Thursday, November 4, 2010

Oakland prepares for Mehserle sentencing

Kwame Nitoto never thought he would find himself defending Johannes Mehserle to a complete stranger.
Like many Oakland residents, Nitoto, a father of four and project director for Oakland Parents Together, was outraged when Mehserle, a 28-year-old BART police officer, shot and killed 22-year-old Oscar Grant III on New Year's Day in 2009.
But sitting in a room of Oakland's Church of Religious Science last week as part of a Community Dialogues and Peacekeeper Training workshop, Nitoto reached deep inside and tried to find some measure of compassion for Mehserle.
After the exercise, a slightly stunned Nitoto confessed how the shift in perspective had affected him. "I wish you hadn't put me in that position," he said to the assembled participants. "I needed it. I never would have done it otherwise."
Nitoto is certainly not alone in his anger. Mehserle was convicted July 8 of involuntary manslaughter, but many considered the verdict too lenient. Shortly after it was announced, a peaceful demonstration in downtown Oakland quickly turned violent, as looters and vandals trashed downtown stores.
As Friday's sentencing approaches, many fear a repeat of that violence. At least one Oakland school will close its doors as a safety precaution.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry could send the former BART officer away for a maximum of 14 years, but he could also let him walk free with time served

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