Report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture
According to extensive local, national, and international media coverage, and court transcripts on Jan. 1, 2009 in Oakland, California, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) officer Johannes Mehserle, responding to reports of a fight on a train returning from San Francisco, detained Oscar Grant and several other young African American male passengers on the platform at the Fruitvale Station. Officer Johannes Mehserle and another officer were restraining Oscar Grant, who was prostrate and unarmed, when Mehserle stood, drew his gun and fatally shot Grant once in the back# . Prior to being shot from behind, Grant had been punched, threatened with a Taser, had his face slammed into the pavement, and was subjected to being called racial epithets as the police subdued Grant and his friends.
When the case was put on trial, a jury found former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter and gun enhancement. However, the judge handed Mehserle the most lenient sentence possible of two years and dismissed the verdict of gun enhancement#. Even then, he was released after serving only 11 months, less than half his sentence time. There were no African Americans on the jury selected. The verdict and sentencing phases of his trial had ignited protests in Oakland and Los Angeles amongst community members who believed Mehserle should have received a harsher, longer sentence. Several hundred community members gathered at the BART station where Grant was shot, to decry Mehserle’s early release and demand the Department of Justice file civil rights charges.#
Mehserle is the first police officer in the state of California ever to be charged with murder. Mehserle was also the only officer charged even though it was revealed during the trial, that officer Anthony Pirone, who was the first to arrive on the platform and confront Grant and his friends used excessive force, was extremely aggressive, used profanity, and was even heard using racist language against Grant and his group. Prione created an extremely hostile atmosphere.
Following a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court on behalf of Grant’s family in 2009, Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson was awarded $1.3 million in settlement coupled with a $1.5 million payment last year to Grant’s young daughter, Tatiana Grant.
Similar cases concerning police brutality among African Americans have occurred. Three days after the Oscar Grant ruling, two Oakland city cops gunned down another unarmed black man, Derrick Jones, a 37-year-old barber in East Oakland and father of a two-year-old girl. Claiming that Jones was fleeing the scene of a reported domestic disturbance, the cops said they shot him several times through the chest because he was allegedly reaching for his waistband. In 2008, the cops killed Jodie “Mack” Woodfox, shooting him in the back as he “fled.” The year before, 20-year-old Gary King Jr. was also shot in the back in broad daylight by an Oakland cop who claimed that King was reaching into his waistband as he held up his pants trying to flee the Oakland police.
The actions of police Officer Johannes Mehserle violate the Convention Against Torture (CAT) Article 2, Paragraph 1, read in connection with Articles 1, and Article 16, Paragraph 1, as well as CAT Article 10 Paragraph 1 & 2, for having been subjected to police brutality inflicting Oscar Grant with physical and mental suffering amounting to torture, cruel, inhuman and/or degrading treatment or punishment.
MCLI Board President Buford worked with Oscar Grant’s family, church and community organizations, and elected officials to bring justice and closure to Oscar’s family, friends and the community in the aftermath of his death at the hands of BART police. Buford was asked to serve on a committee created by the BART Board of Directors. Over a 5-month period, Buford worked with BART police, union representatives, BART Board members and police conduct specialists to create a police/citizens’ process that was approved by the community and BART Board. The process was implemented in January 2011 and President Buford consulted on the hiring of the new BART Chief of Police and BART Police Auditor. President Buford was voted on to the BART Citizen Review Board in March 2012.
During the summer and fall of 2011, President Buford supervised MCLI Human Rights Interns in writing three “shadow reports” on the human rights violations in Oscar Grant’s case. The reports will be filed with U.N. human rights bodies in 2012 for international review. One intern said this of the experience of meeting Oscar Grant’s friends and family:
– Daven Raj, MCLI intern from Malaysia