THIS WAS never going to be an easy decision.
It required jurors to reach into the mind of former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle the morning of Jan. 1, 2009, when he fired that fatal shot into the back of Oscar Grant III. It required them to try to figure out what Mehserle was thinking with all the chaos around him on the platform of the Fruitvale station. It required them to second-guess whether the transit-system cop intended to reach for his gun or his Taser.
Apparently the jurors didn't believe that Mehserle acted without regard for Grant's life — a requirement for second-degree murder. Nor did they believe that he was provoked and acted in the heat of passion — voluntary manslaughter. Instead, they found that he acted negligently, but without malice. They found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
It was a quick verdict. The case was given to the jury on Friday. Monday was a holiday. A juror was sick Tuesday. And then on Wednesday, one juror was replaced because of a previously scheduled vacation, forcing the jury to restart deliberations with a new member. Talks that day were cut short because of another juror's medical appointment. So Thursday was the first time jurors had the opportunity to deliberate for a full day. But by midafternoon, they had reached a verdict.
It's a verdict that will be second-guessed for years to come. It's a verdict that will haunt the Bay Area.
But there's an important point to remember here: Reasonable minds could have looked at the evidence from the three-week trial and come to different conclusions. This was never a clear-cut case.
And so it's incumbent on all of us to respect the legal process and respect the jurors' verdict. Their decision might not be perfect in the minds of many, but it was a rational outcome. And a reasoned process.
Judge Robert Perry didn't allow the courtroom to become a circus. He kept a lid on the proceedings.
It's now up to us to keep a lid on it. As we move forward, we should feel free to express our opinions about the verdict — but we must do so peacefully. Destroying property and injuring others will not bring back Oscar Grant.
But Grant's death must not be forgotten. We all must learn from this.
Police agencies must review their procedures to make sure that such a tragedy never happens again. And all of us must keep in mind that horrible things can happen when chaos breaks out. Police can make mistakes. After the fact, we can try to determine whether an action was premeditated, without regard for life, in the heat of passion or merely negligent. But, after the fact, it's too late. It's better to de-escalate before violence breaks out.
That was a message that would have helped on Jan. 1, 2009. That's a message for all of us in the days, weeks, months and years ahead as we reflect upon, and react to, the verdict. As a tribute to Grant, let's not forget it.