The trial of former gang member police officer Johannes Mehserle ended yesterday with a verdict of guilty for unintentional manslaughter for the death of Oscar Grant III last year. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Grant was shot in the back by Mehserle while Grant was laying on his stomach and being restrained by another upstanding member of the California “law enforcement” community. I have no doubt that this guilty verdict only occurred because the whole incident was caught on video. WARNING: Video is violent, so if you prefer to remain idealistic about how the police can operate, you may not want to view it.
Mehserle claims that he thought he had his Taser in his hand, not his handgun. I am skeptical about this, I think he was angry and the situation was escalated unnecessarily by the officers on scene and he acted rashly. It is not easy to mistake a Taser for a handgun when holding one and this only reinforces my belief that law enforcement carrying Tasers has caused more harm than good.
I think something worth noting (and discussed by Aaron in this post) is the idea of intent over result. While Mehserle faces between 5 and 14 years in prison, Grant is dead. Mehserle stole unknown amount of years from this man unjustly but Mehserle will again be free, possibly soon, because the jury believed he didn’t intend to kill Grant. I personally hate it when people use the intent argument, I think it is weak and used to justify continuing bad policies. Result is what we should measure and result is what we should reward or punish.
SHG over at Simple Justice also gives his take here. I am sure Radley Balko and others will also be weighing in.
And let’s not pull out the tired “isolated incident” defense.