On New Year’s Day, 22-year-old Oscar Grant was restrained by multiple police officers at a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in Oakland, Calif. Two officers forced Grant from a seated position to the ground.
One, Officer Johanes Mershele, stood, drew his semiautomatic pistol and pointed it at Grant. The weapon was discharged and the bullet entered Grant’s back, exited his body and ricocheted off the concrete floor. The bullet then reentered Grant’s body and pierced his lungs. Grant died seven hours later at Highland Hospital.
BART agency spokesman Jim Allison said at a press conference: “It’s clear that it was a volatile situation with young men who were arguing and in fact had continued to argue even in the presence of multiple police officers.”
Fortunately, several bystanders took video footage of the event with their cell phones and cameras. After viewing the videos, it is impossible to believe lethal force was necessary. To add insult to lethal injury, there were no arrests on the scene for either the shooting or the “argument” that led to Grant being restrained in the first place.
Mershele resigned after the incident and has not yet released a statement. The question remains: Why wasn’t Mershele arrested on the scene? Even if one gives the officer the benefit of the doubt and assume an accidental discharge, he should have at least been arrested and charged with manslaughter.
In 1992, FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi fired a round into Randy Weaver’s Ruby Ridge, Idaho home, killing his wife, Vicki Weaver, who was standing behind a door holding their 10-month-old son. According to Idaho v. Horiuchi, the case’s eventual dismissal of involuntary manslaughter charges against Horiuchi cited the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which gives exemptions to agents because the federal government is the “supreme law of the land.”
In May 2008, six Philadelphia police officers pulled three men from a vehicle during a traffic stop. The men were forced to the ground, where the officers repeatedly kicked, punched and struck them with batons.
After television footage of the event was heavily publicized, five officers and one sergeant were pulled from active duty.
Police commissioner Charles Ramsey responded to the footage at a news conference: “On the surface it certainly does not look good in terms of the amount of force that was used, but we don’t want to rush to that judgment.”
While the standard of innocent until proven guilty should be upheld, any other civilian inflicting the degree of brutality the officers exhibited would have been arrested and charged immediately.
Agents of law enforcement should be held to the same standard of the law as civilians. Mershele should be arrested and charged for the sake of universal justice. If this precedence is not set, it allows for officers and other authorities to become
judges, juries and executioners without accountability.