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Mixed Feelings After BART Trial Verdict

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Originally published on Youth Radio and The San Francisco Chronicle.

By Leon Sykes

For the past few weeks, talking to my friends about the Oscar Grant shooting trial, the long conversations were always the same: Everybody wanted a second-degree murder verdict for Johannes Mehserle, a white police officer who was accused of shooting Grant, an African American, on New Year's Eve in 2009. But everyone assumed acquittal was coming.

No one I knew foresaw a conviction. It didn't matter that the whole world had watched the young man shot in the back on video: "We've seen this before," we all said. "Mehserle's going to get off -- no one cares about us."

All the news about the juror hang-ups -- one going on vacation, another getting sick -- was really hard on people in Oakland. It didn't seem like jurors in LA felt the gravity that we felt. We were worrying about the verdict, and the response.

We all feared that if Mehserle were acquitted, then everything in Oakland would be burned down. It would be the Rodney King riots again -- times 30. We wanted peace but didn't know what the verdict would bring.

Fast-forward to 4:05 p.m. Thursday, July 8. I was in West Oakland, listening to the radio. I heard "guilty" and I clapped. Then, within a few seconds, I realized involuntary manslaughter only carried a sentence of up to four years.

I felt a flow of mixed emotions. Part of me was happy he was at least convicted. But another side of me was upset at the sentence. Two to four years doesn't seem enough. And even with the gun enhancement charge, five to 14 years still doesn't seem enough.

I've never had any firsthand experience with police brutality. My worst experience was having my car taken away by police when I was a spectator at a sideshow. But I've seen stuff happen to other people, such as excessive force during arrests. And of course I follow the news from around the country of so many African American males dying at the hands of police. While I do know some decent officers of the law, there are too many who are nowhere near decent, and those officers stick out.

That's why so many Oaklanders were disappointed with the verdict. So when the sentencing rolls around, I'm hoping the judge will take us into consideration.

Click here for a developing archive of multimedia stories about the Oscar Grant murder case.

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