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Oakland: Road To Riot? Rumors, Speculation Fuel Fear

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Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

By Noah Nelson

OAKLAND-- With a gag order over the murder trial of Johannes Merhserle for the shooting death of Oscar Grant III, speculation and raw disinformation have filled the void to stoke fears of a major riot in Oakland after the announcement of the verdict.

One form the rumors have taken is an email, purportedly sent from a San Leandro police officer to his sister, which paints the picture of law enforcement on edge, while getting some of the facts of the case dead wrong. What follows is a paragraph-by-paragraph dissection of the email, wherein we attempt to set the record straight and defuse some of the more hysterical speculations.

The text of the email is in blockquotes, with our analysis following in between. All emphasis in the quotes is added. The full text of the email, unedited, follows our analysis.

The BART shooting trial is almost complete in LA and some things have changed causing much concern for the East Bay area law enforcement agencies. First, the jury's instructions have changed and they are not allowed to consider lesser included crimes. What this means is the jury has to either find Johannes Mehserle guilty of first degree murder, or nothing. There is no way they can conclude he acted with malice and forethought.

Patently false. This rumor, along with the separate rumor that the jury is composed completely of Caucasians, are perhaps the most insidious pieces of disinformation that have emerged. As of this writing the jury has yet to receive instructions from trial Judge Robert J. Perry as to what charges should be considered. A motion has been made by defense attorney Michael Rains that the jury be instructed to only consider charges of second degree murder, and not the lesser charges of manslaughter. (For the record the jury is multi-ethnic, but has no African Americans on the panel.)

In fact Judge Perry is withholding his ruling until all evidence is presented, and only then will instruct the jury as to what charges they should consider. Until that time all charges from first degree murder to involuntary manslaughter are still on the table. It will likely advantage the defense if Rains' motion is granted. However, a conviction on first degree murder charges was never considered a likely outcome by any serious observer of the trial.

That a police officer would make such an elementary mistake- confusing first and second degree murder charges- brings the actual origin of the email into question.

Second, the prosecutors' expert witness, who was supposed to discredit Mehserle, made a surprise statement that he once, as a police officer, unintentionally pulled his gun and hadn't realized it. This was a huge backfire for the prosecution.

Partially true. Use-of-force expert for the prosecution Sean McCann did surprise court observers, and the prosecution, by testifying under cross-examination that he had once drawn his gun without realizing it. However on re-direct Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein had McCann detail the entire incident, which involved McCann confronting a 6-foot-5, 280 pound suspect who was high on crack cocaine alone in a dark alley.

How this round of testimony played out with the jury is pure speculation, as no one is allowed to question the jury until after the verdict has been handed down.

Third, every friend of Grant's testified that they saw genuine surprise in Mehserle's face after the shot was fired, again adding credibility to Mehserle's case. The trial is moving very quickly and is expected to have a verdict by the 28th (next Monday), or very soon after.

Truth mixed with speculation. The testimony of Grant's friends is accurately characterized. However, it is still unknown as to when the jury will begin deliberations, let alone hand down a verdict. The current consensus among trial observers is that the defense may rest as early as today. This may then lead to a round of rebuttal witnesses from the prosecution, which may in turn lead to the defense calling more witnesses to repudiate their testimony. A verdict next week is, however, a definite possibility.

Oakland PD is expecting riots (to the degree of the LA/Rodney King riots) if/when a not-guilty verdict is read. This is not an exaggeration. Every law enforcement agency in the area is preparing for large scale crowd control and vandalism. We will only be given a two-hour heads-up before the verdict is public.

Apparently true, with a major caveat. It is known that the Oakland Police Department is preparing for major civil disobedience in the wake of the verdict. However, characterizing the scale of a potential riot as being on par with the Rodney King riot of 1992 in Los Angeles is pure speculation and fear mongering. Moreover this fear is based on a murder acquittal being pre-destined. Johannes Mehserle may be found guilty of manslaughter, a possibility no one seems to be preparing for.

Intel has been gathered indicating a "professional" protest group, called the Black Bloc, is planning to organize in the area. The Black Bloc is an anarchy group or style which frequently uses molotov cocktails and arson during demonstrations. They wear ski masks, gas masks, helmets and body armor and attack police.

Questionable sourcing, broad generalizations, and disinformation. Since the actual origin of the email is unknown (see our earlier questioning of its legitimacy) there is no way to tell if the "intel" referenced here is real or not. What is known is that the Black Bloc has traditionally had a presence at every major protest in the Bay Area pretty much since their debut at the "Battle of Seattle" during the World Trade Organization meeting in Washington state in 1999. "Their" last appearance was at the March 4th Day of Action in response to the UC budget cuts. The Black Bloc has a reputation for civil disobedience, and is in part a "generic" label for protesters clad in black and taking measures to conceal their identity.

The characterization that the Black Bloc relies on Molotov cocktails and body armor is more in line with what has happened with protests in Europe, than in the Bay Area.

PLEASE...once you hear the verdict, DO NOT go out unless you absolutely have to. BART will still be running trains, however, I strongly recommend you drive or stay home from work. BART stations and public offices, as well and downtown shopping centers are expected to be the targets for the rioters and vandals. Police services will be spread thin and the calls for service will be excessive. If you have errands to run, run them before Monday.

Please don't assume, just because you live in a quiet neighborhood or town, people won't use this as an excuse to do stupid stuff. It will be known police responses will be slower than normal, so don't take the chance. I will try and update this as soon as I have new info.

Common sense mixed with fear mongering. No one knows what will happen. Civil disobedience at some scale is likely, judging from the high running emotions and the history of this case in Oakland. That being said, if you will allow a moment of editorializing here, the expectation that there will be large scale rioting is just as likely to cause an incident as the actual verdict. An unconscious (at best) desire for confrontation on the streets of Oakland between protesters and police seems to be fueling the speculation. As if a venting of rage could somehow purge years of mistrust, death, hatred, and sorrow.

The end result of which would be a doubling down on tragedy.

Follow the daily trial TweetChat via Twitter. Search for #OGTrial. Chat starts around 12:30 every day court is in session. News updates all day.

Click here for more multimedia stories about the Oscar Grant case. You can find the unedited email at Youth Radio's site, youthradio.org.

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