A selection of 200 potential jurors for the trial of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle were interviewed for this week and asked to fill out a 14-page survey asking them about their attitudes on race and police.
Mehserle is charged with murder for killing Oscar Grant. Video captured Mehserle shooting Grant in the back while he lay face down on an Oakland BART train platform on New Year’s Day in 2009. Mehserle’s lawyer Michael Rains admits he shot Grant, but maintains that he intended to pull out his Taser instead of his gun. Mehserle’s pleaded not guilty for what he calls an accidental killing.
The survey asks questions like:
Have you, friends or relative even had a gun pointed at them?
Have you, friends or relatives ever used a taser or seen a taser used?
What is your opinion of the crime situation in your neighborhood?
Do police officers lie?
Do you have an opinion as to whether racial discrimination is a problem in Oakland?
And, most tellingly: “Will the fact that a white police officer shot and killed a black man make it difficult for you to be a fair and impartial juror in this case?” According to journalist Thandisizwe Chimurenga who’s covering the case from inside the courtroom, out of 22 potential jurors left at the end of the day, fewer than five were Black.
This week, Mehserle’s defense won two other victories when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry allowed John Burris, an attorney who’d represented the Grant family in a successful civil lawsuit, not to testify. However, Perry also banned Burris from speaking to the media during the trial. Burris has been an outspoken critic of the lack of police accountability in Oakland, and became known for his press conference diatribes while representing the Grant family.
Judge Perry also ruled that Rains, Mehserle’s attorney, will be able to bring in his own witness who will interpret the videos of the New Year’s Day shooting, including a rumored video that’s never been released publicly before. The expert, Michael Schott, told the judge this week that he thinks that Grant and one of his friends tried to assault BART police officers before Mehserle shot Grant. The prosecution wanted jurors to interpret the videos for themselves.
For up to the minute updates from inside the courthouse, we’re following @OscarGrantTrial, maintained by journalist Thandisizwe Chimurenga.