Mehserle’s Sentence in Perspective

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Johannes Mehserle, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old African-American man on January 1, 2009, was released today. Mehserle shot Grant at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, California. Bystanders videotaped the incident on their cellphones. The video of Mehserle shooting Grant, who was restrained and laying facedown on the BART platform, sparked an outcry that spread far beyond the Bay Area. 

A jury found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter and he served nearly two years behind bars, spending time in both jail and prison. A family spokesperson said of Mehserle’s release, “We knew it was coming one day. But as it approached, there were more sleepless nights.” 
To many, Mehserle’s brief period behind bars solidifies the sense that the criminal justice system will never move beyond its inherent bias.

For perspective, five non-violent offenses that resulted in a similar amount of time behind bars:

  1. Gun possession, 20 months behind bars:
    Police arrested Plaxico Burress, former New York Giants wide receiver and Super Bowl champion, on gun possession charges after the star shot himself at a New York City club.
  2. Tax evasion, more than three years of prison time:
    Richard Hatch, former reality star and Survivor winner, was convicted of the charges after he failed to pay taxes on the $1 million prize money he won from the popular CBS show.
  3. Gun possession, three years in prison:
    New York City police officers arrested Prodigy, rapper and member of the hip-hop group Mobb Deep, after finding a gun hidden in his car. 
  4. Growing medical marijuana, minimum 10 years in federal prison:
    A jury found Eddy Lepp, medical marijuana grower, guilty of possessing marijuana with intent to distribute after federal agents confiscated thousands of marijuana plants from his farm.
  5. Tax evasion, three year prison sentence:
    A jury convicted actor Wesley Snipes of the charges after he avoided paying income taxes for seven years.

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