Citizen Journalism Leads to Unprecedented Charge

By January 20, 2009

A lot of the tech press is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, so it’s shocking that so little has been written in the past weeks about what has most affected our community: the shooting of Bay Area Rapid Transit passenger Os

car Grant III by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, and the role citizen journalism played in the unprecedented decision to charge the officer with murder.

It is rare in the US that an officer is charged with murder as a result of on-duty actions:

“Several legal experts said they could recall no instance of a police officer in California being charged with murder for an on-duty incident, and Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff said he had never brought such a case in his 14 years on the job,” says the SF Chronicle.

“But the circumstances of the case are equally extraordinary," the article continues, "in that the shooting was filmed by several BART passengers (see video below) and Mehserle has refused to talk to investigators about why he shot Grant. Orloff said Wednesday that both factors played into his decision to charge Mehserle with murder.

(The video might not be suitable for certain viewers.)

The tech press goes gaga when Twitter is involved in any news story, though tweets are usually ancillary to the action. But that press who wrote so much about the infamous “L.A. Earthquake OBGYN Tweet” missed the fact that, in the case of the shooting, citizen journalism directly affected policy. Without it, disciplinary action against Mehserle might have been slighter than it ultimately was.

Yeah, it was neat that someone tweeted a photo of the downed plane in the Hudson River last week. Abstractly, it’s as important as it is interesting. But, in the case against Mehserle, citizen journalism’s importance is infinitely more concrete, in that it leads to a justice that might not have existed otherwise.

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