Mehserle’s Sentence in Perspective

<a href="">smi23le</a>/Flickr

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.

One More Thing

And it's a big one. Mother Jones is launching a new Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on the corruption that is both the cause and result of the crisis in our democracy.

The more we thought about how Mother Jones can have the most impact right now, the more we realized that so many stories come down to corruption: People with wealth and power putting their interests first—and often getting away with it.

Our goal is to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We're aiming to create a reporting position dedicated to uncovering corruption, build a team, and let them investigate for a year—publishing our stories in a concerted window: a special issue of our magazine, video and podcast series, and a dedicated online portal so they don't get lost in the daily deluge of headlines and breaking news.

We want to go all in, and we've got seed funding to get started—but we're looking to raise $500,000 in donations this spring so we can go even bigger. You can read about why we think this project is what the moment demands and what we hope to accomplish—and if you like how it sounds, please help us go big with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.