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Remembering Oscar Grant on the Day of Johannes Mehserle's Release

The former BART police officer who killed Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day in 2009 has been released from jail, but for Grant's family, the wounds are still fresh.

Johannes Mehserle, the former BART police officer who killed Oscar Grant on New Year's Day in 2009, has been released from jail. He received a two-year prison sentence but was released just after midnight on Monday morning after serving 11 months behind bars since his July 8 conviction last year.

At a protest on Sunday afternoon at the Fruitvale BART station where Grant was killed, several hundred gathered to decry Mehserle’s early release and demand the Department of Justice file civil rights charges. Grant’s family and friends also gathered to remember the father and son they lost so brutally a year and a half ago.

For his family, the grief over losing Grant and anger over Mehserle’s criminal trial is still fresh.

“Sophina and Tatiana, they’re lonely,” said Grant’s sister-in-law Yolanda Mesa. Sophina Mesa was Grant’s partner and their daughter Tatiana was 5 years old when her father was killed. “It’s such a lonely feeling, and it’s still so hard. Sometimes the kids are watching cartoons and there’ll be a news flash about Oscar Grant. How do you explain that to these kids?”

“Today Tatiana handed me this [tissue] and says, ‘This is in case you want to cry,’ but I really think inside she wants to cry.”

“It’s just really pathetic that he’s getting out,” Mesa said. “Mehserle damn near executed somebody in front of the whole world and he walks in 11 months? Are you kidding me?”

“So many people have died at the hands of the police and all they have to do is say, ‘Oh, I think they were armed,’ or, ‘This looked like a handgun,’ and the police get away with it,” Mesa said. “It’s the thing for the cops to say and they know they can get off. It’s painting the message that a badge is a license to kill.”

Signs at the demonstration pointed to the case of Derrick Jones, a black man who was killed by Oakland Police last year. Oakland police said they shot him because they believed Jones was reaching for a gun; BART police officers said the same of Grant. Both Jones and Grant were unarmed.

“This will happen over and over and over again,” Rosemary Hernandez, Sophina Mesa’s mother and Tatiana Grant’s grandmother told the crowd of protesters. “It’s not just to blacks, it’s not just to Latinos. It’s everybody that’s a minority.”

“This needs to stop. You always think it won’t happen to me, and believe me I thought that. … The only way this is going to stop is if we all stick together.”

Mehserle shot Grant in the back while he lay face down on the BART platform in front of a train full of witnesses. The shooting was filmed on multiple cell phone videos and led to several nights of protest in Oakland immediately after the footage was uploaded onto YouTube. Since then, protesters have demonstrated at every key milestone in the case—when the Alameda County district attorney filed murder charges, when the trial was moved to Los Angeles, and when the verdict was returned.

Mehserle faced second-degree murder charges for killing Grant. During the trial Mehserle testified that he meant to tase Grant but instead pulled his gun. Last summer a Los Angeles jury found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter with an additional gun enhancement. Mehserle faced up to 14 years in prison. Judge Robert Perry stunned many when he handed Mehserle the most lenient sentence possible and gave him credit for time he’d already served behind bars.

“i just feel hurt inside,” said Mario Pangelina, Mesa’s brother, who was on the same train two cars behind Grant the night of the shooting. “The whole trial was a joke.”