

Riots like this are the hoped-for consequence of the race baiters who have been working hard to convince blacks that the rest of America is out to get them and that they can't get "justice."

And before I really believe that this is genuine outrage, someone needs to explain to me why this same community riots when their sports teams win championships?

If they want me to care, then it's time that their leaders stood and said "stop rioting, stop looting." Let's make our grievances known in non-violent ways.

LawHawkRFD said...

Hey, Jesse (I mean Andrew): You forgot to say "increase the peace." There is a major group in every big city just waiting for an excuse to riot over some imagined wrong when it's actually just an excuse to commit mayhem and loot. In Oakland, they'll riot over an insufficiently warm handshake.

The worst part is, that no matter what the civil authorities do, it's a lose-lose situation. If they give in (the usual result), they've put band-aids on a cancer. If they attempt to restore order and protect private property, they're Nazi fascist oppressive racists.

HamiltonsGhost said...

Lawhawk--So when do the celebrities show up to join the fun? I fully expected to see Danny Glover mugging for the cameras.

LawHawkRFD said...

HamiltonsGhost: That would have required Glover to put down his six-pack at home in San Francisco and travel all the way over to Oakland (about twelve minutes by car, ten on BART if you catch your train right away). He's probably waiting for the sentencing so he can have a double-sided picket sign with cop-killer Mumia abu-Jamal on one side and Oscar Grant on the other.

Anonymous said...

lawHawkRFD, as a former LAPD officer, it was never taught to us. With that being said, if we detained a foul mouth punk like Grant, who Clearly sat up in defiance and disrespectful. We'd would simply stick a muzzle to the back of their neck... nothing like COLD steel to SHUT UP a smart mouth punk up.

My money's on Mehserle, he might have thought that might work, since tazzing Grant didn't and he stood-up to either resist more or blot... who knows!

Simply put, IF OSCAR GRANT HAD SAT HIS SKINNY A** DOWN AND SHUT UP, HE'D BE ALIVE!

OR MAYBE Mehserle WOULD BE INVESTIGATING HIS HOMICIDE, GRANT LAYING IN A CHALK LINE with a stolen 9mm by his side.

COPS DON'T NEED SENSITIVITY TRAINING, THEY NEED TO LEARN EBONICS.

Cities need to stand up to these SUE happy thugs, who taunt officers into situations were they lose their cool and slip. How many times did a suspect, taunt me... "BEAT ME YOU RACIST WHITE MOTHER F**KER, I NEED MY PAYDAY!"

LawHawkRFD said...

Anon: I spent many of my years in practice as a criminal defense attorney, but that doesn't mean I ever joined the public defenders and ACLU attorneys who actually believe their clients are paragons of virtue. My personal friends were more likely to be prosecutors and cops. I had many personal friends who are or were cops, as well as many who were clients. I don't live in the liberal dream world, and I don't have either the guts or the restraint necessary to be a good police officer.

So I agree with much of what you say. What is important to remember here was my emphasis on the fact that Mehserle didn't have the training or experience that an L.A. police officer gets. A good tasing was probably in order so that the police (BART) could regain the necessary control of the situation. But assuming Mehserle was telling the truth, it was negligent of him to use a deadly weapon because he made a mistake and couldn't distinguish it instantly from his gun. That doesn't sound like intentional murder to me at all. But it does sound a lot like negligent homicide, which is essentailly what he was convicted of.

All of my sympathies are with law-enforcement, and the job gets tougher every day. That said, my opinion of the result in this criminal trial doesn't change. As for the lawsuit, Grant's family should be awarded about $5.00 in damages.

My New York City cop friends are astounded at what California cops are required to put up with and how much verbal and occasional physical abuse they tolerate from lowlife and frequently dangerous thugs. Still, in this case, the inexperienced BART cop was in no physical danger, the victim was fully retrained, and deadly force was simply not an option.

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