I opened the Oakland Tribune the other day and found a most shocking headline: “Mehserle asks appeals court for new trial.” I swear I thought it was a typo.
Mr. Mehserle, as you may recall, is the former BART officer who feared Oscar Grant as a big scary black man and shot him at point blank range. Mr. Grant was in custody, lying flat on the platform floor of the Fruitvale BART station at the time. Mr. Mehserle claimed that he was reaching for his taser, but grabbed his firearm instead, killing Mr. Grant. A subsequent trial found Mr. Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter for which he was sentenced to two years in jail. The is all old history. Mr. Mehserle is long out of jail, having served only 11 months before being paroled, and is living a subdued life somewhere in Northern California. At least, until now.
The tragedy of Trayvon Martin has created much reflection and dialog about race, gun laws, vigilantism, and the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, from the police to the courts, to render justice equally and impartially. These discussions were further informed by reflections of the Rodney King uprising in LA which saw its 20th anniversary recently. It should not take tragic acts to stimulate reflection, but reflection is always a good thing.
Well, someone isn’t being reflective at all. Whatever would possess Johannes Mehserle to seek a new trial to throw out his pittance of a conviction? Well, apparently the ex-cop wants to become an officer again. Oy. Vey.
Let’s leave aside the whole question of Oscar Grant’s killing and talk about how he responded to it. Here’s what happened. On January 6, 2009, six days after the Oscar Grant shooting, Johannes Mehserle was to appear before BART police internal affairs investigators to answer questions about the incident. Instead, he resigned. What’s more after he resigned, he made himself very unavailable. A week later, January 14, he was found and arrested in Nevada, near Lake Tahoe. His attorney said that he didn’t feel safe in the Bay Area due to death threats and that he went to Tahoe “to clear his mind.”
So rather than face questioning about the shooting, something expected of any police officer involved in a shooting, he fled. The going got tough, and he got going. Be seeing you. Ta-ta. Does this sound like someone who has the judgement or the temperament to be a police officer? Hell no. But apparently, he wants to be a police man again and the only way this can happen is if his criminal conviction is overturned. Such cluelessness beggars the imagination.
It all comes down to an enlarged sense of entitlement. George Zimmerman shrouded himself with the flag of self-defense. He believed that his need for self-defense gave him the right to take someone else’s life, no questions asked. It took a while, but the criminal justice system finally caught up with him, and now he must answer for what he did. Similarly, Johannes Mehserle believed that he did not have to answer for what he did, having skipped town to avoid appearing before superiors. And again, it took the criminal justice system to make him answer for what he did. Nonetheless, his attorney now argues,
“Police officers are fallible,” attorney Dylan Schaffer told the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco. “We cannot put them at the risk of prosecution for just making policing errors.”
Police officers have high risk jobs. Society has also endowed them with many rights to help them do their job, including a license to use deadly force if necessary. With these rights come a very high level of responsibility, and this is the part Mr. Mehserle and his attorneys seem not to get. He is not entitled to his job. He made a mistake and paid, quite frankly, a very small price for it. He needs to count his blessings and move on.
It would be a sad statement on society if this man is allowed to wear a badge and carry a gun again. For it would mean that one could perform the job with no accountability and no consequences for poor performance or behavior. And that would be criminal indeed.
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.