NAACP Denounces Lenient Sentence of Oakland BART Police Officer in Deadly Shooting of Unarmed Man

The NAACP denounces the two-year sentence handed down by Judge Robert Perry to Johannes Mehserle, the former Oakland BART police officer who shot Oscar Grant on New Year’s Eve, 2009. Twenty-two year old Grant was mercilessly shot in the back as he lay handcuffed on the floor of the BART platform. The scene was captured by numerous cell phone cameras and immediately broadcast on the worldwide web, showing the merciless killing of the young man.

“Although our communities unfortunately suffer many incidents of police abuse, most of them go unreported or unnoticed because no one is there to record and broadcast them,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP. “In the end, the lack of nationally accepted best practices and standards on the use of force and the lack of law enforcement accountability undermines not only the integrity of law enforcement itself, but the safety of all of our communities. Sadly, we see this to be true in the case of Oscar Grant,” added Jealous.

Mehserle, who could have received anywhere up to a fourteen-year sentence, received two years – with credit for time served. “It is unacceptable that in America today, the life of a young father, son, and brother is worth so little, and the officer who took that life can get off with a mere slap on the wrist,” said Alice Huffman, President of the California State Conference of the NAACP. “The sentence is a slap in the face not only to the Oakland community, but to justice itself,” she added.

Police misconduct is not a new concept in the African American community. A Department of Justice survey in 2005 showed that African Americans (4.4%) and Hispanics (2.3%) were more likely than whites (1.2%) to experience use of force by police. African Americans accounted for 1 out of 10 contacts with police, but 1 of 4 instances where excessive force was used.

After the Mehserle verdict in July, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that at the end of the state prosecution, the DOJ would conduct an independent investigation to determine if the evidence merits federal prosecution.

“The NAACP applauds the DOJ for this decision and we hope that their investigation will finally bring justice for Oscar Grant and his family,” said Hilary Shelton, NAACP Washington Bureau Director and Senior Vice President for Advocacy.

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