Change of venue in Oscar Grant trial

October 20, 2009

OAKLAND, Calif.--Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer Johannes Mehserle--who killed Oscar Grant III early on New Year's Day as Grant lay handcuffed and face down on a BART platform--has been granted a change of venue for his trial on murder charges.

This outrageous decision means that the trial will not be held in Alameda County where Grant was murdered. But activists are determined to continue the struggle for justice.

Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson ruled Friday that Mehserle's trial would have to be moved to another county, citing concerns that Mehserle could not receive a fair trial in Alameda. The trial is set to commence November 2.

Jacobson explained in his order that fear of "public outrage" influenced his decision. The protests and ongoing campaign for justice for Oscar Grant are being held up as the motive to move the trial. In an interview with local media, Cephus Johnson, Oscar Grant's uncle, described the decision as an attack on activists' First Amendment rights to assemble and protest--shining a light on the fact that the decision to move the trial is politically motivated.

In fact, the judge went so far as to say that he had serious concerns jurors would be forced to walk through protesters calling for justice for Oscar Grant every day. It is clear from this sentiment that the trial is likely to be moved to a location that is less racially diverse, as well as inaccessible to activists and family members.

The decision is much like the decision to move the trial of the officers who beat Los Angeles motorist Rodney King to Simi Valley--and the ruling to move the trial of the New York City cops who shot Amadou Diallo 41 times to Albany, N.Y., rather than try them in the Bronx, where the shooting occurred.

At a Justice for Oscar Grant event on October 16, about 50 activists attended a film showing about Oscar's life and discussed the decision to move the trial. While many expressed disappointment and frustration, it was combined with the resolve to continue the fight, no matter where the venue.

Further Reading

From the archives